Government approves use of automatic cars in driving tests

Driving learners in the field next to Amahoro National Stadium in Remera.

The Ministry of Infrastructure (Mininfra) has finally given a green light for prospective drivers to use cars with automatic transmissions during driving tests to acquire a driver’s license.

The development follows a petition by a private citizen to parliament in April 2018, which sought to amend the law on acquisition of driving licenses to allow for the use of automatic cars.

The petitioner, Frank Shumbusho, among others argued that “there are many people who own automatic cars and know how to drive them but are unable to do so because sitting for a driving exam requires one to have knowledge of a manual car.”

In an exclusive interview with the Media, Alfred Byiringiro, the Transport Division Manager in the ministry, said that the petition was a catalyst to the move.

“After that citizen’s petition, the ministry and parliament sat together and resolved that the law should be amended, because the use of automatic transmission cars in driving tests won’t be invented by Rwanda; it is even done elsewhere,” he said.

“For now, we are about to submit a draft law in parliament concerning the amendment of the current law governing road traffic.” 

He said that after that draft law is passed, they will follow with the amending of the Presidential Order which is the one that so far stipulates how driving tests are done.

“Among others, we will add in the use of cars with automatic transmission in driving tests,” he added, noting that: “The amended law will start being implemented at the start of next fiscal year 2020-2021.”

The fiscal year begins in July.

The current law only recognises manual cars while conducting driving tests and any change to that effect would require changing the law.

“All in all, we will make sure that someone who gets a driving license whether using manual cars or those in automatic mode will do an exam that really qualifies him or her as a driver,” Byiringiro noted. 

Petitioner reacts

Speaking to the Media, Frank Shumbusho welcomed the move noting that it will benefit many Rwandans.

“I am happy that my concern was put into consideration by different stakeholders whom I had consulted.”

“This will benefit many people including me who has spent many years without a driving license regardless of the fact that I know how to drive an auto transmission car.”

Shumbusho also thanked legislators and the ministry for looking into petition, highlighting that; “There was also a possibility of defying it.”

The petition followed an increasing trend of auto transmission cars on Rwandan roads.

A source from Rwanda Revenue Authority in Customs Department noted that: “Though so far we don’t have statistics on the number of imported auto transmission cars in comparison with manual ones, I can personally estimate that 60% of them have automatic transmission.”

Jean-Luc Mugabo, the sales manager in CFAO Motors Rwanda, Volkswagen Rwanda’s official dealer, also told The New Times said that 70% of their vehicle sales are of automatic transmission.

John Mugabo, the Finance Manager at Toyota Rwanda, emphasized on their increasing sales of automatic transmission cars.

“Our clients’ preferences, different from before, are automatic transmission cars at an estimation of above 60 per cent especially in these small cars,” he said.

Mugabo added: “I can even say that one of the major reasons for the 40 per cent who prefer manual transmission cars is that they are more affordable as compared to auto transmission cars.”

The trend is global.

For instance, figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders in 2018 showed that the number of cars with auto gearboxes in Britain among others rose by over 70 per cent since 2007.

People’s reaction

In a poll published on the Media social media platforms in 2018, when asked whether the law should be amended to enable driving license exams to be conducted using automatic vehicles, 76 per cent of the 500 respondents answered ‘yes’ while 23 per cent answered ‘No’.

Arsene Niyongabo, a University student who drives a car with automatic transmission, welcomed the act.

“For me I think that can be a good move because many people fail driving tests not just because they don’t know how to drive, but because manual cars complicate the exams,”

However, Niyongabo added that: “Legislators should be vigilant and make sure that they provide different licenses to differentiate people who are able to drive cars with automatic transmission only from those who are able to drive manual cars.”

“This will prevent many accidents because, obviously, manual cars require more skills than automatic transmission cars,” he noted.

On this, Byiringiro said that there will be two kinds of driving permits; one that will be given to someone who did the test using a car with manual mode and the other one to the person who used a car with automatic transmission.

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