Licence fees putting off young rural drivers

TRACEY CHATTERTON AND ANDREA O'NEIL
Last updated 05:00 10/03/2014

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Rural children are driving illegally and missing out on jobs because law changes have made it too hard for them to get their driver licences, councillors say.

Teenagers in central Hawke's Bay, northern Wairarapa and Rangitikei have not been able to sit their restricted or full driver licences close to home since the New Zealand Transport Agency canned testing in many rural areas in February 2012.

Wairoa district councillor and Wairoa College youth co-ordinator Denise Eaglesome- Karekare said some young people felt they had no option but to drive without a licence.

Many parents could not afford to take time off work to drive their teenagers to Napier or Gisborne to sit the test. Teens were also missing out on job opportunities because many employers would only take staff with a driver licence, she said.

Masterton driving instructor Treena Timms said soon only rich teenagers would be able to afford a licence. "It's outpricing everybody. You're going to have more people driving on learner's [licences] because of the cost."

New Zealand was a rural country, and rural teenagers needed their licences more than city kids, who had the benefit of public transport, she said.

Wairoa mother Shelley Campbell said it was a long and expensive process helping her son Jack get his restricted licence.

A couple of trips to Napier for driving lessons, practice runs on unfamiliar roads and then sitting the test cost the family at least $500. It was a financial strain that many other families in the community simply could not afford, she said.

NZTA spokesman Andy Knackstedt said rural licensing centres were scrapped when restricted licence tests were made more difficult in 2012.

"The . . . nature of the test is you just can't deliver it in some locations because they don't have the roads and environment to test those skills."

But Hawke's Bay Regional councillor Rick Barker told a regional transport committee that rural teenagers needed to learn to drive along narrow, winding gravel roads and be able to dodge cattle.

"City-centric" testing was hurting rural families and penalising communities for not having enough cars on their roads, he said. "Wairoa is not going to get a sudden burst of Auckland traffic."

NZTA spokeswoman Kate Styles acknowledged at the meeting that the Wairoa community was disadvantaged, but said the agency would not compromise its standard of testing. "I won't apologise for wanting young people in Wairoa to able to drive to the same standard."

NZTA was introducing a driving mentoring scheme in Gisborne next month, which could later be considered for Wairoa, she said.

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However, Mr Barker said that was not good enough. The committee asked NZTA for a report into possible resolutions.

- The Dominion Post

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