Hawke's Bay has worst driving test failures in NZ

By TEUILA FUATAI

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Aspiring drivers in Hawke's Bay have one of the highest restricted licence test failure rates in the country - but one of the region's top road cops says that could be for the best.

The region's officer in charge of road policing, Senior Sergeant Fred van Duuren, said the tougher testing was for the greater good, because local drivers needed to be competent and confident.

"At the end of the day, if the tests are a little bit more strict, that's got to be a good thing."

Almost 700 people sat the restricted test in the Hastings and Napier districts between February 27 and September 14, with an average failure rate of 66 per cent.

The national average is 59 per cent.

Overall, young Hawke's Bay drivers are the same as those across the country.

"There are good ones and there are bad ones. I think that a lot of young drivers exceed their abilities too soon."

Last month two teenagers were left fighting for their lives following a drag race crash in Central Hawke's Bay.

The new restricted test is longer and harder than the one it replaced. It lasts 45 minutes instead of 30 and involves driving through different speed zones.

Focus Driving School owner and instructor Donna Keeley, Hastings, said parents should invest more time in helping children to achieve the 120 driving hours required to sit the restricted test.

"Parents have to get involved so rather than spending more money on resitting tests, they can prevent that by spending more time with their children and teaching them good driving skills and awareness about what it is to be a safe driver on the road."

Ms Keeley is also the New Zealand Institute of Driving Instructors delegate for the Midlands district, which covers Palmerston North, Hawke's Bay, Tauranga and Hamilton.

She said New Zealand had the highest death rate of teenage drivers in the developed world.

"The changes introduced this year in February follow the driving tests used in Victoria, Australia, which are a lot harder than what we had. Students are resitting or don't pass the test here because they are unprepared or haven't done enough driving hours to be ready for the test."

Ms Keeley said the poor test results reflected a "phasing in period" of the new rules.

"We started with a pass rate of about 21 per cent and for some reason Hawke's Bay was a bit lower than other areas but my latest figures show an October pass rate of 58 per cent.

"Each month hinges on how many are sitting the test and we usually get more during the holidays."

The real value of the change might not be known for some years.

"The whole purpose of this is to see if we are lowering the crash and death rate. It will take a few years to see those figures emerge."

Ms Keeley said information was available online so parents could find out how best to help their children prepare for the test.

"There is an AA education programme designed to help parents prepare their children and I offer help as well, I've designed a handout which explains what is needed, to try and make it look less daunting."

Top Drive instructor Linda Satherley, Napier, said the number of people asking to resit their licence test had increased since the changes were introduced.

"We might have people who have failed once, twice or on rare occasions, three times. You have to do a basic assessment of their driving to work out where they might be falling down."

Most of those who failed needed to be more prepared and spend more time "doing their homework" to reach the standard now required.

"They are generally accepting of the advice I give them because they want the licence, that's what the end result is."

NZTA figures show almost 21,000 motorists sat the new test between February 27 and September 14, and almost 12,300 failed.

Of those, about 8900 had their exams cut short because of critical or immediate-failure errors such as being involved in a collision, driving at excessive speed and ignoring instructions.

The 2011 pass rate was 81 per cent.

NZTA spokesman Andrew Knackstedt said the new test was designed to better prepare novice drivers and the organisation made no apology for that.

"New Zealand has one of the highest rates of teen road deaths in the OECD.

"We have made it very clear from the beginning that this is a more challenging test and we encourage people to ensure they are adequately prepared before sitting it."

But Mr Knackstedt said the pass rate was expected to climb gradually as people recognised the need to put in more preparation. Latest figures suggested that was happening. The pass rate has risen from 38 per cent in March to 52 per cent last month.

Controversy around the test flared after an internal NZ Driver Licensing memo was leaked to the media last month. Written by national operations manager Gerard Clark, the memo said the pass rate should be about 40 per cent.

In March - a month after the test was introduced - the pass rate plummeted to 38 per cent.

Mr Knackstedt denied the existence of set rates.

"There is no target for pass or fail rates and there is no quota. There is, however, an expectation that the test will be applied with a degree of consistency around the country. The fact of the matter is more than 50 per cent of applicants are now passing restricted licence tests," he said. "People are getting the message that this is a harder test [and] they are putting in more preparation."

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- Hawkes Bay Today

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