Cape Town. 030714. DRIVEN: Learners practice their observations and maneuvering skills in an Ottery parking yard for their upcoming driving licence tests. Picture Leon Lestrade. Story Kowthar Solomons.

Cape Town - Every month a shocking 5000 Capetonians fail their driving licence test, along with 5700 who fail their learners test, according to the City of Cape Town’s traffic department.

In effect, that means each month only a third of would-be drivers are passing their tests, getting the green light to take to the roads.

Slightly more than 60 percent pass their learners test, on average, each month.

Traffic department spokeswoman Maxine Jordaan said people failed because they were not adequately prepared. The three main reasons for flunking the test were the vehicle rolling back or hitting obstacles in the yard, and exceeding penalty points.

Mayco member for safety and security JP Smith said while the failure rate was disappointing, standards could not be compromised.

“The driving test is nationally prescribed with rigorous standards and procedures. The traffic officer conducting the test is, in this sense, a robot, and dare not deviate from the criteria.”


On the bright side, the city and the province had made it far easier for youngsters to get a booking to do either test.

”Five years ago, the average waiting period was nine months, and even longer for heavy duty vehicles and motorcycles. Now, the average waiting period is between one and three months, and that is only because it is distorted by queues for heavy vehicle and motorcycle licences. At some locations, you could wait as little as three days,” he said.

To soothe the nerves of aspirant drivers, traffic officers wear civilian clothing during tests in order not to appear intimidating.

Some sub-councils, such as Pinelands, have also set aside money to sponsor disadvantaged people and help them obtain their driving licences.


On the downside, however, the traffic department has encountered other problems, such as the electronic testing system, which is used only at the Eastridge Driving Licence Testing Centre – and which boasts a 90 percent failure rate.

“Most people study the yellow or blue K53 book and the three standardised tests. But the electronic test features a combination of more than 1200 questions, the answers for many of which cannot be found in the book.

“The problem has become so bad that some of the people have reverted to the old system, and Eastridge has seen a drop in the number of learners testing there. We’re trying to find an entrepreneur who would be willing to use the computers and give night classes to help people pass the electronic test,” Smith said.

Another headache is fly-by-night driving schools.

“They are cheaper than most of the proper schools and allow unprepared learners to test. They make money off the lesson and get R450 for the car rental on the day of the test, if the learner passes or not.”

But he stressed that not all schools operated like this.

The city said it would approach the national traffic department to increase regulations for driving schools to ensure proper standards.

Monique Esterhuizen, owner of Monique’s Driving School, said people often underestimated the time it took to learn how to drive.

“Everyone is different at the end of the day, and has different needs and circumstances. I operate in Mitchells Plain and while most clients have access to a car, many don’t, and the only time they drive is during lessons. Many people think that they are ready with 10 one-hour lessons. But if you think about it, that’s 10 hours. Can you really learn to drive in 10 hours?”

Esterhuizen said a secondary problem was the cost.

“Getting a driving licence can be very expensive. The cost of the lesson, applications and the test itself can run into thousands of rands. Many people, especially in Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha, will go for cheaper lessons, but the cars might not be up to the proper standards.

“People need to choose a school that’s right for them, and should do proper research beforehand,” she warned.


Weekend Argus approached four learner drivers aiming to get the all-important licence, one of whom passed his on his first try.

Learner 1 has failed the learner’s test twice, and blamed this partly on the new electronic system.

“I studied from the K53 book and past test papers, but it was completely different in the electronic test. The way the questions are phrased is very confusing. If I had studied more I might have been better prepared, but the electronic test is in a completely different category from the old written tests and those in the K53 books.”

Learner 2 had her driving test two months ago, and failed – despite the fact that she successfully completed the yard test.

She believes she performed all her observations, so doesn’t know why she failed.

“I got through the parallel parking, alley docking, the three-point turn and my last obstacle was the hill. I finished it and thought I would move on to the road, but the instructor told me the test was over and I had failed.”

The reason given was

“Failure to perform all the observations”.

“I made sure I did them all,” she said. “But he didn’t feel that way. If the traffic officer doesn’t feel you’re ready, despite following the correct procedures, then you’ll fail.”

Learner 3 has spent six years trying to get his driving licence, and has also rewritten his learner’s test twice.

He said consistent failure and mounting costs had left him bewildered.

“There are so many things running through your head and failure is almost always at the top. It gets harder to believe in yourself every time you fail, but the only way you can pass is to be confident behind the wheel.

“The cost alone is enormous. We don’t have a family car so the only chance I get to drive is during a lesson with the driving school. I must have spent over R7000 on lessons and tests. It feels like I’m

paying to fail, and that puts me off.”

 Learner 4 was lucky, passing on his first go.

“My dad taught took me driving for four hours every weekend since I was 16 years old. By the time I was 18 and took the test, everything felt routine.

“But I can understand how some people without cars struggle, because practice is the only way to pass,” he said.

Weekend Argus