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Labour to back Govt's lift in driving age to 16

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Phil Goff
Phil Goff

Wellington, April 15 NZPA - The driving age is certain to be raised to 16 after Labour confirmed today it would back the Government's decision to approve the move.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce today announced Cabinet had approved the rise as a first step in implementing the Safer Journeys: New Zealand's Road Safety Strategy 2010-2020.

The move requires a law change and the Government said it was talking to its support partners, ACT and the Maori Party.

However, the legislation will pass with ease as a spokesman for Labour leader Phil Goff told NZPA that the party's 43 MPs would back the law change.

The move is opposed by Federated Farmers with its acting transport spokesman Lachlan McKenzie saying they were disappointed with the decision as it will not have any impact on lowering the road toll.

"The decision ignores expert opinion, including from the Automobile Association, that the way we learn to drive, particularly getting supervised experience, is the key to improving road safety for our younger New Zealanders," Mr McKenzie said.

"What we wanted was to keep the age at 15 but vastly improve the way young people learn to drive. You cannot beat time behind the wheel.

"So arbitrarily pushing the age up won't work. You just push the problem out one more year."

Federated Farmers would push to keep the age at 15, but with enhanced training.

"These changes will hit rural areas the hardest. The restrictions will make work and community activities much more difficult for our young people who don't have the luxury of public transport," Mr McKenzie said.

Mr Joyce argued that New Zealand had one of the lowest driving ages in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and raising the driving age supports a "lifetime of safe driving".

Other planned changes include making the restricted licence test more difficult to encourage 120 hours of supervised driving practice, improving the quality and accessibility of road safety education for young people, allowing approved courses to be taken in the learner licence phase, and raising public awareness of the crash risk for young drivers.

The Government will also investigate having vehicle power restrictions for young drivers and tougher penalties for breaches of restricted licences.

A second package of initiatives to be released by Cabinet shortly will include plans to reduce the youth blood alcohol limit to zero.

Mr Joyce said young New Zealanders have a 60 percent higher fatality rate than in Australia and the Government looked at Australian measures.

New Zealand learner drivers do an average 50 hours of supervised practice. Research shows the crash risk is significantly lower for drivers who do 120 hours of supervised practice, Mr Joyce said.

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.

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