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[EDITORIAL] Driver’s licenses

[THE INVESTOR] It is relatively easy to obtain a driver’s license in Korea and this has led to various problems over the past five years, such as traffic accidents, raising the need to toughen the driving test requirements.

In July 2011, the government eased driver’s license rules to allow individuals to save time and money.

The number of hours for mandatory driving lessons was reduced to 13 hours from 60 hours. Evaluation criteria was also reduced to six items from the original 13. A license can be obtained by passing three tests: written, driving course and driving on the roads.

The driving course at test locations was made easier, allowing a large portion of applicants to pass the three tests within a day or several days.

Earlier this year, the National Police Agency said that it would revise the rules for driver’s license exams as early as in the second half of 2016.

In a statement, police said it would “toughen the rules on the driving course test to help beginners easily adapt to actual roads by obtaining more driving skills.”

The new test will include courses such as hill starts and parking. The driving course will also likely be extended from the current 50 meters to 300 meters to evaluate an applicant’s ability to operate the vehicle. There will also be five more evaluation items. Police said the written test will also be made more difficult and more questions will be added.

However, the upcoming revisions to the driver’s license tests could still fail to properly examine whether someone is qualified.

A legalized system to regularly assess one’s ability to drive safely should come first.

Policymakers and the police agency need to benchmark some advanced countries where beginner drivers are given temporary licenses.

In Australia, drivers receive temporary licenses after they pass driving exams. After two years of authority supervision, they can then obtain official licenses. It takes at least three years in France and two years in Germany, and both countries provide drivers with temporary licenses at the beginning.

In contrast, the quick and easy process of obtaining a driver’s license here even attracts Chinese tourists to take the tests here as the Korean licenses are also valid in many provinces in China. Some local private institutions have even hired Chinese interpreters to attract more Chinese customers.

In light of safety concerns, Korean policymakers should take seriously the Chinese government’s request to impose restrictions on Chinese visitors who seek driver’s licenses here. However, the Korean police have dismissed this, citing no legal grounds to do so.