Morgan Tait

Morgan Tait is the NZ Herald's consumer affairs reporter.

Race ace red-lights NZ drivers

Kiwis are 'terrible' motorists, but a few simple changes could save many lives.

Greg Murphy says road safety isn't taken seriously in New Zealand. Photo / Dean Purcell
Greg Murphy says road safety isn't taken seriously in New Zealand. Photo / Dean Purcell

Champion motorsport ace Greg Murphy says New Zealanders are "terrible" drivers and the country has a culture where road safety isn't taken seriously.

The four-time Bathurst 1000 winner is calling for a law change to make professional driver training compulsory for anyone trying to get a licence - a move he says will save the lives of more New Zealanders.

"We are 100 per cent not taking it seriously enough. Knowing that we could have a lot more young Kiwis, and New Zealanders as a whole, still with us if we just changed a few simple things - it's really quite ridiculous," Murphy told the Herald.

"This could change lives and I find it disturbing we haven't changed things earlier and saved people going through the pain and damage of losing someone they love on the road," he said.

"We need to make some changes sooner rather than later."

Changes in 2011 that raised the minimum driving age from 15 to 16 and applied a zero-alcohol tolerance to all drivers under 20 had started addressing some issues, but more were needed.

When testing was restructured in 2012 to make it harder to obtain a restricted licence, the concept of professional driver training was left off the safety checklist, he said.

Transport Authority figures for that year showed 61 Kiwis aged from 15 to 24 were killed on roads here, and a further 3378 were seriously injured.

"The issue here is driver training," Murphy said.

"Drivers these days, and their parents, came up in generations where there was no compulsory training and there still isn't."

Murphy, who is also the face of the Motor Trade Association's in-school safety programme, wants new drivers to have the skills to cope with New Zealand's unique roading conditions.

"The training side of things is absolutely critical. I can guarantee that if people had the skills and training to start with, we would be in a much better situation, where a lot of these crashes that happen would have a chance of not even happening."

He said safety features of cars compensated for human error and increased the chance of survival, but nothing compensated for a lack of knowledge and skills.

"The level of skills in New Zealand is just terrible, the culture that we have got, and as long as there is no skills training we are going to stay very bad drivers.

"If people had a little bit more understanding of what they were doing and the risks associated with what they were doing and had the training, they wouldn't make those errors."

Waikato University transport psychologist Dr Robert Isler said raising the driver age to 18 could also have a positive impact on road safety.

"We have done lots of research on young people and I think 16 is still too young.

"We have proof that the licensing should be made harder and more challenging so that people train more and have more supervised driving from their parents and can take up professional training as well - there should be more focus on coaching," Dr Isler said.

New Zealand was one of the worst-performing countries in the developed world when it came to young people dying on the roads, he said.

Associate Transport Minister Michael Woodhouse said the government's changes, part of its Safer Journeys 10-year road safety strategy, were working and he did not see a need to raise the minimum driving age or implement compulsory training.

"Four years in, and we're seeing some positive results," he said. "2013 was the lowest road toll in 60 years. The number of 16- to 24-year-olds seriously injured on our roads in 2013 was 37 per cent lower than four years ago.

"This downward trend is pleasing to see, but there are still too many young people - particularly young men - involved in serious crashes, and this age group will continue to be a focus for the Government."

- NZ Herald

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