I spoke about driver licensing last year. If any of my columns elicited a strong response from both sides it was the ones on this topic.

I was criticised for advocating that we should allow drivers on the road regardless of whether they had attained their relevant driver's licence. This was not what I was saying, however.

To recap, the situation was this: A stricter driver licensing regime was designed by the New Zealand Transport Authority and brought in from February 2012.

The new tests aimed to raise the standard of driving required to gain a licence. The purpose was to improve the skill and safety of drivers as part of the Government's road-safety strategy.


I explained I wholeheartedly agreed with the attempt to raise drivers' skills, and therefore safety, on our roads. However, trying to do this by imposing far greater licensing requirements on drivers without also assisting them to overcome the heightened burden to achieve this standard was somewhat fanciful.

Statistics backed this up. Of 27,568 driver licence tests conducted between February, when the tougher standards were introduced, and September 2012, only 12,123 - or fewer than half - passed.

Drivers, to a large extent, were failing to meet this standard. This did not mean these drivers were keeping off the roads, however. Many drivers, I contended, would probably still be behind a wheel, risking driving without a relevant licence.

This was proven, too, at the time of writing those columns by the tragic fatalities of three youths, with the driver being unlicensed.

What is also required, and largely missing, is the affordable and accessible provision of driver education and practical training to all in a systemised manner to encourage greater achievement of the standards.

Youth are left largely to their own devices to train themselves theoretically and practically and to acquire the necessary resources to do so. This can lead only to ad-hoc and haphazard results.

Finding money and someone to train them for a lot of road hours are just two of the major hurdles not only our youth face but also a lot, if not the majority, of our driver's licence aspirants.

Putting in place permanent driver education and practical training and licensing regimes in all school curriculums and/or the creation of public driving schools and programmes would do much to advance the situation.

A pilot programme was created with the support of the Flaxmere Licensing Trust, Hastings District Council, the police, Flaxmere College, the Crime Prevention Trust and other supporters to assist eligible Flaxmere College students attain a learner's licence.

The programme included educational instruction and test fees. At the time of my most recent inquiry, 51 students had sat the test, with just two failing. I believe the numbers have increased since.

The programme has been a resounding success and implementers are looking at extending it to the restricted drivers' stage, with a car already having been secured.

These results suggest what I have always suspected - that we have a plethora of aspirants willing and able to pass our driver's licence testing. They just need a little assistance and to be led in the right direction.

An observer questioned why this pilot programme was only limited to Flaxmere. The short answer was that it was extremely difficult to acquire funding, though the Flaxmere Licensing Trust graciously extended assistance.

The funding and the places were limited in the pilot programme to their target audience.

My contention is that such a scheme should be included in our entire school system rather than have individual communities struggle to create ad-hoc schemes that last only as long as the pennies of funding they can scrape together.

Still, we do what we can. Supporters are working with a view to extend this and similar initiatives across our region as resources and support permits.