By Cherie Howie
5:30 AM Sunday Sep 9, 2012
|Amber Warwick. Photo / Doug Sherring|
New Zealand Learner-drivers are still failing driving tests in droves, six months after tough new standards were introduced.
The fail marks include one person aged over 75 and a young Taupo man who has made seven unsuccessful attempts.
Sixty-two per cent of drivers failed the test in March, the month after it was rolled out in an attempt to cut the number of young people dying in road crashes.
New Zealand Transport Agency figures show 54 per cent failed the test last month, proof people were realizing they needed at least 120 hours of supervised practice before the test, agency boss Geoff Dangerfield said.
Seven hundred Kiwi teens died in road crashes in the past 10 years and the country has the highest road death rate for 16- and 17-year-olds in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development zone. "We were doing learner drivers no favors with a once over lightly approach," Dangerfield said.
But some drivers, their families and their driving instructors think the tests are too tough.
Waikato woman Annette Taylor said she watched a young friend give up on driving after failing seven times.
The man was struggling to find work without a license and was too embarrassed to talk to the Herald on Sunday.
Taylor, who took the man to the tests, said he was a good driver and had been unfairly treated. He failed one test because a brake light was faulty.
"A friend was literally a minute away with a car he could use, but the testing officer said 'absolutely not, you are over time'. It's heartbreaking to see the effect it has had on him."
One Hamilton father watched his two sons fail three times each, despite a driving instructor saying both were ready.
The failures had caused stress and financial hardship for the family - tests cost $137 the first time and $88 for each resit.
Open Road Driving School owner Matthew Harding said some of his students were asked to do dangerous maneuvers or being failed for minor mistakes, often caused by nerves.
But the Automobile Association's Karen Dickson backed the changes and said drivers needed to be better prepared for the test. It was still not as tough as in the UK.
"I know mums and dads think this is a hold up, but I think we were selling our young people short before."
It's not much fun being dependent on your little brother but Amber Warwick is, after failing her restricted driver license test for the second time last month.
The 20-year-old Auckland University student needs her 18-year-old brother to drive her from home in Birkdale to her two part-time jobs.
But she doesn't believe she did anything wrong.
"I had driving lessons and the instructor said I was one of the most-capable drivers he's had. I just think the woman [testing me] had no intention of wanting me to pass. Her whole demeanor was awful." She failed twice.
Warwick has complained to the New Zealand Transport Agency. She still wants her license, but is afraid of failing again.
The New Zealand driving test was once very easy and about 95 percent passed first time up with little study or training. But a large percentage of those drivers soon died in horrific crashes.
When I look back now I consider myself fortunate to be alive along with all the passengers that I’ve carried over the years. But there was no shortage of scary moments and minor crashes. I had taught myself to drive and continued learning from my mistakes. My driving must have improved because as time went by I noticed that increasingly I was learning from the mistakes of others.
I took the test for a car license in 1957 and in the 1960s I took further tests to include endorsements for buses, trucks and taxis. All the tests involved an easy drive around the block and a few simple questions. A license to drive then was in reality only a license to learn.
The overhaul of New Zealand’s driver license testing is long overdue and now it’s time for new drivers, parents and perhaps some driving instructors to overhaul attitudes. Making light of serious errors, or complaining because you didn’t measure up, will not impress testing officers.