Driver’s License exams in Rwanda have often been synonymous with long queues, numerous hours of waiting and a high probability of failure.
According to experiences of people who have attempted to acquire the driving permits, the process often involves queuing for hours awaiting the test and for a large number of them, it involved having to retake the exam.
On any driving permits exam day in Gasabo District, for instance, there are usually about 2,000 people waiting to take the tests which start at around 8:00 a.m.
Across the country, about 20,000 people take the exam monthly, according to Rwanda National Police which is mandated to oversee the tests and issuing of licenses.
Kigali alone has about 9,000 examinees monthly from the three districts.
Surprisingly, on average only 30 per cent of them pass the test, with most of them retaking the test up to four times.
A number of people who have had to retake the exam say that their largest hindrance or challenge is use of manual gearbox cars (shift sticks) as opposed to automatic ones which they say unnecessarily complicates the test process.
The administration of test using manual cars has proven to be a challenge to many and is probably the biggest contributor to failing the test.
Other have given up and unfortunately resorted to driving with a foreign-acquired license or at worse drive with no permit all despite the high risks involved.
Gloria Kaitesi told The New Times that she had to retake the examination three times despite previously driving in other countries.
“The requirement that driving tests are only using manual cars probably ought to be reviewed since a large number of people no longer drive manual cars. There are more automatic cars in the market compared to manual cars, a large number of countries allow tests using automatic cars,” she said.
Among those who complain about the challenge are people who studied abroad and acquired foreign permits which have since expired and require renewal.
Fabrice Mutangana a driving instructor in Kigali also told The New Times that the largest cause for his ‘students’ failure in the tests is the use of manual cars.
Rwanda National Police traffic department spokesperson Chief Inspector of Police Emmanuel Kabanda says that they would not consider conducting tests on automatic vehicles.
“It is currently not provided for in the regulations,” Kabanda said, adding that the Police would not consider changing unless the regulations are changed.
However, he pointed out that the spirit of the regulations is to ensure that a driver seeking a permit in a specific capacity, get the highest category.
“If you are taught using a manual car, you have the ability to drive both automatic and manual, but an automatic car would limit the cars a driver can operate,” Kabanda explained, adding that the Police would like drivers to have diverse skills and experience.
A growing number of countries are making it optional, with others limiting the choices to only non-commercial drivers.
The adjustments appear to be following technological developments in the automobile industry with some car manufacturers completely ditching production of the manual cars.
Market prices of manual cars are also dropping compared to the same models that are automatic as both younger and older drivers prefer effortless driving.
To ease the test registration process, police entered a partnership with Irembo, an online public service platform. However, the platform’s registration portal is often closed as the applications fill up as soon as it opens to due to the large number of applicants.
But the traffic police spokesperson says that the wait times is not so much of an issue as in each of the provinces, there is one week per month dedicated to driving tests.
“In every province, we have a schedule whereby we are there for one week every month. This means that at least every district is covered monthly,” Kabanda said.
Rwanda has four Provinces and the City of Kigali. Kigali has 3 districts. The four provinces share the 27 other districts.
When conducting the tests, he said, the instructors follow standard checklist and are never in haste despite the turnout in the tests.
The Police spokesperson attributed the high failure rate to the fact that few people go to driving schools as well as the unprofessionalism of most driving schools in Kigali.
Previously, examinees could only register for exams through driving schools which police say they realised was leading to corruption and thereby changed it to ensure anyone could register for the tests.
However, this saw a large number of people turn out for the tests without proper driving instructions consequently failing.
Kabanda explained that the force’s long attempts to improve professionalism in the sector by reaching out to driving schools has been futile.
To remedy the situation, the police is working on setting up their own driving school and traffic administration facility in Busanza, Kanombe sector.
The facility will, throughout the year, offer lessons and tests.
The facility, which could be operational in the next two years, is expected to push the private driving schools to be professional as they will be face competition.