Editorial: Test drivers must not be taken for ride

By Dylan Thorne

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The high failure rate for restricted licence tests may point to a lack of preparedness on the part of those taking the test but it also raises questions about the system itself.

This week, we reported nearly half of Western Bay's learner drivers were failing their restricted licence tests under a tough testing regime.

Licence testing has come under the spotlight following allegations an enraged driver punched the Auckland testing officer who had just failed him in a practical driving test.

The regime, introduced in February 2012 as part of the Safer Journeys strategy, has been criticised for its high failure rates and inconsistencies between testing officers.

New Zealand Transport Agency figures showed between February 2012 and April this year, 1224 learner drivers in the Western Bay passed their restricted tests, while 1111 failed, a pass rate of 52 per cent.

A significantly higher proportion passed their full licence tests, with 1074 passing and just 343 failing.

Western Bay drivers' overall pass rate during this period was 52 per cent for restricted, and 76 per cent for full licence tests - both higher than the national rate.

The young people who fail these tests no doubt feel that they are being unfairly targeted by the tough testing regime but the statistics are not in their favour.

Road crashes are the single biggest killer of teenagers in New Zealand and our teen crash rates are among the worst in the developed world.

It is obvious that we need to stop this waste of young life.

It is important though that the licensing regime is fair and that the bar is not set so high people are bound to fail - especially when you consider that it costs $88 to sit the test.

Kevin Brooks, a Tauranga driving instructor, says people are not passing their tests as they are turning up "totally unprepared" with no real idea of the finesse of driving safely.

He says most people do not get anywhere near the recommended 120 hours' supervised driving time and in my view that is not surprising.

As one commentator has noted, in many families both parents work in order to survive. Finding the funds to pay an instructor or spending 120 hours in a vehicle supervising their dependent is likely to be difficult.

It will be harder for single parent families and those without a vehicle.

An Auckland parent spoke out after his 18-year-old daughter broke down in tears after failing her restricted driving test for the fifth time.

Glenn Mclaughlin spent $670 on driver's licence tests for his daughter and has three other teenagers who could be in for a similar experience.

He sat in on two of the driving tests to see for himself why she was failing.

"On the morning of her last test there were four other people sitting their tests; two who were teenagers and two who were older. All failed.

"It is so, so hard. Every single time it's a different reason," the father said.

Given the expense and time it takes to meet those expectations then any irregularities in the testing, if they exist, need to be ironed out. Yes, we need to ensure that people are ready to get behind the wheel so they do not present a danger to themselves or those they share the road with but the system needs to be realistic and, most importantly, fair.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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