Push on to raise minimum driver age

By Phil Taylor

Transport Minister Annette King has raised the prospect of Parliament being polled on lifting the legal driving age, saying it was probably time to see what MPs thought.

National's transport spokesman, Maurice Williamson, personally favours lifting the age to 16, although he says his party has not yet formed a policy.

Such a move would appear to have the support of United Future leader Peter Dunne, whose suggestion that the Government is spending up on roads but does not want to address the driving issue prompted Ms King's comments.

Mr Dunne said the Government seemed unwilling to increase the driving age from 15 despite "widespread support" for such a measure, prompting Ms King to suggest he test that support by polling Parliament.

The debate follows two accidents last Saturday involving 15-year-old drivers in which four people died.

Mr Williamson told the Weekend Herald New Zealand was out of step with comparable countries. When he was transport minister, he pushed to raise the age to 16.

"It was beaten by the old argument that rural kids need to be able to drive," Mr Williamson said.

"I still can't quite reconcile that, because 15 was set because that was the school leaving age. The argument was that once kids left school they should be able to get a driver's licence. The leaving age got raised to 16 and I would have thought that by the same logic the driving age should rise."

If Queensland and Victoria, which had huge distances between towns, got by with a driving age of 16, why couldn't New Zealand?

Fatalities among 15-year-olds are comparatively low because most are learners under supervision. The period of greatest danger is the first six months of driving unsupervised.

"If you move the start of the process, you move it up into an older category where I would hope some more sensible heads prevailed," Mr Williamson said. Raising the age would put us in step with other nations. "Frankly we are the outrider. But the vast majority of the rural members of Parliament from all sides still believe 15 is okay."

An increase in age is not among young-driver safety measures that Transport Safety Minister Harry Duynhoven is to take to the Cabinet in coming weeks.

"We are looking at a variety of things but simply raising the driving age isn't one of them," Mr Duynhoven said. "Virtually all serious crashes involving a young person are when they have their mates with them or they are racing one of their mates."

Holders of restricted licences are not generally allowed to carry passengers. Mr Duynhoven said measures would seek to achieve better compliance of licence restrictions including educating parents, "because a lot of parents turn a blind eye to their kids travelling with their mates and some parents are even stupid enough to pay their kid's fine".

Age was not a panacea, he said. Fifteen-year-olds might be more likely to adhere to parental advice than older teenagers, but scientists had discovered full brain maturity did not kick in until about 25.

- additional reporting, NZPA

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