One in three aspiring Bay of Plenty drivers are failing their learner licence theory test, new figures reveal.

But New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) figures show national pass rates have shot up since computerised testing was introduced in 2009, when more than half of all applicants were failing to get past the first stage.

The Bay of Plenty's pass rate is at 65 per cent so far this year, compared to 50 per cent in 2009.

The number of serious and fatal crashes involving teen drivers in the region also dropped slightly from 28 in 2008 to 25 last year.


Western Bay-specific figures were unavailable.

Bay of Plenty Driving School owner Jeroen van der Beek said more young drivers now realised they needed to reach a higher standard to pass.

"The expectations are higher. In the days of old we just bowled up and did the test, but nowadays people are realising they have to do better. The pass rate is improving because the preparation is improving."

Young Western Bay drivers were more serious about applying the theory to the road, he said.

"The current test will catch you out if you don't know the rules."

The same applied to practical testing, with more people coming in for lessons ahead of their assessment.

"They're not waiting until they've failed until they get some proper tuition."

Last year Manawatu had the highest pass rate of 75 per cent, and the West Coast the lowest at 60 per cent.

The number of serious and fatal accidents involving teenage drivers has also dropped dramatically over the last five years to record lows.

In 2008, 65 people were killed in road accidents involving teen drivers - compared to 24 last year.

NZTA road safety director Ernst Zollner said the old paper scratch test was well past its use-by date when it was scrapped in 2009.

"The answers and their exact sequences were well known. It was apparent that many learner licence applicants were memorising the tests rather than actually studying the full road code."

The early days of computer testing saw an expected drop in the pass rate, which had steadily increased since then, Mr Zollner said.

"Young drivers have got the message that they really need to learn the road code before sitting the test.

While the reduction in fatal and serious injury crashes involving teenage drivers was also encouraging, road crashes were still the single biggest killer of teenagers nationwide, Mr Zollner said.

Last year NZTA introduced a tougher practical test for restricted licence applicants, which came under fire for its high failure rates.

Other changes introduced as part of the Government's plan to improve safety among young drivers include raising the minimum driving age to 16 and lowering the youth alcohol limit for teen drivers to zero.