Teen drivers on restricted licences are crashing at an alarming rate and routinely flouting the law, with a study suggesting parents are partly to blame.
Driving instructors are calling for compulsory training in schools, and for government measures to upskill parents, after the study found a quarter of the participants crashed while on their restricted licence.
Almost 900 teenage drivers took part in the recent Otago University study.
About 80 per cent of them also broke at least one of the conditions of their restricted licence, prompting researchers to suggest that law-breaking had become "the norm" among young drivers.
Common among the teenagers who crashed were parents who did not enforce good driving or had a history of bad driving themselves.
Rebecca Brookland, who co-authored the study, said the large number of restricted drivers breaking the law was a concern.
Almost two-thirds of participants breached their licence conditions by driving unsupervised at night (10pm to 5am), more than 80 per cent drove unsupervised with passengers, and 62 per cent broke both rules.
On top of that, almost half of the teens said "most" or "all" of their driving at night or with passengers was illegal, Dr Brookland said.
The children of parents who did little to manage their child's driving, and who had previously crashed a car themselves, were more likely to be in a crash.
Parents who did not fully understand how a restricted licence worked were a common theme among law-breaking teens.
Sarah McPhee, an instructor at Wellington's Triple A Driving School, said that did not surprise her.
Most parents of teens grew up in an era of few restrictions on driving so they did not see them as necessary now. "It's also convenient for them to ignore the rules because it means they don't have to get up in the middle of the night and pick up their kids."
Mrs McPhee said she would support any moves to better educate parents on driving knowledge and make driver training compulsory in schools.
"We've been lobbying with schools and the Government to get some form of driver education in schools, even if it is just learning the road code. Their argument is that they don't want kids out there driving earlier than they're ready to be."
But surprisingly, the Otago University study found that teenagers whose parents made them wait before getting a licence were more likely to have a crash.
Dr Brookland said it was possible those parents had recognised their children would be risky drivers and tried to delay them from taking to the roads.
Data for the study was collected between 2006 and 2011. In the final year, the NZ Transport Agency launched its Safe Teen Driver campaign aimed at helping parents stay involved in teens' driving.
DRIVEN TO DISTRACTION
Breaching restricted licence conditions was "common and frequent behaviour". Parents' low knowledge of licence conditions, low management of their child's driving and having crashed previously themselves were all linked to this.
25 per cent of young drivers crashed while on their restricted licence. Parents' low management and having crashed before was common among these drivers.
Young drivers who owned their vehicle were more likely to break the restricted licence rules and had a higher chance of crashing.
NZ has the highest road deathrate in the OECD for 15 to 17-year-olds, and the fourth-highest for 18 to 20-year-olds.
Teen drivers here are most at risk of a serious crash in the first six to 12 months of driving solo on a restricted licence.
When a young driver has two or more passengers, they are 10 times more likely to crash than if driving alone.
Since the driver-licensing system was introduced in 1987, the number of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes has dropped by about 70 per cent. The system was designed to limit novice drivers' exposure to high-risk situations, such as night-time driving, carrying passengers and driving after drinking alcohol.
ROOKIES 'FEEL LIKE THEY CAN DO ANYTHING'
Ben Ruback, 18, says most teenagers who pass their restricted driver's licence "feel like they've got their full licence".
"They feel like they can do anything and they do think they can do things that people who've had their licence for 10 years can do."
The Victoria University law student has held a full driver's licence for more than a year but crashed while he was on his restricted, a mistake he puts down to inexperience. With traffic behind him he panicked and hit a post as he was turning into a driveway.
Normally the conditions of holding a restricted licence prohibit drivers from taking passengers, but Mr Ruback said most rookie drivers did not follow the rules: "Your mates just jump in to the car and you kind of feel obliged to take them."
His dad taught him to drive but he said many parents did not know the rules for restricted drivers.
His father, Hamilton Ruback, said his son had stuck to the rules on his restricted, despite some pressure from friends wanting a lift, but the same could not be said for his mates. "He did have one friend that kept getting caught. Ben just thought he was an idiot."
But young drivers ignoring the rules probably isn't new. Mr Ruback said he was not as well behaved as his son when he was a teen. "Whenever there was anything to drive I would drive it, illegally or whatever."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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