Those who commute using a learner or restricted driver licence could get a reprieve if a new proposal from the Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency gets the green light.
The proposal aims to double the validation period on learner and restricted licences for both cars and bikes from five years to 10 years, while also removing current restrictions that prevent people from renewing their licenses 90 days before they expire.
Speaking to One News, Waka Kotahi senior manager of systems integrity, Hayley Evans, says that the five-year licence validity period (as introduced in 2014) has not been enough to encourage drivers to get their full license.
The news is a blow for those who have pressured the government to advance the country’s road safety by improving education and the licensing system. The system remains largely unchanged, despite New Zealand’s relatively poor road toll statistics.
“Waka Kotahi wants to ensure the driver licensing system is accessible to everyone and encourages people to retain their licences, given the known economic and social benefits that holding a valid licence can offer,” she added.
“The five-year limit and theory test requirement have had no clear impact on road safety since they were introduced in 2014, and as such we are proposing to remove both conditions and make newly issued learner and restricted licences valid for ten years, the same as a full licence.”
Evans notes that the current rules penalise people “who are unable to progress”, especially “those who do not have access to driver training or to a roadworthy vehicle to practice driving in”. She adds that the licensing system is under stress at the moment thanks to a backlog of inquiry caused by Covid-19.
The proposal and explanation are a stark contrast to the words of road safety advocates like Greg Murphy. Speaking to NZ Autocar earlier in the year, the Skoda Street Smart advanced driver training representative said that New Zealanders aren’t good enough drivers and more needs to be done to improve their education.
“I was given some positivity in 2019 when Julie Anne Genter came to Street Smart and saw the programme, she was associate minister at the time,” Murphy said. “Unfortunately, nothing’s happened since then.
“Our road toll, our road crash statistics in New Zealand are really disgusting. They really are something we have looked at and talked about over many years. And effectively as a country we have done very little to improve the situation.
“Last year, with Covid-19, we still had a road toll that we really should be ashamed of. It was disturbing to still see people being killed on our roads during four weeks of complete lockdown, and I think that says it all. There’s a lot of work to do.
“The responsibility has been put on communities to actually support youth to get their driver’s licences because they don’t have it at home. They want to get a job, they want to move out of the cycle, but they don’t have anyone to actually help them do that and they don’t have the money to sit the license test.”