If Local Government NZ succeeds in having a student driver licensing programme included in the national curriculum, a pilot project in Central Hawke's Bay will have played a pivotal part.

LGNZ's annual conference last month adopted a remit calling on central Government to fund an all-inclusive universal drivers' licence programme for all high school students at NCEA level two.

Aware of how successful the year-long Steering Aotearoa pilot programme had been in assisting 20 CHB College students gain their restricted licence, CHB mayor Alex Walker seconded the motion.

Speaking last week after the conference, Ms Walker said the pilot - run by the Connecting for Youth Employment (CYE) Trust with funding from the Mayor's Taskforce for Jobs and documented by Massey University researchers - had proven to be very effective at a combating the problem of young people without a driver's licence being unable to enter the workforce, and ending up in the courts.

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"There's a lot of talk around the country about regional economic development and how a driver's licence is a crucial part of the pathway to employment for youth.

"The figures show that of 17 to 24-year-olds on a job seeking benefit, 48 per cent have no licence and of the reasons that 18 to 25-year-olds are appearing in court, the biggest by far is for licensing and traffic offences, at 39 per cent," she said.

CHB district councillor and CYE trustee Kelly Annand said adoption of the remit by LGNZ represented a long journey started four years ago when it drew together a working party to begin lobbying the government.

The trust had already started delivering a community driver licensing programme, but frustrated at the lack of action in schools, it decided to approach Massey University to see if it was interested in doing a research project on the issue.

"Professor Paul Spoonley fully backed the idea and enlisted Professor Peter Rawlins to conduct the study because we were constantly told by the government that they were already doing this around the country, which was not true," she said.

"Yes, there are many amazing community based driver licence programmes right across New Zealand, but the delivery in schools was not being done and we had to prove it needed to be."

Last year 21 students from various backgrounds were selected to take part the pilot programme, which also involved CHB Police.

The students were assisted to gain their leaner's licence, given driving lessons in the CHB Community patrol vehicle, and sat a defensive driving course on their way to gaining their restricted licence.

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Only one student selected could not continue with the pilot due to medical conditions, while the other 20 all achieved their

Students lead the way

restricted licence and, having completed the defensive driving course, were on a fast track to get their full licences in a year.

Mrs Annand said some students have already moved on to employment opportunities. The results of the study into the impact of having their licence had been presented by the Massey researchers to the Mayors' Taskforce AGM, which then led to the remit being adopted by LGNZ.

"Our Mayor got to speak to it because this community is where the idea and work was delivered," said Mrs Annand, who was hopeful the work would result in changes to the national curriculum.

"I keep tell the students all the time that when this is rolled out across the country they can say 'I was a part of making that happen'.

CHB College Year 13 student Liana Hall, 17, was one of those chosen for the pilot. She got her learner's on her 16th birthday in March last year, and is now on her restricted, which she only has to have for one year before going for her full licence, since she passed the defensive driving course.

Not only did she did enjoy the independence of having a licence and being able to 'tiki tour around' by herself, it had helped her find and maintain causal employment during school breaks.

"In the summer holidays I was out working in the orchards and I was able to drive myself out in the morning and back to home, which was really handy."

College principal Lance Christiansen said it was important for young people in CHB, which had no public transport, to learn how to drive safely.

"Now it would be lovely if the next step was they were able to get their licence in CHB," he said, referring to the NZ Transport Agency's decision to close testing facilities in Waipukurau years ago.

Though the funding for the pilot had ended, Mrs Annand said it had gained other funding to be able to keep working with the college students and had branched out to start working with Te Aute College students as well.