A time limit restricting novice drivers from holding their learner and restricted licences for too long is set to be introduced.
The Government plans to change the law by 2015 so that learner and restricted drivers will be obliged to gain their full licence within five years, or be forced to resit tests, Associate Transport Minister Simon Bridges announced yesterday.
At present, drivers can remain on their learner or restricted licences indefinitely, having to update their licence card only once a decade.
Currently, 37 per cent of learner drivers have held their licences for more than six years, as well as 32 per cent of restricted drivers. Three drivers in the country have held their learner licences for 25 years or more.
"The Government intends to limit learner and restricted licence periods to five years to encourage drivers to move through the . . . system," Mr Bridges said.
"The [system] never intended drivers to stay on a learner or restricted licence indefinitely. What these drivers need to do is demonstrate their skills and competence and graduate to a full licence in a reasonable time."
The changes are part of the Government's strategy aimed at young and novice drivers - which has already seen the driving age increased to 16, licence tests tightened and a zero blood-alcohol limit for drivers under-20 introduced.
"Limiting the time that learner and restricted licences can be held is going to encourage these licence holders to progress through the [system] in a timely way and become skilled and safe drivers."
Under the graduated licence system, drivers with a learner licence can only drive under the supervision of a fully licensed driver. After six months they can then sit their restricted licence, which allows them to drive solo, but with restrictions around night driving and carrying passengers.
The move has been praised "in principle" by the AA and the Institute of Driver Educators, though both suggested the proposed changes were not exactly to their liking.
AA spokesman Dylan Thomsen said he would have preferred to see restricted drivers excluded from the changes.
Under recent changes, the restricted examination has become the toughest test on the road.
"We support it in principle . . . that we want to have all drivers progressing. But certainly we think putting a time limit on the licences will need to be handled very carefully.
"There's no real need to push them into it if they're not out on the road."
The AA was concerned that the time limits could create financial difficulties for some learner drivers, while hurrying others into chasing their restricted before they were ready.
Driver Educators national president Wayne Young said an expiration date on licences would have been a better idea, but he appreciated the steps the Government had taken.
"The problem is every bugger is staying on their restricted and not changing.
"They [the Government] are trying to give them the message: Hey mate, you need to move on."
Superintendent Carey Griffiths, police national road policing manager, said police "absolutely" supported Mr Bridges' announcement. "We want to see more drivers appropriately licensed and encouraged to be so."
There are three licence holders who have held a learner licence for more than 25 years, NZTA data shows.
It is not clear exactly how long they have stalled on their beginners' licences, due to the previous paper recording system.
There is also one licence holder who has held a restricted licence for the same period, more than 25 years.
Currently, 37 per cent of learner drivers have held their licences for more than six years, as well as 32 per cent of restricted drivers.
- The Dominion Post