The Flemish ombudsman has criticised a recent change to the region’s rules on driving lessons, which require new licence-holders to come back for a four-hour refresher course six to nine months after obtaining their licence. Following the receipt of numerous complaints from the public, ombudsman Bart Weekers concludes, “It is a good initiative, because road safety is important, but it has to be organised well, and at the moment that is not the case.”
The first refresher courses took place this week in Roeselare in West Flanders. The course costs 102 euros if taken within the time limit. There is a surcharge for late returners of 50 euros, and a 4,000 euros fine for those who have not returned within two months of the deadline.
The main problem is the lack of centres for returning new drivers to take the course. Invitations have already been sent out to 3,000 new drivers, and it is expected 75,000 drivers will have to take the course in a year.
But there is a shortage of test centres: two in West Flanders, two in Antwerp province, one in Flemish Brabant and one in Limburg. None at all in East Flanders.
“Officially there are five locations, but in reality a number are not yet ready,” Weekers said. “Other locations are booked up. In short, this has to be done better.” He has requested the government not to issue any fines for the time being. “If you organise something that involves time and money pressures, it has to be in order. And that is not the case at the moment.”
Further examination centres are due to open in Antwerp city, Pelt and Genk in Limburg and Bruges and Gullegem in West Flanders, but still nothing planned in East Flanders, the second most populous of the region’s five provinces.
Meanwhile traffic research institute Vias has called for zero tolerance for drinking among young drivers who have had their licence for less than two years, as well as for motorcyclists. The demand is one of ten recommendations listed by Vias as improvements to road safety in the run-up to the May elections.
The list also includes a mandatory cycle helmet for everyone under the age of 14, a ban on devices to warn of speed radars, an extension of Zone 30 regulations in city and town centres and better road infrastructure, in particular for vulnerable road users such as cyclists.
“In the first years after obtaining a driving licence, inexperienced drivers run a greater risk of accidents,” explained Stef Willems of Vias. “Alcohol has more of an effect on inexperienced drivers. Zero tolerance is an effective measure to combat this problem. For motorcyclists we are also asking for zero tolerance, as alcohol has an undoubted effect on balance, and therefore on driving ability.”