Eric Thompson: Quite simply, Kiwis can't drive

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My sincere sympathies go out to the families and friends of all those affected by the 13 road deaths over the weekend.

Although it's a tragedy I'm not overly surprised so many lives were ended, as we as a nation just can't drive. Full stop.

There's this odd thing about Kiwis and cars - it's as if a hefty proportion of the population think they're either bulletproof, Michael Schumacher, or own the entire road, and that their particular vehicle is capable of defying the laws of physics.

In the past when a great number of deaths in a short period of time was announced, the first thing the police or the AA would come out with was that speed was to blame.

I have banged the drum for years that speed doesn't kill - crap driving standards do. I nearly fell off my chair on Monday when an AA spokesman said it was all down to poor driving ability.

At last we've arrived at the crux of the problem. It doesn't matter what the powers that be have said in the past about speed and drink driving, it's just too easy to get a licence, and keep it, in this country.

I was also pleasantly surprised to hear that Transport Minister Stephen Joyce is not taking the knee-jerk option and instead has said the blood alcohol limit is not the major problem. Especially when research has proven Joe Average who might have a few, sensible drinks, is not the killer behind the wheel.

Government statistics show 72 per cent of alcohol-related deaths on our roads are caused by drivers who have a drink-driving conviction or are more than 50 per cent over the legal limit.

"What these statistics show is that lowering the adult limit is no silver bullet. The majority of these fatalities are caused by a hard-core of drink drivers who have either been convicted before or who are driving at levels far above the current drink-drive limit," said Joyce.

Bravo - a point I have been trying to make for a long time.

Now I hope the Government looks at the overall driving standards to really reduce the road toll.

I've said it before and I'll say it again (sometimes lawmakers have to hear it many times before they pay attention) - make getting a driver's licence one of the hardest things you have to do. And take licences away for a very long time if someone does something really stupid.

Now would be a good time to introduce some serious retribution for drivers blatantly breaking the road rules and treating the roads like a personal fiefdom. But you'll only truly raise New Zealanders' driving standards by targeting the next generation.

After last weekend, having a Kiwi driver's licence is almost akin to having a licence to kill.

Raise the driving age to 17 for a learner's plate, and then only for a car up to 1300cc. And require drivers to have had at least three lessons from a qualified instructor before they are allowed to drive the car.

To get a restricted licence drivers should show proof of at least two defensive driving lessons from an approved training organisation within the past 12 months. If any traffic infringement occurs during that time, the driver starts from day one again.

Third party insurance should be compulsory, because if you stuff up, premiums will go through the roof pricing many crap drivers off the road.

In a recent NZ Herald online poll 78 per cent of respondents said the New Zealand driver testing system needed revising. So Mr Joyce, what are you waiting for?

- NZ Herald

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