For many of us the licence to drive is a rite of passage and a goal that we set in our mid-teens.
It's a specific process involving lessons, practise, the availability of a car, a supportive and patient adult mentor and a bunch of money. It's a significant milestone and, for many, the first real sense of achievement. But for some, there are big issues in getting that ticket to independence and employment.
The requirements are well prescribed. Learn the road code, complete the application with birth certificate and fees, then pass the learner test. You then have your photographic learner licence and photo ID. You then need driving lessons, a fully licensed adult mentor and, practise, practise and more practise.
Six months later you book your restricted test. There are only three sites in Northland and you need to be on time with a fully legal, fuelled-up car. Despite your multiple nerves, you take the test and 67 per cent of Northlanders pass first time. That's 10 per cent better than the NZ average. Well done.
Gaining your restricted licence is a cause for celebration with 70 per cent of jobs requiring at least that, to get your working life under way. The full licence involves more time, practise, strict rules and more money.
New rules mean that you must gain your full licence within five years so you are fully legal to drive unaccompanied, with passengers at all hours.
While the current system works for most people, there are people with literacy, money or family support issues who fall through the cracks and are often most at risk.
Driving without a proper licence is one of the most common offences for young people and can quickly snowball into unpaid fines, further charges and a long-term relationship with the law.
It is difficult to get statistics about the number of unlicensed drivers in New Zealand. A study in the US though, indicated that at any one time 3 per cent of drivers on the road were unlicensed and that 18 per cent of all fatal car and truck crashes involved unlicensed drivers.
Dealing with driver licensing issues as a fence at the top of the cliff, was recognised in the 2017 Labour-NZ First Coalition agreement. This pledged to offer every secondary student five hours of professional driving lessons, a defensive driving course, and free tests for learner and restricted licences before they left school.
That's a big call which just hasn't materialised. There have been a number of pilots and the promise of a tool kit. Fully incorporating driver training into secondary schools is much more difficult than just promising it.
One size does not fit all and there are issues of funding; school, teacher and student commitment; fitting the programme into the curriculum and having a car with a dedicated staff and community team to help students practise driving.
Tamaki College in Auckland, though, is a very impressive example of what is possible.
While the secondary school might seem to be a logical starting point, the issue is perhaps better suited to the tertiary training sector.
Locally, People Potential has a long history of assisting their students gain drivers licences. Students are fully funded through the whole process from learner to restricted.
Driver trainers and voluntary mentors assure proper practice, such that students gain their restricted licence as part of their entry to employment. Northland Road Safety Trust assists with its community driver mentor programme.
In recent years the NZ Howard League has turned its attention to the issue of driver licensing as a way of tackling the problem of New Zealand's over-burdened prisons.
Around 25 per cent of those incarcerated have convictions for driving offences. These often start with literacy issues, no driver licence, no employment, no bank account and into the cash criminal economy.
The programme is funded nationally through the Provincial Growth Fund and in its first 12 months had 338 ex-offenders gain licences with 120 of these going into employment.
There is great scope for a co-ordinated approach to tackle the driver licensing issues of those who fall through the cracks of the current system. Successful models exist, so how can we build on those to give at-risk drivers a better chance at life?
• John Williamson is chairman of Roadsafe Northland and Northland Road Safety Trust, a former national councillor for NZ Automobile Association and former Whangārei District Council member.