More than half of Waikato learner drivers are failing their restricted licence test - with the region stumping up an extra $162,000 in test fees.
But Transport Agency bosses are making no apologies for the drop off, saying the harder testing regime is crucial to making roads safer.
And they've got the support of driving instructors who say incompetent drivers were slipping past the old testing regime.
The new restricted licence test was introduced in February and includes a 45-minute practical drive.
Under the new regime, Waikato pass rates have fallen from 82 per cent to 48 per cent.
Drivers sitting the test pay a $48.70 licence application fee and a $88.30 test fee.
Those who fail the test have to pay another test fee when re-booking.
The new test puts drivers through more complex traffic situations, prompting the NZ Transport Agency to develop new test routes.
As part of the changes, drivers will no longer be able to sit the test in Huntly, Cambridge, Matamata or Te Kuiti.
NZTA Waikato and Bay of Plenty regional director Harry Wilson said the agency expected pass rates to fall "pretty sharply" under the new test.
"That's not surprising, as the new restricted licence test is significantly more challenging.
"However, we also expected that those pass rates would gradually increase over time, as the message filtered through to more learner drivers and they began to put in the kind of preparation and and practice needed."
Mr Wilson said national pass rates were climbing, with the pass rate for teenage learner drivers now 51 per cent.
He said making the restricted driver licence test more difficult was a key element of the Government's Safer Journeys action plan.
Hamilton driving instructor Brian Evans said some drivers were failing the test up to three times before seeking professional tuition.
"By then it's quite hard to get rid of bad habits they've picked up, like driving with one hand."
Some learners failed the test because they were not "planning ahead" when driving and weren't able to react quickly enough to situations on the road.
"Ultimately I think the test is fair because a lot of people were getting through the old test who should not have," Mr Evans said.
He said his students had an 80 per cent pass rate.
Driving instructor Quin Cho said 120 hours of supervised driving was needed to prepare for the test.
Waikato District Mayor Allan Sanson said he was disappointed learners could no longer sit their restricted licence test in Huntly, but backed efforts to produce more competent drivers.
Latest NZTA data shows Waikato state highways are among the most dangerous in the country, while Waikato's road toll, currently 42, tops the country.
"It's obvious that the roads need to be safer and young drivers need to be well versed with the rules, because I'm a road user and I don't want someone who doesn't know their left from their right.
"I am surprised, however, with the drop in pass rates. I would have expected maybe a shift of 10 or 15 per cent at most."
Matamata-Piako Mayor Hugh Vercoe was also "surprised" by the sharp drop in pass rates.
- Waikato Times