PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - More than 6,000 students from 20 driving schools in Selangor cannot sit for their learner driver's test owing to an apparent shortage of Highway Code books.
This has raised a furore among parents of candidates, as their children are held back from taking the theory part of their driving test and so cannot get their "L" licence.
A mother who wanted to be known only as Ros, 47, said her daughter was unable to take her online test two months after enrolling in a driving school here in October.
She said the 17-year-old had been preparing for the test with a "recycled" book from the driving school.
Each book bears a serial number that the candidate must use to log in and take the test.
"I wanted her to get her licence before she goes to university.
"She has not received the book until now, although we have paid her fees in full," said Ros, adding that she felt disappointed as both a mother and a paying customer.
Another parent, Ray, 50, said his son enrolled for driving lessons right after his SPM examination.
"He has been held back because of insufficient books.
"He will be starting university soon. It is supposed to be his time to be independent, but we still have to worry about his transportation now," he said.
A driving institute owner here, who requested anonymity, claimed his company had not received adequate supply of books from the Road Transport Department (JPJ) since June.
He claimed the shortage was sparked by an "internal problem" between the Finance Ministry and the printing company.
"Production of the books stopped completely in June. We only received 20 copies and some students have been waiting for almost four months," he said.
He said the long delay between the lessons and the time they finally get to take the test has caused nearly half the students to fail.
"They then blame us when they have to retake the test," he added.
Another driving institute owner, who gave his name as Raj, said his academy in Shah Alam has been on the receiving end of its clients' anger for the past two months.
"If we order 2,000 books, we get only 1,000. It is not enough. Some candidates want to get their L licence before going to study overseas but cannot because there aren't enough books," he claimed.
JPJ, on the other hand, advised driving schools to control their intake while waiting for "staggered delivery" of the books.
Deputy director-general (management) Datuk Wan Ahmad Uzir Wan Sulaiman said JPJ was fulfilling orders for the books, but would deliver them in instalments.
He said some popular driving institutes may experience a shortage of books as they attract more customers than others.
"Parents may also have a preference and enrol their children in popular schools," he said, adding that some establishments even offer fees below the ceiling price set by JPJ to attract customers.
"That's when the shortage happens because they are not able to meet demand."
Wan Ahmad Uzir said the department could not be prejudiced towards any institute and must deliver the code books in equal proportions.
In 2014, thousands of learner drivers and motorcyclists nationwide were affected by an acute shortage of the Highway Code book after the new driving curriculum was implemented in August that year.
Previously, the books could be obtained from third-party printers but under the new syllabus, driving school operators have to buy them directly from JPJ.
Malaysian Driving Institute Association president Mat Aris Bakar said he had reminded JPJ ahead of time about the seasonal increase in demand for driving licences.
"I have told JPJ to publish at least 600,000 books each year for driving and motorcycle candidates. This corresponds with the Education Ministry's statistics, which indicate that 500,000 students take the SPM each year.
"The best time for school-leavers to get their licence is after SPM when they are at the appropriate driving age," he said.
He urged institutes to know their limitations and not take in more students than they could handle.