Nearly half of Rotorua learner drivers are failing their restricted licence tests under a tough testing regime brought in to improve road safety.

But a local driving instructor says many miss out on their licence for being "too cautious".

Licence testing has come under fire after allegations last month an enraged driver punched the Auckland testing officer who had just failed him in a practical driving test.

A tough testing regime introduced in February 2012 has faced criticism for its high failure rates and inconsistencies among testing officers.


New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) figures released to the Rotorua Daily Post show between February 2012-April this year, 1542 learner drivers in Rotorua passed their restricted tests, while 1269 failed.

Of those going for their full licence, 2524 passed and 1097 failed.

Rotorua drivers' overall pass rate during this period was 55 per cent for restricted, and 70 per cent for full licence tests.

The figures take into account multiple failures by individual applicants.

Owner of Allan's Driving School in Rotorua, Allan Koller said no one would pass "if the testing officer didn't want them to".

"In a 45-minute drive ... there are so many avenues that they can find fault."

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A common error was failing to indicate off a roundabout "which no one in New Zealand does anyway".

One testing officer in particular was well-known in Rotorua for his 70 per cent fail rate, Mr Koller said.

"We've actually had people booking out of town to try and get away from him."

Another problem was young drivers being failed for being "too cautious" on Rotorua roads.

"I have a huge problem with that," Mr Koller said. "They're actually being told to push out in front of traffic and not wait too long."

Locals would end up driving illegally because they couldn't afford to resit, he said.

Hundreds of people nationwide responded to news of the assault with tales of repeated failure.

Nicky Mccormick said her son failed his licence because his seat was damp.

One Auckland mother said her son had been failed four times at Meadowlands AA. She estimated the cost of the tests and the time taken off work at $1000.

Another parent said his 18-year-old broke down in tears after failing her restricted driving test for the fifth time.

NZTA has defended the system, saying nearly 60 per cent pass the restricted test on the first attempt, and overall the pass rate is more than 50 per cent.

The current full licence pass rate is 65 per cent, a spokesman for NZTA said.

The more challenging restricted test was introduced to improve the safety of young and novice drivers, he said.

Among other proposed changes to licensing rules is a five-year time limit on holding a learner or restricted licence.

Drivers who do not progress within the time limit would need to resit their theory or practical test. additional reporting Sophie Ryan