The driver tightly secured by a seatbelt, a white Volvo C70 sedan revs into action in central Dubai. But this car goes nowhere near the 12-lane Sheikh Zayed Road that connects the neighbourhoods of this sprawling Gulf emirate.
This particular Volvo is anchored to a motorised stand inside a modern building that forms part of the Emirates Driving Institute. An operator flips a switch, and the vehicle rolls over in place. As the strapped-in driver endures what feels like an unpleasantly scary carnival ride, his unsecured “passenger” – a foam doll the size of a child – tumbles on top of him.
It’s a none-too-subtle reminder of the importance of driving carefully and buckling up.
Rollover car demonstration
The roll-over Volvo is one part of an ambitious programme to boost driving safety in Dubai, an effort that Pearson is playing a leading role in through its computer-based testing arm, Pearson VUE.
In January, Pearson VUE launched the theory driving test on behalf of the Road and Transport Authority (RTA) for Dubai, the first computer-based test for the transport industry anywhere in the Middle East region.
Touch-screen technology replaced paper tests
The test administered through touch-screen technology is expected to assess more than 500,000 candidates in the first year alone – in Arabic, English or Urdu – replacing a paper-based test that authorities said was insufficient.
“We weren’t satisfied with our improvement in driver safety,” says Ahmed Hashem Bahrozyan, the chief executive of RTA’s Licensing Agency. “At the same time, we weren’t happy with our knowledge test.”
So the Licensing Agency worked with Pearson VUE to develop a new computerized testing process to replace a 10-question paper knowledge test that focused on road signs. The new test uses an item bank so questions are regularly rotated, making the test more challenging.
A sample question: When should you use your hazard lights – to warn oncoming traffic to give way; when your directional signals are not working; or when your vehicle has broken down and is causing an obstruction, the correct answer.
So far, the pass rate for the computer-based test is comparable to that for old paper-based test, but driver-safety officials say those who now pass have far greater knowledge than before – because the new test is more rigorous, covers a broader selection of topics and situations, and has an element of surprise through the random nature of computerized item banking.
Previous test ‘very, very basic’
Health Authority of Abu Dhabi
“The previous test was very, very basic,” says Robert Hodges, chief operating officer of the Emirates Driving Institute, a company that delivers practical driver training and also provides coaching and mock tests to help aspiring drivers master the theory test. “There were only 10 questions, so people would get through it because they’d get them right the next time. Now the computer assembles a new test each time.”
The new test for Dubai’s RTA is one of several recent developments for Pearson VUE in the Gulf and elsewhere in the Middle East. Other Pearson VUE clients in the region include the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi, testing pharmacists, practical nurses and other occupations; the African Society for Quality in Healthcare in Egypt; Batterjee Medical College in Saudi Arabia; and the General Council for Islamic Banks and Financial Institutions.
In November 2010 Pearson VUE, which delivers tests in 165 countries, opened an office in Dubai with Arabic-speaking staff to meet the region’s growing needs for new technology in education and assessment.
“The Dubai office and our many partnerships in the Middle East demonstrate our commitment to meeting the region’s growing need for certified professionals, from nurses and doctors to bankers and accountants,” says Suzana Lopes, Pearson VUE’s senior vice president for sales and marketing in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Demographic challenge to raise driver safety
The demographic makeup of the United Arab Emirates presents a real challenge to driving safety officials. Non-nationals comprise about 80% of the oil-rich country’s estimated population of about 5 million, and many of them are recent immigrants from India. A driving license is an important route to a better-paying job, but some recent immigrants are from small villages where cars are few. So there’s a lot to learn about not only the mechanics of driving, but also the practical and cultural aspects of driving in a bustling metropolis.
In addition to the new driving theory test, Pearson VUE is working with Dubai’s Licensing Agency on a new system using tablet computers for the practical driving test.
Examiners now test 24 people a day, taking three applicants in the car for each session and then filling out paperwork later. The tablet-based system, which will be piloted later this year, will allow examiners to enter the information directly into tablets as each applicant takes his or her test, and the information is then electronically submitted to the agency.
Mr. Bahrozyan hopes the new technology used by Pearson VUE in Dubai will spread elsewhere in the UAE and beyond. “Dubai is known for new technology, so we could be a springboard. We’re happy with the way it’s gone so far.”