Freedom vs Risk

I was having an interesting discussion on twitter this evening, in relation to driving age. Being under 25, the process of leasing a car and getting insurance is quite difficult at times – some places refuse to lease to anyone under 25 and insurance always has large price premiums.

The argument of some, was that statistically speaking, people over 25 have more mature brains and thus are capable of better driving skills and that maybe we should consider making that the legal age limit to drive.

I’m totally against such a suggestion – I’ve been really impacted by the current laws regarding driver licensing, it made it more difficult to run a business, encourages dangerous driving and restricts general freedoms.

NZ has the following stages of drivers license:

  • Learner’s License – must drive with a fully licensed driver (for at least 2 years) and display L plates. You need to pass a theory test to obtain and hold it for at least 6 months before you can progress.
  • Restricted License – limited driving from 06:00 – 22:00 only, passengers only permitted if one of them has had a full license for at least 2 years. To obtain, a practical driving test takes place and you must hold the license for at least 18 months.
  • Full License – unrestricted driving 24×7 with any passengers.

You can apply for a license at a young age in NZ – 15 currently – which I would argue is a bit too young – I actually waited until I was 20 before getting my restricted license, which I needed in order to get a car for business needs.

My problem then is that I had no option to be able to progress to a full license – after driving daily for 6 months, I would consider myself to have as much experience as many who sit the full test after 18 months, but there is no avenue for me to take a test to prove this.

The reason it’s such an issue, is that it started to impact me in business operations:

  • I couldn’t take a staff member in my car to attend a customer meeting.
  • Working late nights at client sides would be a problem, I couldn’t do a 02:00 upgrade and drive home afterwards.
  • It looks poor to customers if you can’t offer them a lift due to the possibility they don’t have a license.

It also impacts me personally:

  • I can’t give my flatmate (who also is restricted) a lift anywhere that we are going to. Yet I would argue that it is FAR more dangerous to have two 20-something males taking separate cars to the same place than it would be for them to share a single car.
  • You can’t take an unlicensed girlfriend/boyfriend anywhere.
  • You can’t pick up elderly or young family members, who instead need to use public transport, which even in a city link Wellington tends to be pretty poor.
  • Young friends who have obtained full licenses often still can’t drive as my passenger since they haven’t held it for at least 2 years yet.

Violating the terms of a restricted license will impose a $400 fine, which is almost 2-3 times as much as running a redlight – an action that I would argue is far more dangerous.

I think it’s a pretty poor system as it is – I’d prefer to see a faster paced process but with more driver education/training in place (my German friends would certainly attest to this being desirable) to enable drivers to move forwards faster by proving they have the skills and comfort behind the wheel.

Raising the limit to 25 would mean that I would be unable to live like a proper adult/member of society until I’m 27 at the earliest – if we consider 18+ to be smart enough to drink, smoke, fight, die, marry, then I think we need to allow them to drive, even though there are some higher risks.

One could argue that we should do anything possible to reduce road tolls, but as a society we have made the choice that freedom comes at a cost, we can’t expect people to live a life where they aren’t allowed to do anything that could be harmful.

I would argue that lifting the age limit to 18 would be reasonable – make it the same as legal adulthood, but imposing anything over 20 would be unreasonable discrimination against younger members of society and put us on an unlevel life quality and business level.

I’d also suggest combining that with some sane limits on engine types and vehicles, 18 year olds don’t need to be driving turbo charged V8 engines – many of the youth crashes tend to be overpowered vehicles, have them on more limited vehicles and perhaps we’ll see less harm.

Of note, I think the focus on driving deaths is actually very poor form by NZ authorities – there are infact MORE deaths by suicide and depression in the youth bracket than there is from driving incidents – something which tends to be overlooked by the media and authorities – if we want to save lives, this might be the first place to start.

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10 Responses to Freedom vs Risk

  1. Jethro Carr says:

    As a side note, I’m sitting my full license on the 26th of April – yay :-)

  2. Jethro Carr says:

    I’m also really sick of people blaming “youth” for driving, I see shocking driving on a daily basis from all generations and professional drivers, having people tell me that my generation aren’t mentally developed enough to be able to drive or handle situations yet is quite frankly, offensive, considering the poor driving of all ages.

    • Nicki says:

      Sure, there are poor drivers at all ages, but they’re not causing the largest proportion crashes.
      “Young New Zealanders aged 15–24 years are 14.5 percent of New Zealand’s population and 16 percent of all licensed drivers. Yet in 2008 they were involved in around 37 percent of all fatal crashes and 37 percent of all serious injury crashes.”

