Cherie Howie

Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Licence-test abuse soars

Officers feel the heat after rules for restricted permits made tougher

Lingcum Rota, who failed her driving test. Photo / Michael Craig
Lingcum Rota, who failed her driving test. Photo / Michael Craig

They've been assaulted, threatened, abused and offered bribes by failed applicants - and for driver licence testing officers, things are getting worse.

Fifteen incidents of verbal or physical abuse were reported in the year to October and 16 others last year, compared with one case each in 2009 and 2010 and three in 2011.

The spike follows changes in February last year, when tests for restricted licences were toughened in a bid to save young people from dying in crashes. Many learners said the rules were too strict - 62 per cent failed in the first month.

New Zealand Driver Licensing general manager Gerard Clark - whose company is contracted by the Transport Agency to run the tests - said some behaviour was disturbing.

"Some of the testers are gobsmacked at how people can treat them."

In Waikato in 2010, an applicant who forgot to bring his learner licence for the test punched the testing officer, knocking him to the ground. In September last year, a failed applicant also punched an officer in the head.

Two months later, at Meadowlands in East Auckland, a failed applicant asked an officer if he would accept cash to give him a pass.

When he refused, "the applicant got more aggro and comes to my face and says, 'I don't give a f***. You do what you like'", the officer wrote in the incident report.

In May, an irate supporter of a failed applicant told an officer that "God would hurt my children".

One applicant responded to a failed result by following the testing officer home and having 15 pizzas delivered - with demand for payment - to his house late at night.

An officer in Kerikeri was told they should pay the failed applicant $30 for a previous unsuccessful test.

"(He said) I'm a beneficiary and you owe me and I'm not moving until you pay me'," the staffer reported.

Clark said staff were trained to walk away from angry applicants and call police when necessary. He was not aware of any resigning because of applicants' bad behaviour.

Transport Agency spokesman Andrew Knackstedt said assaults or threats against testing officers were rare - the 16 reported last year were from 164,000 practical driving tests.

"Driving tests can often be stressful for applicants," he said, but there was never any excuse for officers to be threatened or abused.


Disappointed, but not angry

Lingcum Rota, 40, has just failed her restricted driving test.

As the driving test officer tells her why, she grimaces, then thanks him. "I appreciated being told what I did wrong."

The Papakura grandmother had crossed into an oncoming lane on a corner; drove through an amber light; and also drove at 70km/h in a 60km/h zone.

She's disappointed, but she'd never react with anger, she says. "It's for people's own safety that they know. I don't want people ... being out on the road as dumb drivers. There's already too many dumb drivers out there."

- Herald on Sunday

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