Monday, November 16, 2009

Driving age to rise?

federated insurance

The Government has young drivers in its sights in a battle to lower the road toll, with proposals to raise the driving age to 16 or 17 and extend learner licences.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce said drivers aged between 15 and 24 were "seriously over-represented" in crash statistics.

Young people made up 16 per cent of licensed drivers but were responsible for 37 per cent of serious injury crashes. Mr Joyce said the Government could not ignore the statistics. "There are too many young people dying on our roads," he said.

He wanted a package of proposals before Cabinet early next year, including raising the driving age, extending the learner-licence period to 12 months – from the current six-month minimum – and making the test for a restricted licence tougher to encourage 120 hours of driving practice.

The Government will also consider restricting learner and restricted licence-holders from driving high powered or modified cars, and introducing compulsory third-party insurance. Young drivers who breached graduated licences could have their cars impounded.

Waikato Federated Farmers president Stew Wadey said raising the driving age would not be popular with rural families, who lived some distances from schools and services teenagers needed.

Mr Wadey argued rural families would be "penalised for the probably more ill-disciplined driving in the cities that is causing the (crash) statistics". He expected the prospect of a raised driving age would be discussed when the National Council of Federated Farmers meets next week in Wellington. Mr Wadey also stressed there was a need for "more discipline" in driving and road use and "more emphasis placed on parental responsibility."

Roger Leaf, of Hamilton's Black & White Driver Training, believed the learner's licence age should stay at 15. Raising the age to 16 would make no difference and he supported longer, graduated driver-licensing periods, and a tougher test for the restricted licence. "It's something that can't be fixed overnight. I don't have a problem with what they're doing if it reduces the risk of crashes," he said.

Young people spoken to on Hamilton's Te Rapa Rd last night were surprisingly receptive to the prospect of tougher tests for licences.

One 18-year-old man said the restricted licence test was "too easy", and he agreed the period should be extended so young drivers got more experience. He said young drivers needed more thorough training including mandatory driving lessons, and conceded that most young people were "probably not responsible" in cars.

The teens said plenty of their peers did not abide by licence conditions and were reckless behind the wheel.

A 17-year-old man – who admitted he'd previously lost his licence for "a sustained loss of traction" – felt the driving age should stay at 15, but he believed there was a need to extend the learner's licence period beyond 12 months. "The ages should stay the same, but the tests should be better," he said.

"The restricted licence is so easy to get."