  3. Bex says:

    Its different in each State (North Carolina, you can get a learner permit at 15, for example), but for me it was:

    * You can get a learner’s permit at 16. You have to take a test on a computer to get it. (As an interesting point, this is a piece of paper, not a photo ID). After six months and 50 hours minimum of driving time (which is self recorded and reported in a log- and included time learning how to change a tire, etc), you can take your driving test.

    * If you’re under 18, passing the driving test gives you a restricted license- and all that says is you can’t drive after midnight or carry more than one passenger.

    * After you’ve had the restricted for a year, or you turn 18, it automatically becomes a full license- no additional testing required. If you take the driving test and you’re already 18, you get a full license right off the bat.

    The whole process is only about $50, as well, if I remember correctly.

    I was also able to get my full New Zealand license by showing my full license from the States and taking the same test you have to take to get a learner license- same cost, as well.

  4. Diane says:

    As one of your ‘German friends’ I can only confirm that a focus on training/education would most likely have a more positive impact on overall driving skills in NZ than the current system could ever achieve.

    Coming from a country which has mandatory driving lessons, a written test where the student *doesn’t* know the exact questions before sitting the test, and a practical test which one can only pass if certain skills are demonstrated, I can only say that most young people are better drivers over there than what I’ve seen in NZ so far. It’s shocking, since I never thought that German drivers were particularly skilled or risk adverse… :-)

    You’re absolutely right, sitting and waiting until the time limit to reach the next stage license is up doesn’t make you a better driver at all. Not without additional training.

  5. Nicki says:

    Firstly, good luck for your licence test! However, I do have to say that the impacts you’re experiencing now, in not having your full licence, could be have been mitigated by gaining your full licence earlier. Even with a learner age of 17, you could still have your full licence by 20. So I don’t think it’s particularly valid to complain about the impacts you are suffering now.
    Secondly, I never said we *should* raise the age to 25, I said “A driving age of 25 would do wonders for the road toll”. (And as a side note, insurance and car rental businesses are completely justified in ensuring they charge premiums/have policies that accurately take account of the level of risk that cannot be denied in under-25s.)Of course, a higher driving age would have a number of wider impacts, in terms of general productivity amongst young people, and severely impacting their ability to contribute to the economy. Personally, my view is that the minimum driving age should be 17, and that the learner licence period should be extended to 1 year. Drivers currently get about 50 hours experience driving before they sit their restricted licence. 12o hours, in a semi-targetted fashion so that night-driving, winter driving, driving in the rain and other higher risk situations are covered off while in a fully supervised situation, has been shown in research to be ideal. A GDLS with a 17 year learner age/18 year restricted age would allow solo driving by the age of 18, which would enable self-sufficiency for those who enter directly into the workforce, rather than undertake tertiary study that is typically well served by public transport.
    A little light reading for anyone interested: (which shows night driving and driving with peers to be two higher risk situations for young drivers) (“The lower the minimum driving age, the higher the crash rate among novice drivers. Young people are physically and emotionally less mature, and thus less able to assess risk than older drivers. Recent research indicates that the parts of the brain responsible for inhibiting impulses and weighing the consequences of decisions may be under development until well after the teenage years.”) (impact of raising the driving age to 16 in NZ) (pp.16-19 are background to the above)
    There is also info on vehicle restrictions in those last two – three key things to think about: enforcement is very difficult, more powerful cars tend to be newer and have better safety features (which benefit those crashed into and well as those doing the crashing), and any car can be driven stupidly, at stupid speeds, while drunk etc. Also, I’m not sure you’re quite right in your generalisation that many crashes by young people are in high-powered cars, but I can’t find accessible stats on that. That sort of thing tends to become stereotypical, because people always report the car when it’s powerful, but less so when it’s an average, lower-powered car.
    Finally, you are only half right with the suicide statistic, for over 20’s this is true, but motor vehicle crashes are the biggest cause of death for 15-19 years – mostly passengers (usually with an inexperienced peer at the wheel) (sorry, these are older stats, I can’t find beyond 2002). The media’s approach to suicide is a whole other blog post and comment – they have an agreement not to report so that suicides are not copied, thereby increasing the rates – whether or not this actually prevents further deaths is a bit of an unknown, and hard to study. But of course more could, and should, be done from a public health/mental health aspect to increase awareness.

  6. Matt Taylor says:

    @Bex: The learner’s test here in New Zealand is computerized too. It’s cool that you’re meant to learn how to change a tire to get your licence.

