Driving test a nightmare trip

James has got his restricted driving licence. Hoorah. It’s only taken nine attempts and almost $1000 to achieve this milestone.

In February the New Zealand Transport Agency introduced tougher tests for restricted and full licenses.

The first time James – a family friend – failed, we thought tough luck, try again. On the third attempt we were starting to become somewhat alarmed and felt something wasn’t right.

He wasn’t alone.

By May almost 600 young people were being failed each week. The pass rate was 41 per cent compared to the 80 per cent under the previous testing regime.

Since writing an article on this website I’ve had many people contact me with similar experiences – both from failed and frustrated drivers and their parents. They are being failed – sometimes instantly – for any number of dubious faults, fairly subjective errors.

Many of my friends have said fair enough, it should be hard to get a licence; the young are over-represented in accident statistics. Trouble is, it seems they are being failed not for the quality of their driving, but as the result of an internal quota system.

I contacted a journalist friend at the Herald on Sunday and suggested something was rum and it might be worth a look.

After a couple of solid pieces, the paper was sent a leaked memo from a frustrated tester saying he and his colleagues were told to fail 60 per cent of candidates or face the consequences.

The memo came from Gerard Clark, national operations manager at NZ Driver Licensing – the sole company contracted to conduct the driving tests.

This has been denied by the transport agency’s principal adviser for testing standards who says there is no target and no quota. One tester who took James out mentioned that he’d seen it however. Read what the Dog and Lemon Guide says here.

In a recent editorial, the HoS asks if teenagers learn the Road Code, do the hard yards with a driving instructor or parent and learn to drive – shouldn’t they have a fair chance at passing their test?

“Is it a coincidence that each time NZ Driver Licensing fails someone, the company can charge them $88 to resit the test – and that the 7397 resits forced on candidates since tough new standards were introduced in February have garnered the company more than $650,000?”

Those living in rural or isolated communities are being hit the hardest with these new tests and the strain on households and individuals is enormous.

James needed to get to work every day but couldn’t drive himself – we live in Gordonton, 15k north of Hamilton. With no public transport available, we had to drive him, for more than a year. It was an expensive, time-wasting exercise that was hugely damaging to his self-esteem.

Dog and Lemon editor Clive Matthew-Wilson says the tougher tests will particularly disadvantage Maori for this reason.

One commentator said there are hundreds of out-of-work youngsters who have never been better prepared for employment. The new tests are like pulling the rug from under them.

I’ll finish with the editorial from the Herald on Sunday.  “Arbitrary scaling was phased out of high school examinations 25 years ago, because the community realised it was unfair to treat children as rats in a statistical laboratory. We shouldn’t let some avaricious testing contractor bring it back, just because we’re scared to let our kids grow up.”

I’m glad that James can now drive but it came at too high a cost. And my heart goes out to all other youngsters about to start this nightmare trip.

Tip from a reader: Jack had got in touch to say his daughter finally passed, after three attempts. “Good news, she passed today. Boy, what a relief that is! The tester said she was a very good driver but she didn’t look in the rear view mirror as much as she should have. That’s it. So, all in all it took her 3 times. We went to the same place as before but had a different tester. She seemed more human. We scheduled the test at the beginning of the month because I assumed they have quotas and and they might be more lax at the beginning of each month. I don’t know for sure but she

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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

3 thoughts on “Driving test a nightmare trip

  • November 9, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    The whole situation seems absurd. Candidates often appear to be failed for not taking enough risks – surely the complete opposite to what the stricter testing regime was supposed to achieve. And the damage to young people and their families in terms of access to work, schools and tertiary institutions is appalling.

    As I have noted before, it would be fine to have tougher licensing regulations if people had an alternative. It can be very difficult and very expensive to get a driving licence in many countries, but in general those people don’t actually need a driving licence to go about their daily business: there are excellent public transport and safe cycling and walking facilities available.

    Until our government stops its current policy of incessant and unnecessary building of expensive highways, and focuses on what people actually need, we need to allow learner drivers to at least be able to get to nearby towns in order to get to school, to work or to tertiary institutions. And the best way of ensuring their safety might be to have much more intensive defensive driver training (before they get their restricted licence, not after) and to change our alcohol laws – an opportunity the government has recently rejected by failing to act on the recommendations presented to it.

    At the moment, the user is again paying – and paying, and paying – in an attempt to be able to live a productive life. Not really sensible, and not what a responsible government would inflict on its citizens.

    • November 9, 2012 at 2:50 pm

      Agree. Headline today about rising unemployment – up a ‘shocking’ 7.3%. Talk of staff being laid off, national crisis etc – and we make it even harder. Sigh. Back to the garden to sow vegetables.

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