Rush for licences before rules change

By Amelia Wade

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Young motorists are queuing to sit their restricted licence tests before the driving exams become harder and longer at the end of the month.

The next available appointment in Auckland to sit the test is six weeks away - twice the normal waiting time.

The rush to sit the mid-level licence is because the New Zealand Transport Agency will lengthen the previously 30-minute test to 45 minutes from February 27.

The test will also become more challenging - including minimum levels of traffic, multiple lanes and merge lanes within a 60-80km/h speed zone.

The new thresholds were designed to encourage learner drivers to clock up 120 hours of supervised practice before they sit the test.

However, the threat of the more difficult exam has driven learner drivers to sit their tests before the changes come into effect.

Auckland mother Victoria Carter tried to book her son in to sit the restricted test but was dismayed when every driver-testing station from Warkworth to Pukekohe told her they were out of luck.

"It's ridiculous," she said. "They should have anticipated it and put more people on."

Mrs Carter wants her son, Cameron, aged 18, to sit his driving exam before he starts studying at Otago University this month.

So she is sending him down to Dunedin early to sit his test in a rented car on February 23 - just four days before "the crucial date".

Mrs Carter, a former Auckland city councillor, said she could understand why young drivers were trying to get their restricted licence before the changes.

"It's only human nature. If there's going to be a law change, you're going to try to get what you can before it changes."

AA driver training manager Karen Dickson has noticed an increase in young people learning with her association, which she says is directly related to the change this month.

"We're always busy at this time of year with the school holidays ... but we are certainly more busy than usual," she said.

"I think a lot of people have thought, 'Well, I started my licence programme under this regime and I've done my six months on my learner [licence] or longer and so I'd like to sit the test under the same conditions'."

Transport Agency executive Michael Cummins confirmed that the number of drivers sitting tests had risen over the summer.

However, he said it was unclear if the demand was due to the usual school holiday rush or because of the change in the restricted test, or both.

Normal wait times for practical driving tests were up to three weeks in Auckland, reaching up to 13 weeks for some of the more-remote areas.

The agency changed the tests after research showed that young drivers who completed 120 hours of supervised practice on their learner licence had a solo-driving crash rate 40 per cent lower than those who completed only 50 hours.

Taking the new test

The test comprises two stages and is expected to take about one hour to complete.

It includes:
* Conducting a pre-drive vehicle safety check
* A 45-minute practical drive
* Feedback to the applicant on their performance at the end of the test

The on-road practical test is made up of two stages:
Stage 1 Takes 10 minutes and is a set of relatively simple driving tasks conducted in a less-complex traffic environment.
Stage 2 Takes 35 minutes and is designed to assess the applicant's ability to perform more-challenging tasks in moderately challenging environments.

Next available drivers' tests:

* Manukau - March 15
* Westgate - March 7
* Northcross - March 6
* Orewa - March 6
* Penrose - March 6
* Pukekohe - March 6.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a2 at 31 Jul 2014 05:59:18 Processing Time: 614ms