Teuila Fuatai is a reporter for the NZ Herald

New test baffles learners

Learner drivers in the Far North appear to be struggling to meet rigorous new test standards for restricted licences.

Figures from the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) show almost 250 motorists in the Far North district sat the new exam between February 27 and September 14 - and 65 per cent failed, compared to the national average of 59 per cent.

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

Far North Road Safety driving instructor Angelene Waitohi works with drivers who have failed the restricted test.

"It's a lot stricter. They're looking for a lot more competencies. And I think the younger drivers need to learn a little bit more around the safety aspect (before sitting the test)," Mrs Waitohi said.

Figures also showed about 8900 motorists in New Zealand had their exams cut short due to critical errors such as being involved in a collision, driving at excessive speed and ignoring instructions.

About 140 were from the Far North.

Mrs Waitohi said working with a qualified driving instructor before a test would help many motorists. The 2011 national pass rate for the previous restricted test 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."

Controversy around the current test flared after an internal NZ Driver Licensing memo was leaked to the media last month saying the pass rate for the new exam 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 said there is no quota. "The fact of the matter is that more than 50 per cent of applicants are now passing restricted licence tests.

"People are getting the message that this is a harder test (and) they are putting in more preparation," he said.

- Northern Advocate

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