Young driver pleads for fair go

By Mathew Dearnaley

Teen worker must meet 10pm licence curfew, but thousands of drink-drivers allowed back behind wheel for work.

Part-time food worker Hope Appleton sometimes finishes as late as 1am and faces a 2.6km walk home alone. She needs the job because she is saving for her tertiary studies. Photo / Christine Cornege
Part-time food worker Hope Appleton sometimes finishes as late as 1am and faces a 2.6km walk home alone. She needs the job because she is saving for her tertiary studies. Photo / Christine Cornege

Hope Appleton is pleading to be let off a curfew on restricted driving licence holders, rather than risk walking home alone from work after midnight.

But the Cambridge school student and part-time food worker, 17, has been refused permission by the Transport Agency to drive after 10pm in a ruling seen by her former driving instructor and the Automobile Association as unreasonable.

Her parents are worried about how she will keep a job she needs to save towards tertiary studies when they are away and can't collect her from work at odd hours, sometimes as late as 1am.

They wonder how the courts could have allowed 2125 disqualified drink-drivers back on the roads last year for work while the agency denies similar opportunities to youngsters with untarnished records.

"There is no bus service in this town and often nobody at her job can take her home - she does not expect them to, and does not even feel comfortable asking them," Greig Singer said of his daughter, who has her own car.

Despite relying on her parents to collect her most nights, Ms Appleton says she has walked 2.6km home alone after midnight.

"I felt very scared - I was on my phone to someone the whole way home," she said.

The Transport Agency considered an exemption to the curfew, for a fee of $27.20, but told Ms Appleton hardship or inconvenience were not grounds for leniency. "The agency must take into consideration the legislative requirements, the safety of all road users, as well as the safety of the person applying for the exemption," wrote assessments team leader Kelly Timms.

Noting that Ms Appleton obtained her licence only on May 9, and that the standard minimum period before graduating to a full licence was 18 months, the official said she was considered not to have gained enough experience.

Mr Singer wondered what made her "safe to drive at 9.55pm but not 10.05pm", especially as her road home was a quiet and easy route.

Her former instructor, Wayne Holden, said she was "not the sort of girl who would go out and leer up" and noted that new drivers were allowed to drive in the dark for up to four hours before 10pm.

"Hope is a very mature and responsible young lady - she could drive me anywhere, any time," said Mr Holden, an examiner for the Institute of Advanced Motorists and former Ministry of Transport traffic officer.

"I think they have taken it a bit too far in blaming young drivers for all the crashes." he said of the Transport Agency.

AA spokesman Dylan Thomsen said although there were good safety reasons for night restrictions on young drivers who were as a group more likely than others to have crashes, it would "seem reasonable" for the law to provide the agency with greater flexibility in considering Ms Appleton's case.

Transport Agency principal testing standards adviser Jim Furneaux said the benefit of an exemption had to be balanced against a wider responsibility to protect all road users. And the short time since Ms Appleton passed her test meant she could "in no way be considered as substantially meeting the required period for holding a restricted licence".

Free to drive

• 2125 disqualified drivers allowed back at the wheel last year for work purposes, after drink-drive convictions

• 206 restricted licence holders exempted from conditions such as no driving between 10pm and 5am or carrying passengers who are not their partners or dependants, fewer than half who applied

- NZ Herald

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