Wellington, March 3 NZPA - It appears the National Government is picking a fight with its rural support base as it presses ahead with plans to lift the driving age from 15 to 16.
Prime Minister John Key has indicated the rise in driving age without exceptions will be in the Government's Road Safety Strategy, being released today, which outlines a range of measures aimed at reducing road deaths.
There are indications that the move will not be welcomed in rural areas where National dominates politically.
Federated Farmers transport spokesman Donald Aubrey said not only farmers would oppose the move, but the Automobile Association and the Council of Trade Unions as well.
"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 he expected a law change this year as New Zealanders aged 15 to 19 suffered 60 percent more fatalities and crashes than their Australian counterparts.
Mr Key said he expected opposition from rural communities, who liked their children to get their licences as early as possible so they could drive themselves to activities such as school and sport.
"I understand that issue and I think we've thought long and hard about that but I think if you look at that the accidents that have occurred with 15-year-olds in rural communities, there are too many youngsters dying on the roads," he said.
"I think, in the end, this is about saying 'look, the driving age was always aligned with the school leaving age, the school leaving age is now 16'. Yes it might cause some inconvenience for parents in rural communities but on the other side of the coin, if that means that a youngster lives and doesn't die in a road fatality, I think that's a sacrifice worth making."
Mr Key said it was unlikely there would be any exemptions as it was difficult to define who they should apply to.
It has also been indicated that the strategy will include a zero alcohol limit for drivers under 20.