Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Most in favour of 'R' plates option

Safety experts are looking across the ditch to see how Australian states administer their 'R' equivalent, Photo / Thinkstock
Safety experts are looking across the ditch to see how Australian states administer their 'R' equivalent, Photo / Thinkstock

News that the Government will look at "R" plates for drivers on restricted licences has been welcomed by advocates, with some saying the move is overdue.

Associate Minister of Transport Simon Bridges said the Government would consider the option this year as part of a re-evaluation of licensing.

Safety experts are looking across the ditch to see how Australian states administer their "R" equivalent, the provisional licence.

Dr Dorothy Begg of the Otago University Injury Prevention Research Unit told Radio NZ that graduating from provisional or "P" plates was a major goal for Australian drivers.

Provisional licensing varies among Australian states, but all early provisional licences require drivers to display the plates, usually red on white.

Most P-2 licensed drivers, except for those in Tasmania, also had to display the green-on-white P-2 plates.

Depending on the state, P-plate holders are limited to when they can drive, who they can drive with and face tougher demerit punishments for infringements.

Several states operate a zero-alcohol regime for P-plate drivers and some enforce a reduced speed limit for drivers on a provisional licence.

Most experts contacted by the Herald were in favour of the concept of R plates in New Zealand.

The AA is yet to form a view on the proposed plates, but says drivers are most at risk in the first nine months of driving solo.

Waikato University road safety researcher Dr Robert Isler considered R plates more crucial than L plates.

"When drivers are on their restricted licences, their risk increases between eight to 10 times," he said.

"They take risks when they shouldn't, because they haven't got the experience."

John Finch, whose organisation Right Track runs programmes across the upper North Island for high-risk young drivers, said: "The whole R plate is a very good idea. The greater the awareness of these young drivers to other drivers, the better."

However, he added that globally, punitive approaches to tackling the issue had proven unsuccessful.

Local Authority Traffic Institute president Andy Foster said if L-plates made sense, so did R-plates.

"I think the Government is saying that we should put a limit on the time somebody can hold a restricted licence - and I think that makes sense."

He felt the move was one small piece in a "very big jigsaw" which would address the problem.

Safety Council executive director David Calvert agreed, saying the measure was "well overdue".

"It lets the rest of us know they are on a restricted licence ... and other people can observe them if they're not complying with the requirements."

Drink- and drug-driving researcher Gerald Waters, said he would like to see the R plates introduced if they had proven to be working overseas.

But dogandlemon.com editor Clive Matthew-Wilson believed restricted plates were of only limited benefit. "Half of the highest risk group don't have licences anyway. How can R plates possibly curb their behaviour?"

An unscientific nzherald.co.nz poll found that 55 per cent of respondents thought the concept would not make a difference to the road toll.

- NZ Herald

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