Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Young drivers scorn restricted label plan

Otumoetai College students (who include from left) Grace McKerras, Chris Charlton, Kane Carter, Jack Dodd and Jessica Lacy are not sure if the R plate idea will work. Picture / Alan Gibson
Otumoetai College students (who include from left) Grace McKerras, Chris Charlton, Kane Carter, Jack Dodd and Jessica Lacy are not sure if the R plate idea will work. Picture / Alan Gibson

Teenagers suggest better training, bigger fines, engine restrictions and 'listening'

Young drivers have rubbished plans for compulsory R plates, with one asking, "Are they going to have O plates for old people as well?"

The discussion group of six Year 12 students from Otumoetai College in Tauranga - 16-year-olds Grace McKerras, Jessica Lacy, Abbie Brown, Kane Carter and Jack Dodd and 17-year-old Chris Charlton - were unanimously against the idea and said young drivers around the country would rail against the measure if it was introduced.

All agreed with Kane's summary of the plan: "It's a bad idea, a waste of money and people won't comply with it anyway - there are other ways of keeping the death toll down that would be way more accepted."

Associate Transport Minister Simon Bridges said R plates would be considered this year as part of a push to reduce the road toll, but it was not clear whether the plates would mirror the Australian system.

A new report found more than half of "high-risk" drivers were under the age of 30.

More than 700 Kiwi teenagers have died in road crashes in the past decade, and the country has the highest road death rate in the OECD for 16- and 17-year-olds and the fourth-highest for 18- to 20-year-olds.

But the discussion group said that although R plates would be a good motivator for people to get their full licences as soon as possible, they would also put many teens off driving.

Instead, they suggested bigger fines, better driver training, restrictions on engine power, access to race tracks and other changes to the licensing system.

"A little sign isn't going to make you a better driver," Grace said.

Abbie: "It's just one more thing you have to worry about, really - and the bad drivers wouldn't comply at all, they just wouldn't worry about it, and the police would be pulling over only those obeying the law."

Kane believed young drivers were unfairly viewed as "boy racers" - and none of the group believed lawmakers listened to young people when making decisions. Said one: "They already just changed the rules, and all it is is a small population making it bad for everyone else."

Those drivers, the group said, would know better than to display R plates when driving other passengers late at night.

"You get bad drivers at any age," Kane said.

Added Abbie: "What about older drivers? Are they going to have O plates for old people as well?"

Being able to drive was important to young people both practically and socially, they said, and meant freedom and transport to after-school jobs and sport commitments.

They agreed the plates would unfairly bring stigma to those who had to display them, meaning they would be seen the way others see drivers with L plates.

Kane said: "Just because you have to have an R plate, it won't change your driving."

'R plates' a waste of money?
A former top traffic cop now working as a freelance driver examiner in Queensland has rubbished the concept of R plates for restricted licence holders.

Sandy Beckett, the former officer in charge of Auckland's serious crash unit, regards the suggestion as a waste of money and political "lip service".

He said that in Australia, "P" plates for provisional licence holders had failed to change behaviour among the country's youngest and most reckless drivers.

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

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

Mr Beckett believed it was simply experience that made drivers better behind the wheel - and whether they had to display plates was irrelevant.

"The Government is simply shifting around and saying, 'Look at us, we are doing something about it' - but there's nothing you can do about it," he said.

"They'd be better off spending money in other areas. If there was a silver bullet to stop young people dying in crashes, do you think the problem would have been solved by now?"

But the AA's motoring affairs general manager, Mike Noon, said R plates could prevent possible incidences of alcohol-related driving and driving late at night.

"It may not be cool to display them but R plates would better identify inexperienced drivers and show others they haven't got their full licence yet."

The AA had not reached a formal view on R plates.

After the new restricted licence regime was introduced in February, the national pass rate rose from 38 per cent in March to 41 per cent last month.

- NZ Herald

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