Government to raise driving age

Last updated 17:53 02/03/2010

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Federated Farmers is urging the Government to rethink plans to raise the driving age to 16, saying it will not reduce the road toll and make life difficult for young rural adults.

Prime Minister John Key has confirmed today the driving age will be increased to 16 in a bid to reduce road accidents.

Lifting the age from 15 to 16 has been foreshadowed by Transport Minister Steven Joyce for months.

Mr Key said the change would go ahead as part of the Government's road safety strategy, which will be announced tomorrow. There would be no exceptions for young people in rural communities.

It is understood the restricted driving test will also be toughened and the alcohol limit for under-20s will be cut to zero.

"The Government is likely to act on the driving age and it's more likely to be 16 than 17," Mr Key said.

Federated Farmers transport spokesman Donald Aubrey said the Automobile Association and the Council of Trade Unions were also opposed to the change.

"Raising the driving age won't lower the road toll. More time behind the wheel and improved training is the key," Mr Aubrey said.

"This may work in Kelburn but not in Kerikeri. Public transport is almost non-existent in rural areas where driving isn't a rite of passage, it's an essential part of life.

Mr Aubrey said the Government would be better extending the restricted licence period and other training options instead of just raising the minimum age.

"The statistics all show that accidents spike when people get their full licence. Without better training, raising the age just pushes the problem one year on."

Mr Key said the driving age was always aligned with the school leaving age and the school leaving age was now 16.

"Yes, it might cause some inconvenience for parents in rural communities but on the other side of the coin, if that means the youngster lives and doesn't die in a road fatality, that's a sacrifice that's worth making.

"The reason for  looking at a change is because when we compare our accident rates in 15-19 age groups in New Zealand and Australia, what we see is a 60 per cent more fatalities and accidents in 15-19 years olds in New Zealand.

"There's a number of factors there. Driving age is one. Also making sure we have a zero tolerance for alcohol for people aged under 20. We've got to have a very clear bright line that says when you get in a car and you're under 20 you don't drink."

Mr Joyce has suggested driver locks could be put in the cars of recidivist drink drivers as another part of the strategy.

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