Driving for Change - Anna Lorck

Hawke's Bay is on a collision course.

The region is facing a $20 million economic and social challenge to get 20,000 drivers onto their full licence. Every month it's getting worse, increasing by another 100 drivers a month.

There is no way the region can even begin to sort the problem out, unless there is pressure put on the Government to make some changes.

Getting your driver's licence is a basic life skill, it sets you on the road to independence and for many it's a basic requirement to get to and from work.

So why is the Government more focused on a money making venture by charging our teenagers excessively to get a fundamental life skill, which according to these figures is instead costing our region millions and failing society.

Apparently our local leaders know all about the problem, the figures were given to them by the police, who are very concerned about the problem, at the intersectorial group meeting last month.

Surely having so many drivers stuck on their wrong licence is a matter of public interest, where costs and accessibility are preventing our future generation from getting ahead?

But as I understand it, despite talking about it, once again our sitting Government MP, Craig Foss, who just happens to be in the job of Associate Minister of Transport with the responsibility of driver's licences in his portfolio, didn't want to take up the issue.

Instead he suggested the mayors write him a letter. I hope they did.

As a parent of two teenagers on their restricted licences I know a fair bit. Getting your driver's licence costs too much and your best chance of passing is having professional lessons, it's not accessible, you can only sit it during normal business hours, which means time out of school or work, and it requires a lot of parental/adult support and time, and a car and petrol.

I'm not suggesting we go back to the old way because I'm all for ensuring we, as big people, do all we can to encourage our teenagers to learn and become good, safe drivers who learn and take on responsibility, who are rewarded for their actions and skills. But when the Government has set up a system that is failing thousands of people, it must change. The economic cost alone is staggering at between $450 and $800 to get your full licence, depending if you pass the first time. Based on this, it's at least a $20 million problem for Hawke's Bay, so what's it for the rest of New Zealand?

Those living in our rural towns like Wairoa, Waipawa and Waipukurau where there are no traffic lights are even more disadvantaged. They can't even sit their driver's licence where they live - they have to find someone to take time off work to drive them to Napier, Hastings or Dannevirke to get tested.

As a mum, I also personally worry about the pressure our kids come under to risk breaking the law and drive their friends without their full licence.

I'm not condoning breaking the law, but I'm not going to ignore it. You only have to ask how many learner and restricted drivers are entering the criminal justice system through a traffic offence to see the danger and future problems the system is creating.

There is absolutely no way we have the resources in Hawke's Bay to even get another 500 people onto their full licences in a year - if we keep going this way it will take decades. So how do we fix it?

Those I've spoken to, parents, teachers, police and students, all see the best way forward is learning to drive needs to be in schools with community, volunteer, police and education sector involvement. Potentially students have an 18-month window to pass and leave school with their full licence. I have every confidence that this could work, in Central Hawke's Bay we already have district councillor Kelly Annand championing a pilot programme to do just this.

But why does it take passionate committed people like Kelly to get this going, and how long before this Government wakes up and takes action? To drive change we need to show public support. I'm calling on us parents to back our teenagers to campaign for change.