10 May 2019

Budget funding: Free training for driver licences would be 'fantastic'

4:08 pm on 10 May 2019

Free practical and theoretical driver licence training remains a government promise, and could be on the cards when the Budget is announced later this month.

21993192 - male hands on steering wheel on the right with country side view

Photo: 123RF

The government has promised free training for secondary school students.

Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin said up to this point, the promise had not received funding. But planning for how the training would work has been ploughing ahead.

"What I'm aiming for is to actually have the free theory training inside of schools available to all secondary school students," Ms Martin said.

"And then working with other ministers, get the physical drivers' licence training being available to more secondary school students outside of school hours."

AA's road safety spokesperson Dylan Thomsen said he had been eager to see what the government came up with.

"We're right behind that," he said. "We're still waiting to see more details about what action is going to happen in that area, but we think that's a fantastic initiative.

"We're looking forward to seeing some ideas come out about what could be done."

Ms Martin said high school students would be given theory lessons at school, helping them towards getting a learner licence.

But the practical side would take the Christchurch Community Driver Mentor Programme nationwide, and would happen outside of school.

Ms Martin said that was so it could cater for people who leave school, or weren't enrolled in the first place.

Minister for Children Tracey Martin

Tracey Martin says a government scheme to pay for young people to get their drivers' licences would be a huge step in helping young Māori as well as providing a much better grounding in the road code. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

She said there were three key motivations for making driver training easier.

"We want to stop Māori particularly being picked up for driving without a licence, that's the first thing," Ms Martin said.

"That was actually what initiated NZ First policy was Winston [Peters] going, with the Howard League, to prison and finding out that was the first thing, and that charge affects the rest of their lives.

"The second thing is to know that we have safe drivers who know the road code and all sorts of other things, on the road. And thirdly, this is about employment."

Initiative would help driving standards in rural areas, minister says

She said she was also working to give rural areas better access to driver training.

"If you think about Wairoa, it's 193km to Napier, it's 200 and something kilometres to Gisborne. They don't have a roundabout, and they don't have any traffic lights, so you literally cannot pass your drivers licence in Wairoa."

Ms Martin said people in Wairoa had no choice but to travel two hours to get a licence.

The Wairoa District had the second highest rate of road fatalities between 2000 and 2018. In a region with a population of about 8000 people, 61 people died in 47 fatal crashes.

Ms Martin believed helping people in places like Wairoa would improve those statistics because more educated, licensed drivers would be on the road.

Mr Thomsen said more could also be done to educate those drivers on the risks of the open road.

Of nearly 7000 fatalities during that period, more than 70 percent happened in 100kmh zones, and nearly 75 percent happened on the open road.

Lisa Rossiter, senior manager of strategy at NZTA, said there could be limitations in driver testing based on location, but the tests ensured a good base of driving skill.

"The driver training programmes that we offer and the testing that the Transport Agency undertakes recognises the need to help drivers develop the skills and competencies they need in different types of environments.

"Those tests are very comprehensive. They are of course though only a test at a point in time, and there are many other factors out there on the open road."

Ms Rossiter said simulators would be a useful tool for open road training, and Ms Martin said it was something she would like to see used more often.

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