Ford Cars China
In China, a government crackdown on spending has forced many government officials to take the wheel rather than use a chauffeur. In this photo, an employee walks past new cars at the parking lot of a Changan Ford Mazda site in Chongqing Municipality, China, on Oct. 12, 2010. Reuters

An ongoing crackdown on extravagant government spending has left many Chinese officials without personal drivers. As chauffeurs get the ax, many Chinese officials have been forced to take the wheel themselves, with many first needing to take lessons to qualify for a driver's license.

Driving instructors in northeast Jilin province have seen a significant rise in the number of students, many of them officials who recently lost their drivers, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported. The People’s Daily reported a similar increase in southeastern Fujian province.

“I have a 56-year-old student who is the director of his government department and he was forced to apply to learn to drive thanks to the public car reforms,” one driving instructor told Xinhua. It seems, however, that because of their roles as leaders, government officials don’t always make the best students.

“Since he is the person in charge in his department and the one making final decisions, he continues this habit and drives exactly as he wants," the instructor said.

“They pick up driving skills relatively slowly compared with younger students,” another instructor said. “What’s more, having been leaders for years ... powerful and aggressive in their department, these officials are erratic in learning.”

To be fair to the government officials, Chinese driving tests are notoriously difficult. National Public Radio (NPR) reported that scoring anywhere below 90 percent on the 100-question written portion of the driving exam, culled from a pool of 1,000 questions, is considered failing. Two years ago, authorities added new questions to the test, causing even more people to fail.

And that is all before anyone gets behind the wheel. Additionally, Financial Times reported that logging the required number of driving hours with an instructor can cost as much as $1,500 -- not including the test-taking fees.

But government efforts to halt extravagant spending could just be paving the way for more shady behavior. In China, it is common for driver's license candidates -- whether natives or foreigners -- to hire someone to take the written exam for them. Speaking to NPR, Virgil Adams, a financial manager in Jiangsu province, said he hired an “agent” to help fix his results for about $150. Adams sat at a computer at the testing center, tried his best to answer questions, but left without submitting his answers. “My best guess is that probably my agent walked in, sat down at my seat, reviewed my answers and corrected any wrong ones.”

While that scam may work for the written exam, most officials won’t be able to pay their way out of the driving portion of the test.