Learner drivers driving themselves to tests

By Lydia Anderson

File photo / Thinkstock
File photo / Thinkstock

Teen learner drivers are blatantly breaking the law by driving themselves unsupervised to restricted licence tests, with testing officers powerless to give them an automatic fail.

Frustated driving instructors around the country reported teenagers flagrantly breaching their licence conditions, right under the nose of their testing officer.

Tauranga driving instructor Kevin Brooks said he often observed learner drivers travelling unsupervised to their restricted tests.

"I'm often standing around the [Automobile Association] waiting for my students ... and I often see learner drivers drive up, put up their L plates and wait for the tester to do the test.

"Even if the tester sees them, he can't do anything about it - he has to take them for their test.

"It's crazy, they can't send them away because they've seen them driving illegally.

"If you spent two hours around the AA any day of the week you'd see at least one instance of it."

Mr Brooks said he brought up the problem at a recent New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) meeting.

"Even though they were sympathetic to the testers there's really nothing they can do about it because they're not policemen.

"At the other end of the test you see that [the student has] failed and they rip down their L plates and wheelie off out of the place."

Fellow instructor Jack Kennedy, in Wanganui, said he was also aware of the problem.

"It's not a good look. We're not police so we can't police it."

The news follows the release of a NZTA survey of 574 parents, which found nearly half of teen drivers on learner or restricted licences have broken at least one graduated licensing condition.

AA Driving School general manager Nigel Clark said the AA had heard of the problem, and testing officers should have the power to automatically fail a learner driver before a test for such a breach.

NZTA spokesman Andy Knackstedt said learner drivers must not drive on their own but while testing officers would be rightly concerned and frustrated at the problem, their responsibilities were limited to assessing the driver during the test itself.

The restricted licence test 'pre-drive' check did not extend to checking for offences or licence breaches, he said.

"Any attempt to expand the scope of pre-drive checks to cover such suspicions would be extremely difficult to enforce in practice."

Testing officers also did not have the power to detain or issue tickets to learner drivers who failed tests and drove away unsupervised.

"We would however encourage testing officers to provide the Transport Agency with the names of these learner licence holders so that we can pass their details on to police."

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee referred the matter to Associate Minister Michael Woodhouse's office for comment but they did not respond.

Labour Transport spokeswoman Darien Fenton the problem sounded like a "gap" the Government needed to address.

"For people starting out driving it's so important that they follow the rules."

- APNZ

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