Aotearoa sits at a junction in how we tackle road safety. And young drivers are key to the outcome.

In 1988, we shifted from a lax “congratulations on not hitting anything around the block, here’s your license” system, to a ‘graduated’ system with young Kiwis needing to get their Learners and Restricted licenses before being able to get their Full license. 

The purpose of the system was to ensure that only once certain milestones have been met and particular skills acquired can a young person get their unrestricted full license. This in contrast to sitting one test, and then having virtually unrestrained access to our roads. 

This sounds great in theory, but as a country we’re finding that the system is not doing its job: it’s expensive, time consuming, and clearly isn’t effective at ensuring we have lifelong safe drivers on our roads. Proof of this is our road death toll, the huge waitlists for license tests and the astonishing number of drivers who never progress from Learners or Restricted licenses, resulting in inevitable traffic offenses.

The balancing act of any driver licensing system is to ensure that drivers are skilled enough to safely use our roads, while not imposing overly stringent hoops that prevent those without the time or money from having the same access as others. 

However, the first problem with our current system is the cost. 

To sit your learner’s theory test it costs $94 dollars. After 6 months, you can sit your restricted – and you’ll be pinged another $135. After 18 months it’ll cost you another $110 dollars to get your full. Assuming you never fail a test (unlikely, given the restricted test has just a 57% pass rate[1]), that comes to a grand total of $339. If you fail your restricted once, the re-sit fee will bring your total to $428. 

So, with these costs, getting your license is simply unaffordable for many. The risk of an infringement by breaching license conditions or not having one at all is often worth the money saved by not sitting the necessary tests. That’s a dangerous position for us to be in as a country. The government must fund or significantly subsidize driver license tests or else it gambles with the safety of those on our roads. 

Throw into the works the fact that Hastings only has a couple certified testers, and you begin to get a picture of what a difficult system this is. We also need to work on increasing testing capacity so that the wait to sit a test is within weeks, not months – particularly in the wake of lockdown backlog. 

In addition, defensive driving courses which start from $229 (AA) can shave 6 months off the time before someone can get their full license. But what this essentially means is that those who have the money can get their license earlier, while those who simply can’t afford it must wait longer.

If the goal is to have better drivers on our roads, then making the defensive driving course free and even compulsory would be a step in the right direction. It would ensure that it isn’t just accessible for a portion of the population, and that every single Kiwi who we certify to drive on our roads has done some substantive training – not just passed some tests. Private driving lessons aren’t cheap, and – sorry mum and dad – proper training is needed so as to not pick up your bad habits! Defensive driving courses offer a middle ground of both theory and practical driver training that should be offered to all Kiwis.

In 2020, Associate Minister of Transport Julie Anne Genter stated: “We want safe, qualified drivers on our roads, and we know that when people are able to progress all the way through to their full license they’re less likely to be involved in a serious injury crash.” Why then, has the government recently doubled the license expiry periods for learners and restricted licenses to 10 years, drastically lowering the time imperative to progress to a full license – which the government admits makes you a safer driver?

We also have a system that gifts people their license back every 10 years without any certification that they’ve maintained the skills required to be a safe driver. 

The answer isn’t to require people to completely re-sit their tests every time. Still, being a safe road user is a privilege not a right. We need some way of checking up on drivers whether that be a short online test with questions about the road code, taken from the safety of their own home, or answering some verbal questions at the local testing center. Perhaps this renewal test should be reserved for those who’ve received a traffic infringement over their 10-year license period – another incentive to avoid speeding fines!

Our driver license system needs a serious shakeup. The focus of driver safety seems to revolve around speed, whereas 90% of all fatal and serious injury crashes involve driver error. We need to seriously examine what training we provide to our road users to ensure they can be the safest drivers that our country needs them to be. Lives depend on it.

Keelan is Youth MP for Tukituki and has been Head Boy at Karamu and Chairperson of the Hastings Youth Council. He will be studying Public Policy & Management at Victoria this year.


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  1. What a sensible evaluation of the driving test system. Yet another system that favours those with means and not those without. Some good suggestions there to fix the challenges of getting a full licence. I hope Julie-Anne reads this.

  2. The answer, in my humble opinion, is relatively simple – make driver training part of the school curriculum. So every kid who wants a drivers licence can get one before they leave school. Costs become part of the education budget. Then keep the current model for adult applicants.

  3. The harder you make it to get a licence the higher the standard of those who pass. But the harder you make it the greater the level of non-compliance i.e. unlicensed drivers.

  4. I agree make it part of the school curriculum, it after a life skill like cooking, woodwork, metalwork, home ec.

  5. Simple, easy, if u cant afford 2 get a licience u cant have 1. Same as wanting 2 go out 4 dinner, cant afford it u miss out. Last year it cost $303 to renew my 2 PSV licences. This is a privilege 4 me so I pay and that’s the way it should be 4 all. Most times if u do the hard yards and pay ur own way u will appreciate ur hard earned privileges. Also every licienced driver should be made 2 do a full refresher course every 7 years. This involves driving, theory and safety and this should be for free. This way there is no excuse 4 not knowing the road rules, basic things like stopping at stop signs, givingway, correct side of road 2 park on, correctly indicating at roundabouts. Increase fines $150 for an offence is ridiculous. Most people earn more than that in a day. Penalties should be such that drivers miss out and hopefully learn by their mistakes. If u loose ur licence for an offence then u have 2 resit and it costs u all over again. Remember driving on our roads is a privilege and costs you therefore driving education should be a lot more strict and involved, not made cheaper or expect the government to pay for part of initial training. Each individual pays all expenses so as to hopefully appreciate their efforts otherwise it will cost them dearly. Think about it all privileges cost us money, this is just 1 example.

  6. Wording in the road code can be confusing. Right hand rule is very basic and should read ” give way to all traffic on ur right and when changing direction to ur right ” Easy. Not going on about top of the ” T ” this and top of the ” T ” that, so confusing. They list things 2 do when approaching an intersection. Top of the list is ” Look in revision mirror check for traffic behind you ” well 1 you should already be aware of anything behind you and 2 when approaching an intersection you should be concentrating solely on what’s in front of you. Indercating at least 50 – 100 meters, not 2-3 seconds, before intersection or where ever practicable, etc. Always concentrating on what’s in front of you, not behind. The road code should be worded so as to make things easy to learn/pick up, easier to remember. Direct, straight to the point.

  7. Look at the actual statistics and it is obvious the safe drivers are the over 25s so why would anybody think it a good idea to re-test drivers every 10 years.That is just stupid.The system now is all about preying on the learner driver and extracting maximum money from them…All fatalities associated with fleeing drivers in stolen cars should not be counted as “accidents”.There are more of these every year.They are not road accidents,they are deliberate crimes that often result in deaths.The law needs to come down hard on these people,not on the learner driver or the experienced older driver.Youngsters should have the chance to learn driving and get their licence while at school.

  8. Making the defensive driving course free, and/ or compulsory is an excellent idea. I did one of the first ones and have never forgotten some of the things I learned there.
    And I see no harm a regular online road rule quiz, refreshing! See how many don’t know how to indicate through a roundabout eg.

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