    @Diane: You’re exactly right. Time (and age limits, noting the possible 25+ exception) don’t make better drivers, training does. It is kind of scary that there are young people out there driving that haven’t had any kind of professional training and that have just waited out the time to get their full.

    The restricted licence time can be reduced to 12 months if you’re under 25 years old and do a defensive driving course after you’ve had your restricted licence for six months. If you’re over 25 the time reduces from six months to three months. These courses range from $150-$200 and for some people are just not an option because of the price.

    On raising the age to start the licensing process, I don’t agree. Noting that maybe I am biased as a young person myself, I don’t think that raising the age can replace driving education. At 18+ you have more money for faster and more powerful cars, less time or interest to practice driving with a responsible person like a parent, less negotiating power to get your parents to pay for professional driving lessons (because you have more important things to spend your money on~~) and you’re more likely to want to drive with passengers illegally.

    On passenger restrictions, there are automatic exemptions. A person you live with in the nature of marriage, children who live with you that you or your spouse support financially, relatives who live with you and receive a benefit and/or someone you look after as their primary caregiver are exempt. You’re also able to apply for exemptions (usually granted only if you’ve had a restricted licence for six months plus) if you can prove you’ve mitigated the risks to road safety, to drive at night (like for work) or to carry passengers because of medical reasons.

    I agree that the restrictions on not being able to carry a passenger that has a restricted or has had their full licence for less than two years are kind of crazy. And it’s not like the person on the full licence can just drive the car instead, if they’re under 25 they have to be listed on the insurance to be covered.

    Let’s think about subsiding the cost of professional lessons and defensive driving courses. Because where is the money from licence fees going?

    Learners: $93.90
    Restricted: $78.10 ($108.10 – $30, assuming testers get paid about as much as driving instructors charge, around $60/hour)
    Full: $76.20 ($136.20 – $60, as above)

    That’s $248.20 not being paid to testers. Enough for a professional lesson, defensive driving course and 30 minutes of admin time to process the three applications. Maybe it is going to road safety etc., but what better road safety lessons are there than practical ones?

    • Nicki says:

      It takes a LOT more than 30 minutes admin time to process three applications, and you may be forgetting a whole lot of other factors, such as NZTA overheads and the amount of IT work that needs to be done. It’s also not the 10 minutes you spend at the counter, there’s processing behind the scenes. Licensing fees are based on cost recovery, there’s no profit going astray, what you pay is what it costs to keep the system running. And as per the Treasury papers above, the cost split looks like this:

      Learner: Application fee $39.30, Theory test fee $39.70 (supervision time, IT for the tests they use now, and time to process results)
      Restricted: Application fee $39.30, Practical test fee $48.90 (tester time + overheads for tester, e.g. non-test work time, annual leave, training etc., plus test development, monitoring etc.)
      Full: Application fee $44.30, Practical test fee $70.80 (longer test)
      (the figures add up slightly different to yours because this is from early last year)

      And even if there was money to put into defensive driving and practical lessons, this is what I said to @splatdevil on her blog last night: Studies have also shown the effectiveness of defensive driving courses and practical driving courses is questionable, and may even increase risk – they make already overconfident drivers (younger drivers are less able to perceive risk accurately) even more overconfident. They may even increase the risk, because inexperienced drivers are allowed to drive in riskier situations sooner. The benefits of formal driver instruction are also negligible:
      “Elvik and Vaa have completed the most comprehensive review of driver training programmes. Overall their studies show drivers with formal training had 1.9 percent fewer crashes than drivers with no training. This figure is not statistically significant. Therefore, they conclude that although driver training is unlikely to increase crash risk it does not appear to provide significant safety benefits. This needs to be weighed up against the costs of professional driver training, which are not insignificant.” (

      I agree with what you’re saying, experience is very important. Raising the age alone will have some benefits certainly, but improving both by raising the age combined with a longer learner licence period to gain more experience before solo driving will make an even bigger difference. It’s also the best of the feasible options, in terms of investing limited government resources and getting the most out of that.

      • Matt Taylor says:

        Haha, should have looked up where the money actually goes.

        Though I do still think that subsided courses are worth investigating further. I think the benefits could be much more substantial if learner drivers were able to take a defensive driving course, which would be before the increased risk period of the first six months of the restricted licence, instead of after.

  7. Jethro Carr says:

    Oh and as of the 26th of April, I now have a full license. YAY ME. :-D

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