Smart driver’s license revolutionizes management and safety in Kenya’s transport sector

Getting a driver’s license (DL) in Kenya these days is like a walk in the park. After you have booked a driving test online and passed the exam at one of the driving test centers nationwide, the next step is to apply for a license online. In a few days, the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) will issue a smart driver’s license that can be picked up at decentralized centers nationwide.

New drivers are thrilled to have the power to drive with a secure plastic card that fits in a wallet just like a bank card. The new license embraces international standards for driving licenses and identification. It is processed on the Transport Integrated Management System (TIMS), an interactive digital platform launched by the NTSA in 2016.

TIMS, financed under the support of the World Bank Regional Transport, Trade and Development Facilitation Project in East Africa, has simplified the application, processing and issuance of driver’s licenses. Applicants can submit applications from their home, office, Internet cafe, or even their mobile phone, anywhere in Kenya.

The road to this transformation has not been easy. Until five years ago, the driver’s license system was manual and involved a lot of paperwork. Prospective drivers were frustrated with a long and cumbersome process that triggered underhand trading opportunities.

It all started with booking a driving test at a designated traffic police station. In Nairobi, the tests were centralized in three police stations: Ruaraka, Jogoo Road and Karen.

After passing a driving test conducted by the Kenya Police, the next step was to apply for a license from the Road Transport Department of the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), initially housed at Nyayo House, then moved to Times Tower in the Nairobi city center. KRA would issue a provisional license at the start of the official DL red book acquisition process.

Obtaining the red book could take from six months to even a year, with vigorous follow-up. The multi-page DL was renewed annually or for a period of up to three years, and each renewal slip was stuck inside the booklet. The risk of losing or misplacing the slip was high.

The DL processing center was characteristic of a chaotic market. A typical day was spent in long lines, with tired-looking cashiers dealing with manual requests and rowdy, frustrated customers – some screaming to be heard. Often, manual files submitted by applicants disappeared due to poor file management.

The digitization of the process has put an end to the heartache of DL holders. Now they only carry one card, which can be easily verified on-site by traffic officers via the NTSA mobile app.

The Smart DL has contributed to better management and security of Kenya’s transport system, which serves as the backbone of trade and investment for Kenya and the East African community.

Installed with a chip that contains driver information, the new license also supports the establishment of a demerit point system and can facilitate the payment of instant fines. The demerit point system is designed to eliminate reckless drivers and improve road safety. The NTSA estimates that 5 million registered drivers in Kenya will be hosted on its digital platform when the government withdraws the DL red book.

The government’s investment in technology was timely given the disruption the COVID-19 pandemic has caused in the provision of services that rely on manual treatment. It allowed Kenyans to continue to access services through virtual connections.

The rapid adoption of Smart DL shows how collaboration between the government and the World Bank is helping to improve the quality of transport services. World Bank financing and technical assistance have helped Kenya find solutions that have enhanced the contribution of the transport sector to Kenya’s economic development.

Kenya’s experience has shown how the digitization of processes and organizational changes can improve government services, save money and improve the lives of citizens. Digital services allow government to become more efficient and resilient in meeting the expectations of its people, even with limited resources.

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