Cabinet approves raising of driving age

DRIVING AGE: Transport Minister Steven Joyce said the changes would ensure young people have a safer start entering the road system.
DRIVING AGE: Transport Minister Steven Joyce said the changes would ensure young people have a safer start entering the road system.

Cabinet has confirmed the driving age will rise from 15 to 16, clearing the way for legislation to pass before the end of the year.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce this morning said Cabinet had approved a package of actions for the safety of young drivers.

Besides increasing the driving age, the package also stiffens the restricted licence test; mandates investigation of vehicle power restrictions for young drivers and allows defensive driving courses to be done in the learner licence phase.

There will also be an investigation in to tougher penalties for drivers who breach the rules of a restricted licence.

"Young Kiwis have a 60 percent higher fatality rate on the roads than young Australians. We have looked to what has worked in Australia in choosing to progress these measures," Mr Joyce said.

New Zealand also had one of the lowest driving ages in the developed world, he said.

"By raising this and ensuring our driver testing requires more practice before solo driving, we can ensure our young people have a safer start entering the road system."

The package for young drivers is the first of four to be put in place as part of the Safer Journeys ten-year transport safety strategy.

A second package, targeted at alcohol and drug impaired drivers would be discussed by Cabinet shortly, Mr Joyce said. That package would include an action to reduce the youth blood alcohol limit to zero.

Mr Joyce said the package would encourage drivers on their learner licence to do closer to 120 hours of supervised driving before sitting the tougher restricted license test.

Learner drivers currently did around 50 hours of supervised practice on average.

"Research shows the crash risk is significantly lower for drivers who do 120 hours of supervised practice," he said.

Legislation to support changes in the package could be in place by the end of the year, Mr Joyce said.

Further measures in the package included raising public awareness of young driver crash risk, improving the road safety education available to young people and increasing access to it.

Submissions on the changes would be heard during the select committee process.

The Automobile Association has said increasing the age was not going to make roads safer. The association supported enforcing 120 hours of supervised driving before a learner can drive alone.

Federated Farmers have said raising the driving age would affect farming families who had limited travel options.

In January, a survey of 2300 people reported 74 percent would like the driving age raised to at least 18, though when given the option, 20 was even more popular, with 80.5 percent opting for that.

- with NZPA