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Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Change is the single big constant

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Listen to your father, kid, and keep your distance.  Photo / Getty Images
Listen to your father, kid, and keep your distance. Photo / Getty Images

That the percentage of candidates passing their restricted driving licence test first time round has fallen from 80 per cent to 39 per cent is grand news. It means that the new drivers coming on to our roads will also be better drivers.

Our standard of driving is among the worst in the world. We know this because the rest of the world often mentions this when it's here on holiday. New Zealand is to driving what Fiji is to democracy.

Improvement needs to start early. Young people in recent years have got the message that being allowed to drive is a sober and serious business, not something they qualify for automatically when they reach a certain age, which used to be 15 (or 12 if you lived on a farm). Now they are beginning to understand that driving is complicated.

The test guidelines still seem self-evident. You'll fail if you drive recklessly, cause a crash or exceed the speed limit. What's changed is that new drivers are being put through much more complex scenarios than previously, when if you could manage a three-point turn, parallel park and get from one motorway entrance to the next motorway exit you were in.

This is good, because complex scenarios are what driving in traffic throws at us every day.

Good driving is important, not just because it reduces fatalities - possibly mine. It also means we will not have many thousands of injuries of varying degrees of seriousness and expensive damage to vehicles and other property that are a direct result of incompetence behind the wheel.

* * *

The Encyclopaedia Britannica in all its weighty gravitas played a large part in my childhood. We had the 1957 edition and I was fascinated by the sheer quantity of its contents. School projects were a doddle as I diligently copied out whole entries onto large pieces of cardboard.

But we grew up. The publication went from being a source of wonder to being a novelty to being a useful tool for weighing down anything being glued to being something that took up space in a corner of the garage until it had gathered enough mould to justify disposal.

Now, after 244 years, its publishers have discarded its 32-volume print edition, realising that no one will pay for an inferior version of what they can get for free.

Knowledge grows so quickly in the internet age that, as PC World commented, the Britannica was out of date the moment it was printed. Not a good look for a reference tool. For all its faults, Wikipedia is more authoritative in many areas, notably science and technology, than the Britannica ever was.

The Britannica's fate is a reminder that anyone who resists the consequences of technological change - I'm thinking particularly of movie companies and the music industry - is doomed to extinction.

* * *

Who knew we had 160 insurance companies? We now have 110, as 50 have opted not to continue in business.

The cause appears to be new Reserve Bank conditions designed to improve public confidence in the insurance industry.

These conditions require an insurance company to have between $3 million and $5 million in backup capital - that's roughly the price of a couple of houses in one of Auckland's more desirable suburbs - to continue trading.

If 50 companies couldn't scratch up that much in funds, perhaps the public was right to lack confidence.

- Herald on Sunday

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