A Hamilton teenager will have to wait another two weeks to try earn his driver's licence after he was failed on one attempt when the fuel warning light came on in the middle of the test.

Michael O'Brien was given an automatic fail by a Vehicle Test New Zealand [VTNZ] driving instructor on Monday after the light came on 23 minutes into the 45-minute restricted driver licence test.

But VTNZ has apologised to the 17-year-old after his father complained, and has offered to refund the $86 fee and provide a free re-sit of the test.

Hamilton resident Jesse O'Brien said his son was disappointed at the failure, particularly as a pre-vehicle inspection was carried out before the driving exam and the low fuel was not noted.


O'Brien, a school student and whanau support worker, raised the issue with the instructor and the Frankton VTNZ branch manager.

"I wanted to see the documentation that stated that this was an immediate failure point. Because it just didn't seem to make sense to me."

The manager suggested O'Brien contact NZTA directly, which he did immediately.

Michael O'Brien was given an automatic fail by a VTNZ driving instructor on Monday after the fuel warning light came on 23 minutes into his 45-minute restricted driver licence test.Photo / 123RF
Michael O'Brien was given an automatic fail by a VTNZ driving instructor on Monday after the fuel warning light came on 23 minutes into his 45-minute restricted driver licence test.Photo / 123RF

He was advised to lodge an official complaint online with VTNZ, which O'Brien did. But when he did not receive confirmation, the father-of-four tweeted at VTNZ and posted on its Facebook page, asking if they had received the complaint.

By Tuesday morning VTNZ had swung into action, investigating the complaint, before calling O'Brien to apologise, admitting the failure was an error.

"They had talked to the testing officer, talked to the VTNZ Frankton branch and they had found that the testing officer had made a mistake. That she shouldn't have stopped the test," O'Brien said.

"He had passed the vehicle inspection check, the pre-test check, which is where the fuel is meant to be checked, apparently.

"My issue wasn't with him failing. But the wording around it was obviously not very clear."


Michael, a Hamilton Boys' High School Year 13 student, was driving his parents' 2004 Honda Odyssey during the test.

O'Brien said the light came on and went off during the test and the family drove the vehicle for the rest of the day without filling up.

"It would have absolutely lasted for the rest of the test. From what I know the standard for any car is about 10-15 per cent of reserve fuel."

It was Michael's second go at the test after he failed the first one, for failing to completely stop at a stop sign and driving slightly too fast. That test cost $130.

O'Brien said the family was satisfied with the response from NZTA but the earliest Michael could rebook the test for was in two weeks.

"It takes away the freedom he was hoping to have in the school holidays."

Michael was rebooked at the same branch and O'Brien said the family did not hold a grudge over the mix-up.

A VTNZ spokeswoman confirmed the driver testing officer made a mistake and VTNZ had apologised.

"VTNZ has contacted the customer and apologised for the error, we are refunding his test fee and Michael will be able to re-sit his restricted license test free of charge."

She said one of the pre-test checks carried out is to make sure the vehicle had enough fuel.

"But if the fuel light does come on during a driver licence test, the officer should continue with the test.

"It's important vehicles are in a safe and appropriate condition for a driving test and all vehicles used in a driver test undergo a pre-test check."

The checks include making sure the car has enough fuel for the test and that the petrol warning light is not on before the test starts.

Since taking over the practical driving test contract in 2015, VTNZ had worked to improve the process for driving tests, the spokeswoman said.

It carried out between 22,000 and 25,000 practical tests each month across New Zealand.