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Harder Tests to Weed Out 'Road Killers'

New drivers spilling onto Beijing's streets in droves, dubbed 'road killers' by some, have prompted the authorities to increase the difficulty of driving tests.

From this year, tests have been made harder to prevent novices being a menace to other road users, the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau says.

Now that the test has been adopted citywide, the average pass rate has dropped from 80 to 50 percent across the capital's 22 test centers, said Jiang Jing, a press officer from the bureau.

It now includes six compulsory items chosen randomly from nine, such as hill starts, driving around bends, making 45-degree turns and parking. In the past, only three items were required.

Existing requirements within each item have also been made more challenging.

"The driving test is the first line of defense against road accidents," said Jiang.

According to the bureau, novice drivers with less than three years' experience are responsible for nearly 30 percent of road accidents in the city last year. They were also responsible for an almost equal proportion of fatal accidents.

Every month in Beijing, about 20,000 new drivers have been appearing on the roads.

"These novices drive too slowly, are unfamiliar with road conditions and lack the rapid reflexes necessary to deal with the unexpected. They don't even really know how their cars work," said veteran cab driver Liu Zhi.

"The test should be designed in a way that only well-trained drivers can pass. Only those who have practiced hard should get a license. This is the only way to bring down the number of road accidents caused by new drivers," said Liu.

Beijingers are required to spend at least 58 hours of training to get a license, but learner drivers are not allowed to learn on the roads themselves.

Instead, they are restricted to driving schools - large plots with tracks that simulate city and rural driving. The tracks have traffic lights and railway crossings, and students use fleets of cars and trucks for practice.

Liu Qin, an official from the traffic management bureau, said the simulated road conditions at driving schools are far simpler and safer than those in real life.

"Learner drivers do not usually get enough experience at driving schools before they get on the real road. I heard some new drivers complain that the driver's seat was still as foreign and as scary to them as a plane pilot's, even after they have finished the mandatory 58-hour course," said Liu.

"The new driving test can help improve their skills. For instance, there is a new item that requires a driver to start the car from the middle of a slope, get to the top, and then slow down to the bottom on the other side within 100 meters. Only people who are quite experienced in dealing with the clutch and the accelerator can manage it."

Jiang Jing said the new driving test is planned to follow new traffic safety legislation that came into force last May. This is another preparatory measure towards smoothing the way for the massive influx of traffic in 2008, when Beijing hosts the Olympic Games.

(China Daily January 17, 2005)

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