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Monday, March 7, 2011

Driving Schools - The Road to Confidence?

Newspapers of late have been giving coverage to the rising number of road accidents in Kerala which has the dubious distinction of having the third highest road accident-risk in the country. This hazard is especially prevalent in the capital city of Trivandrum. It is generally held that anyone who has learnt driving in Trivandrum can easily drive anywhere in the world. One cannot but agree if one were to attempt to drive through the city with its steep ascents, descents, potholes and narrow curving roads. Unruly two wheelers, menacing public transport vehicles and uncaring pedestrians make driving a nightmare in Trivandrum. A crying need of the hour is to instill traffic discipline in all motorists. The impunity with which a good number of them violate the rules and regulations is to be seen to be believed. A common enough sight here is that of a vehicle jumping the traffic lights.

Nowadays one can see an increasing number of cars whizzing down the roads with the ‘L’ sign as well as the name of the driving school. This coincides with the spurt in the number of cars following the boom in the automobile industry. The driving schools have been literally mushrooming all over the city during the recent years. People, regardless of age and gender have been flocking to them to avail of their services as it has become increasingly important to acquire driving skills.

Driving schools could play a useful role by educating their clients in the theoretical aspects of driving, which includes explaining the significance of the different traffic symbols. A few institutes do conduct theory classes but the majority of them conveniently overlook this requirement. It could be that owing to the heavy demand for their services, they just do not have the time and the resources to spare for conducting theory classes.

However, due to their growing importance, these institutes have acquired a certain degree of arrogance in their dealings with their clients. Of course it would be unfair to tar all of them with the same brush. There are driving schools where the staff is extremely courteous but they are more the exception than the rule.
Clients or unpaid chauffeurs?

The arrogance of the instructors can sometimes go up to unimaginable lengths. There is this most deplorable tendency among many of them to make the student drive for a few minutes and then stop the car at a certain point. The instructor next disappears on some errand leaving the student high and dry for an indefinite length of time. The latter could be left waiting in some far-off inaccessible corner of the city which may be totally unfamiliar. As one can imagine only too well, it is the most unenviable situation. It may be safely assumed that many learners would have faced this injustice.

The instructors at these driving schools usually pick up the students from their homes. But more often than not they do not reach in time or fail to turn up. This attitude is in keeping with the presumptuousness which so characterizes their dealings with their students.

There are several instances where the students, especially those belonging to the poorer section, are abused or mistreated by the instructors. The usual clientele are either in their adolescence or in their early twenties. Their very youth renders them more vulnerable to the harsh treatment meted out by the instructors. The latter do not mince words while upbraiding them for their mistakes. There was even an instance of an instructor chastising a youth publicly for having failed the driving test. It makes one wonder as to how the youngster or his parents could have swallowed this insult. It’s enough to make the flesh crawl!

One can imagine the highly demoralizing effect such behaviour could have on young minds. They are generally advised by their sympathizers to grow a thick skin. They just have to lump it or leave it.

The plight of the senior citizens
Nowadays an increasing number of older adults are enrolling themselves at these schools. What with their children settled far away and the difficulty in finding a reliable chauffeur, driving has become an essential life skill. But once they have joined the course and paid the fees, they are confronted with quite a challenging situation.

If they so much as make a few errors during the course of learning, the instructors start avoiding them like the plague. Their age is held against them. The general tendency of the instructors to steer clear of senior learners leads to a kind of a catch 22 situation for the latter. It just does not feel good to withdraw from the course after having paid the hefty non-refundable fees; at the same time any attempt to continue with the lessons is frustrated by the instructor who chooses to play hard to get. Sometimes one wishes that the driving school would refuse admission to older clients on grounds of age. Of course such bluntness may hurt initially but at least the client is not left with the feeling of having been literally taken for a ride.

To be fair, it has to be admitted that older learners do take a longer time to acquire the driving skills. It may call for a higher investment by the driving schools but then the necessary resources could be raised by increasing the fees.

All said and done, it is a fact that a senior citizen is a more careful driver as compared to his/her younger counter part. The former would scrupulously observe the traffic rules. Moreover, seniors need not necessarily be slow on the uptake. There is this most heartening instance of an 82-year old gentleman who learnt driving within six weeks. He took it up as a challenge when his son told him that he could not learn driving at this age. He learnt driving secretly and ultimately proved his son wrong. Then there are other instances of elders who make it after any number of attempts. There is this most interesting example of a South Korean lady who passed her driving test after 950 attempts. She also made it to the Guinness Book of Records in the process.

Funnily enough, the same, oh-so-elusive instructors literally fall over each other in their attempts to get at the younger learners, especially if they belong to the fair sex. The latter may make any number of mistakes but the instructors are always accessible to them. However this is not to suggest that the situation is hunky dory for the young ones. They too may come in for the rap on the knuckles. Such is the situation faced by learners both young and old at the driving schools. One can only hope that things change for the better. Till then one will just have to grin and bear it. How else can one get the all-important driving license?

Mrs. Padma Mohan Kumar (padma413@rediffmail.com)

1 comment:

Anu said...

A very touching and amusing piece.



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