Tougher driving test a handbrake

23:05, May 05 2012
Michael Wright and Arthur Inns
TEST CASE: Reporter Michael Wright takes a driving test with driver training specialist Arthur Inns.

After nine weeks and nearly 9000 attempts, more than half of those sitting the tough new practical driving tests are flunking.

The overall pass rate is 41 per cent, up slightly from 38 per cent after the first month of testing under the new regime, but well below the pass rate of about 80 per cent under the old system.

That translates into almost 600 failed tests each week since the new system was introduced in late February.

New Zealand Transport Agency acting chief executive Stephen Town said the tougher rules were there to reduce needless road deaths and improve the standards of young and novice drivers.

The onus was on them to adapt and get better, he said. "Ultimately the pass rate for the test will be determined by learner drivers themselves. We are doing young people no favours with a `once over lightly' approach."

But learner drivers are not solely to blame. The overall pass rate for the full licence test has dropped from about 75 per cent under the old system to its current rate of about 57 per cent.

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The full licence test was changed in February so applicants would have to demonstrate a higher level of hazard detection and response by commenting on parts of their test as they sit it.

The test is also terminated if the driver commits at least two errors, regardless of severity, rather than one very bad error, as was the case before. Under the new test, a "rolling stop" – where a driver does not stop completely – at a stop sign is also an immediate fail, while under the old test you only lost marks.

Triple A Driving School managing director Sarah McPhee said she was starting to see a lot more older drivers who were failing on what she considered very minor criteria. "Some of the test failings are pretty pedantic. We had one lady, in her 60s or 70s, who said she was failed for not checking her mirror every two seconds. That seems far too often to be checking your mirror."

Mrs McPhee said she had also noticed an overall decline in bookings, which she attributed to more drivers opting not to sit the test at all because of the harsher criteria.

Research shows that young drivers who do at least 120 hours of supervised practice before sitting the restricted test have a solo-driving crash rate 40 per cent lower than those who only complete 50 hours. "We expect that pass rates will continue to gradually increase over time as the message filters through to more learner drivers and they begin to put in the kind of preparation and practice needed to raise their skills to a higher level," Mr Town said.

NZTA crash statistics show more than 700 Kiwi teenagers have died in road crashes in the past decade, and road crashes are the single biggest killer of teenagers in this country.

New Zealand has the highest road death rate in the OECD for 16-17 year olds, and the fourth highest for 18-20 year olds.

The Dominion Post