Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Young drivers push rules

Six out of every seven New Zealanders aged 16 to 24 with driver's licences are breaching their licence conditions, an official study has found.

The study by the Auckland Co-Design Lab, run jointly by the Government and Auckland Council, also recommends letting young people use student loans to pay for driving lessons and licence tests to break what has become a social norm of driving without proper licences. It also proposes smartphone apps to help "mentor" young drivers, fast-track licensing for the unemployed, and direct Government funding of driving lessons and licence tests for beneficiaries and low-income earners .

The unusual multi-agency study was based at the Crosspower youth centre in Otara and shocked officials.

"I had no idea that in South Auckland it's got so bad that there is now a norm of driving unlicensed," said Lab director Jane Strange.

The report found that:

• 85 per cent of young drivers aged 16 to 24 breach their learner or restricted licence conditions.

• 40,000 young people are ticketed for licence breaches every year but 73 per cent don't pay their fines, making driver licence offences "a primary gateway into the justice system".

• There are 4300 criminal convictions and 288 people are jailed for licence breaches each year.

• 70 per cent of jobs require a driver's licence, but only 23 per cent of 18-24-year-old beneficiaries, and 44 per cent of all jobseeker-work-ready beneficiaries, have a full or restricted licence.

"Many employers we spoke to report that they use a licence as a way of assessing reliability and flexibility to get to work and an indication of aptitude and attitude," the report says.

The Lab suggests that all young people should be sent driver's licence enrolment packs before their 16th birthday, including proof of identity. Lack of ID is a barrier to getting licences for families who cannot afford or who have lost a child's birth certificate.

The study proposes a smartphone "e-mentor" app that tracks driving practice. Learner-drivers who do well could be given "merit points" with incentives such as discounted petrol or driving lessons. Another app would link learner-drivers with local volunteer tutors similar to a community driver mentor programme run by the AA and groups such as the Otara Scorpions rugby league club.

Employment Minister Steven Joyce and Associate Transport Minister Craig Foss, who is reviewing the licensing system, said the report covered "a whole range of possible policy options, many of which would be unlikely to become Government policy".

"However, we are looking forward to receiving advice from officials across various agencies on the report's ideas and concepts."

Brothers driving force for family and friends

Mangere brothers Carlos and Puna Hotene are the first people in their extended whanau to get full driver's licences before they turn 20.

Their parents Lionel Hotene and Val Teraitua drove with no licences before finally getting one when they were 28.

Val Teraitua said: "I lost my mother at age 10 but my father was always driving us around on no licence. He is now 60 and he still has no licence."

Carlos, 23, got his full licence at 19 - a move his mother encouraged to "break the cycle".

"I was the first and am still the first out of all my cousins to have a full licence," she said. "Carlos was the first and is still the first of all his aunties and uncles and his cousins."

"I think I was the only one out of all my mates who had a licence first," said Carlos. "I like the privileges of not hiding away from the coppers when you're driving around, you can drive past them without ducking away."

Puna, 18, got his learner licence last year and is attending a restricted licence workshop on May 11 run by Behind the Wheel Mangere, a new pilot scheme funded by ACC, Auckland Transport and the NZ Transport Agency.

Driver's licences

Learner licence: Can drive only with a supervisor who must have had a full licence for at least two years.

Restricted licence: Can drive and carry close relatives without a supervisor between 5am and 10pm, or with a supervisor any time.

Full licence: Must have had restricted at least 18 months (or 12 months plus an advanced driving course) and pass test.

• On the web: www.aucklandco-lab.nz/what-we-do/drivers-licensing/

- NZ Herald

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