Teens swamp driver licence queues

An avalanche of 15-year-olds are making a last-minute dash to sit their driver's licence in Timaru before the age goes up to 16 on Monday.

AA South Canterbury has been inundated with teenagers sitting their licence over the school holidays, causing long and steady queues at its Timaru office.

District manager for South Canterbury AA Kathryn Wells said staff had been "very busy" keeping up with demand.

She said she was not sure exactly how many teenagers had sat their licence over the past month but foot traffic had increased among teenagers booking in for their learner licence theory test and restricted licence.

"In the last month to six weeks we've seen the increase start happening, this week in particular we've had queues all day."

Driving instructor Karen Brooks said she had also been busy with teenagers eager to get their licence before the age limit goes up, under the Land Transport Amendment Bill.

"We've been quite busy but it's so hard to judge (how many have been having lessons) because a lot of them are going through free lessons, which is really excellent."

South Canterbury Road Safety has partnered with seven driving instructors from Timaru to offer more than 120 hours of free lessons.

Road safety co-ordinator Daniel Naude said 82 people had made use of the sessions, which have been available over the school holidays, with the aim of reducing the risk of drivers on their restricted having a crash and to help them get their full licence.

Changes to the licensing system will also mean 15-year-olds who already have their learner licence will be required to wait until they turn 16 1/2 to apply for their restricted licence. The current system lets people aged 15 1/2 sit the test.

Caitlin Francis, 15, joined the queue of Timaru teenagers hoping to get their learner licence before Monday.

She said it was because of the age change that she decided to sit the test.

"I wouldn't have gone for it this quickly but I kind of have no choice really."

Twins Brendon and Tyler Latimer, 15, both passed their learner licences yesterday.

Tyler said a lot of her friends were younger than her so would have to wait at least another year before they could sit the test, however most of Brendon's friends were able to go for their licence before the change.

Their mother Vivian Solly said an influx of teenagers sitting the test had made the process slow but praised AA staff for getting through the backlog as quickly as possible.

New Zealand Transport Agency chief executive Geoff Dangerfield said young drivers were over-represented in crashes and the changes would address key factors of concern.

Other measures in the Land Transport Amendment Bill:Zero blood-alcohol limit for drivers aged under-20Tougher restricted licence testingZero blood alcohol limits for repeat drink driversAllowing courts the option to require repeat or serious drink drive offenders to use alcohol interlocks, after a mandated 90-day disqualification. An alcohol interlock is a device similar to a breathalyser that is connected into a vehicles starting system. Before the vehicle can be started, the driver must give a breath test. If the analysed result is over the pre-programmed breath-alcohol level the vehicle will not start.Doubling the maximum sentence for dangerous driving causing death, from five years to 10.

The Timaru Herald