Early New Zealand drivers could risk a fine of up to $200 in today's money if they got behind the steering wheel without their licence.

Regional automobile associations pioneered the idea of drivers being licensed.

From 1903 the Auckland Automobile Association issued a certificate of competency to those who passed a driving exam.

From 1925, local councils were given the responsibility of issuing driver licences and the Herald periodically featured pictures of traffic officers checking motorists' licences on the streets of Auckland.

Advertisement

At first the annual licence fee was 5 shillings (around $24 today). The licence was printed on a sheet of paper, and later in a booklet.

An example of the early type of driver licence, this one issued by the Palmerston North Borough Council in 1927. Photo / National Library
An example of the early type of driver licence, this one issued by the Palmerston North Borough Council in 1927. Photo / National Library
A 1940-41 driver licence, issued by the Palmerston North City Council. Photo / National Library
A 1940-41 driver licence, issued by the Palmerston North City Council. Photo / National Library

Today it costs $38.20 to get a replacement 10-year plastic-card, photo ID licence which - against the advice of then-Privacy Commissioner Bruce Slane in 1998 - doubles as a national identification system.

"New Zealanders have never been obliged, generally, to carry identification documents within the country. This is one feature of our way of life which will probably not be truly appreciated until it is lost or, as here, significantly undermined," said Slane.

"I believe that there is no need for a national identification document or a national identification number."

In 1925, the North Otago Times noted the objections of an Oamaru farmer to the cost of driver licensing for his family of 5 grown-up children.

"He has two cars. The registration of the cars is costing him £4 [about $392 today], the numbering plates 4 shillings, and the driver's licences for himself and the family 35 shillings.

"It is thought that instead of each member of a family having to pay 5 shillings for a driver's licence, one transferable licence should be sufficient, provided every driver who uses it possesses a certificate of competency."

In 1925, the Auckland City Council took a lead from American movie culture and mounted some of its traffic officers on motorcycles to chase down speedsters.

"The pursuit of speeding motorists by traffic inspectors mounted on motor cycles will soon be a familiar sight in Auckland," noted an Otago Daily Times motoring column, penned by "Accelerator".

"Motion picture 'fans' are conversant with the use of motor cycles in this connection in the United States.

"The Auckland City Council has decided to place two motor cycles at the disposal of the traffic staff."

"The chief inspector points out that the use of motor cycles would enable the traffic officials to test vehicles over measured distances, overtake them, and secure the name and address of the driver and all particulars necessary for a prosecution."