by Hong Minh
While the Ministry of Transport's recent plan to divide driving courses into two sections, one for automatic cars (AT) and the other for manual cars (MT) pleases many drivers of automatic vehicles presently forced to take the more difficult manual test, some doubt the feasibility of the separation.
Last week, the ministry's Directorate for Roads of Viet Nam said it was studying amendments to the regulations before submitting them in September. Accordingly, drivers may choose to take the traditional training courses and driving tests for manual transmission cars, after which they will be allowed to drive both kinds of cars.
Or, they will be able to simply take tests exclusively for automatic vehicles, but they will be limited to driving just these vehicles afterwards.
Hoang Quang Huy, 43, who has been driving a family car for more than 10 years in Ha Noi, welcomed the plan. He said it followed the current trend for people to go automatic, especially in big cities.
"Most people, especially women, want to drive an automatic car, but now we all have to take training courses and tests for manual vehicles, which are much more difficult to handle," he said, adding that he only drove a manual car once - and that was at his driving test more than 10 years ago.
Huy said that specific training and tests for automatic cars would help reduce traffic accidents caused by drivers unfamiliar with them. "I believe that in the next 10 years, 90 per cent of vehicles will be automatic. Many countries have also cut back on making manual cars," he said.
Tran Quoc Toan, director of Dong Do Driver Licence Service Centre in the northern province of Bac Ninh, said that drivers should be trained in automatic transmission to ensure safety on roads.
"Many automatic drivers make mistakes as they confuse between the brake and gas pedals. That has led to a number of AT-related accidents lately," Toan said.
He said that due to a lack of practice, many automatic drivers quickly lost control after making this mistake, leading to many accidents.
Tran Huu Minh, a lecturer at the Ha Noi-based University of Transport and Communication, said that many countries, including Singapore, Japan and Australia, had separated driving licences into two categories. However, many others do not welcome the plan of change.
Bui Danh Lien, chairman of the Ha Noi Automobile Transport Association, insisted that all drivers should do traditional training and tests with manual vehicles for safety reasons.
"We should learn to drive an MT first then change to AT. It's very dangerous to do the reverse," he said. Lien suggested starting with manual car s and then taking an extra 20-30 hours with an automatic. At present, practice for automatics at regular training course takes only 10 hours.
Agreeing with Lien, Dao Manh Cuong, a trainer at a private driving centre in Ha Noi, said that practice hours for automatic cars should be increased instead of setting up two separate training and testing systems.
Cuong said that it was regulated that practice with AT cars was compulsory, but in reality, many driving centres ignored the regulation and focused on teaching learners tricks to overcome the tests.
He added that under the law, a driving centre could be fined VND5-10 million (US$230-460) if it failed to provide enough hours for automatic practice.
"This plan will cause difficulties for driving centres as they need to buy more AT cars. The training schedule will also change completely to serve a group of people who only need to drive AT," he said, adding that the changes would be costly.
According to the Directorate for Roads of Viet Nam, there are more than 90 driving test centres and about 300 training centres throughout the country. It says that if each training centre bought at least 10 AT cars and each testing centre bought at least four AT cars for the new licence system, the cost would be about $97.5 million.
"The issuance of the AT licence may also cause be difficult for traffic police to check," Cuong added.
This writer believes that a separate driving licence for automatic cars is unnecessary. The problem should be solved by driving and testing centres. Also, drivers should improve their skills before driving on roads. — VNS