Govt wants to make it easier to get permit for heavy trucks, to ease shortage of drivers.

The Government wants to streamline the driver licensing system and make it easier to obtain a heavy truck licence, which may help alleviate a shortage of drivers in the industry.

New Zealand's graduated licensing system sees drivers pass through licences from class 2 to class 5 which cover increasingly heavy vehicles. Australia is the only other country with such a system, and it has been criticised by transport companies who say the complexity and cost of progressing between classes is a disincentive for drivers and has led to a skills shortage.

Road freight has increased 60 per cent since 2000, while the number of people with Class 5 licences has risen only 10 per cent. The Ministry of Transport's driver licensing review discussion paper, released yesterday, suggests three options outside the status quo to change the heavy vehicle licensing system.

The ministry's preferred option would involve removing the "rarely used" class 3 licence as well as learner licences for class 4 and 5, while retaining a theory test for class 5 licences, and allowing full licence holders to drive a vehicle in a higher licence class without supervision. Outside analysts have estimated the net benefit of the ministry's preferred option would be between $24.3 million and $44.3 million over 20 years. Two other options both involved the removal of the class 3 licence, with one allowing for a direct progression from a class 2 licence to a class 5 full licence for drivers 25 or over.

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The preferred option would reduce compliance costs while maintaining safety "although there may be a risk of increased unsupervised driving of vehicles that could have negative safety outcomes", the ministry said.

The discussion paper also looks at removing special endorsement requirements for people to drive forklifts and vehicles which run on rollers, such as bulldozers, as well as simplifying rules around which tractors can be driven on a class 1 licence. The stand-down requirements for passenger endorsements, which covers bus and taxi drivers, from two years to one for drivers over 25 have also been proposed.

It also suggests removing vision tests for drivers renewing their licences, while keeping requirements for older drivers and commercial drivers. This would make online driver licence renewals easier and more attractive.

Drivers would have to make a declaration when renewing their licences that they are not aware of their vision having deteriorated since their last renewal.