In the news this week we saw a focus on the difficulties of getting a driver's licence if you happen to live in or around Wairoa.
Three cheers for Wairoa mayor Craig Little, who went public with the fact that people trying to get driver's licences in the town of nearly 8500 people can only get to stage one - the learner's licence - and must go to Gisborne – 97 kilometres and over an hour's driving - or Napier – a 117km
and an hour and 40 minutes- to be able to sit their restricted or full licences.
These roads are best described as challenging and are getting badly beaten up by heavy vehicle traffic.
There is no restricted or full licence testing facility in Wairoa and according to the Land Transport Agency, no intention to set one up.
The Howard League pursued this matter over a year ago. One of our best driving instructors is located in the town and over the past two years has assisted around 700 probationers to get their driver's licences.
Many of these offenders entered the justice system via driving offences and a significant proportion of these have served jail sentences.
With no public transport whatever in a town which has a young population, getting a driver's licence is essential and should be made as easy as possible.
The arcane "rules" which prevent testing for restricted and full licences should be modified for special cases like Wairoa.
One of the reasons which the Land Transport Agency gave the Howard League for this state of affairs was that there are no traffic lights in Wairoa, however full testing is available in Dannevirke, a town of 5700 which is also lacking traffic lights.
Our suggestion that portable traffic light sets like those you see on road works sites be used fell on deaf ears.
A review of driver's licensing is planned for next year and the Howard League will be making a submission during the process.
Imagine just how hard it is for a young Wairoa person to get through the costly three-stage process that we know is essential to getting employment.
First, you would need to get your learner's licence. That would at least be possible without leaving Wairoa and it would cost you $93.90. If you did not have internet access to practise the test online, you would also have to buy a copy of the Road Code. A learner licence allows you to drive with a licensed driver.
After waiting six months you would need to make an appointment, get someone to get you to the testing facility in Gisborne, and spend $134.80 to get a restricted licence.
If you were under 25 years of age, you would then have to wait 18 months before going to Gisborne again – though this time you could drive yourself - to sit your full licence at a cost of $109.50.
So, you'd need to spend two years and a minimum of $338.20 with at least two trips to Gisborne to become fully licensed.
If you failed at any step, as very many do, the cost goes up and the time stretches out.
I got my car driver's licence the day I turned 15 and I well remember just how easy that was.
In those distant days Hastings had its own traffic cop because traffic policing then was a local council function. He was a popular figure who did presentations at local schools about the road rules.
I made an appointment with this official on a sunny Wednesday and met him outside his offices in Heretaunga St in the then municipal buildings.
After I'd shown him my driving abilities by cruising around town for 15 minutes - which included a handbrake start on the hump over the railway line in Murdock Rd - we went back to his office where he asked me what the first rule of the road was.
After I had answered, "keep left", he filled in a little booklet and put an official stamp on it.
That was all there was to it – I was then a licensed driver.
The next year I passed a motorcycle licence, and the process was even simpler. I just had to ride around the block without falling off.
I do not recall paying on either occasion, but I suppose that there was some minor cost involved.
Since that time driver's licensing had been privatised, run for profit and become much more complex, though defenders of the current system will argue that it produces safer drivers.
Bending a little and putting up the funds for full testing capability in Wairoa would be easily repaid in terms of fewer offenders on the road, lower benefit payments and more young people, especially young Māori, in jobs.
Mike Williams grew up in Hawke's Bay. He is CEO of the NZ Howard League