Drivers battle harder tests

JIMMY ELLINGHAM
Last updated 12:00 13/09/2013

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Manawatu drivers have upped their game this year, with latest figures showing more motorists in this region passing the tougher restricted licence test.

But about half the people sitting the test are still flunking.

Holders of restricted licences can drive unaccompanied, except between 10pm and 5am. More than 5000 restricted-licence tests have been attempted in Manawatu-Whanganui since measures introduced in February last year raised the required standard. Since then, the pass rate has been 52 per cent.

The region's drivers performed better in July and August this year, with a pass rate of 58 per cent in the 765 tests undertaken.

Nationwide, since the harder tests began, fewer than half of the 102,000 people sitting have passed, with the success rate hovering around 48 per cent.

The new test includes 45 minutes of driving and supervisors are tougher on mistakes. The NZ Transport Agency says drivers are more likely to pass if they have at least 120 hours' experience.

Gaining a restricted licence took five attempts for Tyde Haworth, 17, of Palmerston North.

She said nerves on her part and being failed on relatively minor faults were to blame.

All that shattered her confidence, although she had clocked up a lot of supervised hours on her learner licence.

"They were really strict on little things," Miss Haworth said of the supervisors. I was quite a confident driver and that kind of battered me right down when I didn't pass each time. I knew I was capable of passing but for some reason they were picking up really little things like, when you're going round the corner, I went a tiny bit over the centre line."

Miss Haworth said there were inconsistencies in what test assessors allowed and she thought their approach should be standardised.

Drive Rite Driver Training instructor Michael Young thought the tougher tests were working as intended.

His only concern was that people who commit too many "critical errors" could fail, when some of those errors, such as stalling, might be the result of nervousness. "I do believe we were putting substandard drivers on the road with the previous tests because it was only 20 minutes. It was only a snapshot of that driving."

He said he used to take people for lessons who didn't know basic road rules, yet they were still passing the old restricted test. The changes had been good for Mr Young's driving school, with business doubling. He said it was good to see people getting professional training.

Transport agency access and use regional manager Kate Styles said lower pass rates were expected when the tougher tests were introduced.

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"But we also expected that those pass rates would gradually increase over time, as the message filtered through to more learner drivers and they began to put in the kind of preparation and practice needed to raise their skills. That's what seems to be happening, and it's possible that pass rates will continue to climb slowly in the months ahead."

Ms Styles said challenging driver tests were an important part of a Government strategy to improve the safety of young drivers.

- Manawatu Standard

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