Steering towards reform

By Hu Qingyun Source:Global Times Published: 2014-11-30 19:38:01

Corruption crackdown follows cases of people paying to pass their driving tests

Zhu Jianming, a 57-year-old driving instructor, teaches his student in Shenzhen,Guangdong Province, November,2013. Photo:CFP

Getting a driving license on the Chinese mainland is not an easy process.

Apart from lengthy training and complicated examinations one must suffer through, applicants may also need to pay a bribe to their driving instructors as "insurance" to make sure they can get their license.

The Ministry of Public Security announced a potential plan for reform last week to make taking lessons in driving schools optional and to allow applicants to register for driving tests on their own.

Observers have seen the move as a way to curb corruption within the driving license management system.

Corrupt traffic

In China, most people who apply for driving license need to attend a minimum of 64 hours of training organized by a driving school before they take the four required examinations, including classes on driving theory, the rules of the road and driving practice. The total tuition fees normally cost between 4,000 yuan ($651) and 10,000 yuan and the whole process takes around two to three months.

Although there is no law or regulation explicitly stating that one must attend a training school before applying for a driving test, in practice, many vehicle management authorities and traffic police only accept applications sent through authorized training schools.

As of November 2014, China has more than 300 million licensed drivers, including 244 million car drivers, according to the Ministry of Public Security on Thursday. 22 percent of Chinese people have driving licenses, and the number will continue to surge in the next few years, the ministry said.

This September, more than 20 officials working in the vehicle management department in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, were fired and put under investigation after being accused of taking millions of yuan from 40 local driving schools.

In this case, schools required their students to pay a 500 yuan "guarantee fee" and giving 300 yuan to the authorities in charge of the examinations. Students who paid this money would pass the test regardless of their actual performance.

Fan Li, a senior official of the China Road Transport Association, told The Beijing News that many driving teachers did not provide enough instruction to their students. Instead they just prepared them to pay examiners, Fan said.

Even though they obtain a driving license, many people are still very poor drivers and are likely to cause traffic accidents, he added,

The traffic management bureau, under the Ministry of Public Security, has said previously that new drivers with less than three years of experience have increasingly been involved in accidents.

In 2010, more than 30 percent of traffic accidents involved new drivers, and this figure jumped to over 40 percent in the first six months of 2012.

Power abuse 

Wang Jun, a driving teacher who has taught in a Beijing driving school in Haidian district for five years, told the Global Times that the examination pass rate is crucial to instructor's income and to training schools' profit.

"Our salaries include bonuses based on how many students pass their driving tests. However, applicants need to wait to take a test due to the increasing number of car owners," Wang said. 

Another Beijing-based driving instructor, surnamed Zhang who has taught people how to drive for 18 years, told the Global Times that some driving instructors pay vehicle management officials to jump the queue and have more of their students take the exams.

"Those teachers or driving schools normally attract students with low tuition fees and then demand money from students if they want to practice driving more frequently and take their tests sooner," Zhang said.

If schools cannot get a reasonable number of students to pass the exams, they become less competitive and are unable to attract students, an anonymous source from a driving school in Hefei, Anhui Province told the Global Times. "The situation got worse when the new driving test was introduced last year as it is more difficult to pass."

Pan Yiyuan, a 32-year-old resident from the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, told the Global Times that he had to pay nearly 8,000 yuan, including 5,000 of "guarantee fee", to ensure he could get a driving license within two months.

"My teacher told me that I needed to wait for seven months to take the tests and that he could not guarantee I would pass the test. But If I pay, everything is fine," Pan said.

Procurators in Hebei have noted that the lack of external supervision of vehicle management authorities make it easy for them to abuse their power.

A commentary posted on news portal on Wednesday noted that the vehicle management authorities have a monopoly over the industry, which will inevitably lead to misconduct.

The majority of corrupt dealings occur between driving schools and vehicle management authorities, the commentary pointed out, adding that the system needs to be reformed to curb graft. 

System reform

Huang Ming, vice-minister of public security, said that China plans to reform  the process by which people acquire driving licenses to allow independent learning and testing.

No further details of the proposed reform plans have been revealed as Huang said that the ministry will seek public opinions and research about the reform first.

Some experts believe that the possible reforms consist of a crack down on corruption in transportation departments and driving schools.

Fan was quoted by the Beijing Times as saying that the corruption cases triggered the reform.

If the public can learn how to drive and take the examinations without going to driving schools, the profitable link between driving schools and vehicle management authorities can be severed, Fan said.

Huang emphasized that transparent and fair enrollment and examination systems must be implemented to eliminate corruption from the root up.

The commentary pointed out that the corruption in the driving license system is mainly caused by the centralization and abuse of power. The proposed reforms could return some power to the public, the commentary said.

"Vehicle management authorities are on the top of the profit chain in corruption cases. More supervision should be exercised over them," said Wang Limei, secretary-general of the China Road Transport Association.

According to a number of driving schools reached by the Global Times in Beijing, they have yet to be informed of the reforms but they say that it will be difficult for citizens to lean how to drive independently due to a lack of public facilities.

Wang Jun told the Global Times that one of the tests requires practice on special training facilities with piles and one-way bridges, which can only be found in training schools.

"The majority of driving schools do not open those training grounds to the public," Wang Jun said.

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