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Learning to drive: Getting your car licence

Published: 10 2012

This factsheet tells you how to get your car licence which allows you to drive a light vehicle (up to 4500 kg). Cars, vans and utes are light vehicles. It outlines the three graduated stages, the process to get each stage and any conditions which you must comply with when driving.

Three stages to get your licence

The graduated driver licensing system has three stages, learner, restricted and full.

Each stage has a test you have to pass. There's a theory test to begin stage 1, and practical driving tests to begin stages 2 and 3. See the chart at the end of this factsheet for an overview of the 3-stage graduated driver licensing system.

As you move from one stage to the next you're given a new licence, with different requirements and more responsibilities. Normal road rules apply at all times.

Where to apply

You can apply at any NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) driver licensing agent. These are selected branches of:

Check our website or or look in the Yellow pages to find a branch near you.

Stage 1 – learner licence

You must get a learner licence before you learn to drive on the road. To apply for a learner licence, you must be at least 16 years of age.

Obtaining a learner licence

To get your learner licence, you must apply at a driver licensing agent and:

  • fill out an application (form DL1)
  • present evidence of your identity and evidence of your address (see the Identification requirements section)
  • prove your eyesight meets the required standard (see the Eyesight requirements section)
  • have your photograph taken and provide a signature
  • pay the learner licence application and test fees (see the What it costs section)
  • pass the learner licence theory test (see the Passing your theory test section).

Learner licence conditions

  • You must not drive on your own. You must be accompanied by a supervisor at all times (see the Who can be a supervisor section).
  • When learning to drive a light motor vehicle you may carry passengers, provided your supervisor agrees.
  • You must display learner (L) plates on the front and rear of the vehicle at all times when you're driving. You can obtain L plates from most driver licensing agents.
  • If you are learning to ride a moped, you do not need a supervisor. However, you do need an L plate on the rear of your moped, you must not carry any passengers and you must not ride between 10pm and 5am.

Stage 2 – restricted licence

To apply for a restricted licence, you must be at least 16½ years of age and have held your learner licence for at least six months. You will need to:

  • fill out an application (form DL1).
  • present evidence of your identity and evidence of your address (see the Identification requirements section)
  • prove your eyesight meets the required standard (see the Eyesight requirements section)
  • have your photograph taken and provide a signature
  • book a time to sit the restricted practical test (see the Booking your practical test section)
  • pay the restricted licence application and test fees (see the What it costs section)
  • pass the restricted licence practical driving test (see the Passing your practical tests section).

Restricted licence conditions

  • You can drive on your own between 5am and 10pm.
  • If driving between 10pm and 5am, you must be accompanied by a supervisor (see the Who can be a supervisor section).
  • If you sit the restricted test in an automatic vehicle, a condition will be imposed on your licence limiting you to driving only automatic vehicles. This condition does not apply when you are accompanied by a supervisor.
  • You must not carry passengers unless you have a supervisor with you. The only passengers you can carry without a supervisor are:
    • your spouse or partner (partner means a civil union partner or de facto partner)
    • your parent or guardian
    • a child who lives with you and is under the care of you or your spouse or partner, eg you or your spouse are their parent or guardian
    • a relative who lives with you and who receives a social security benefit, eg the domestic purposes, invalid's, sickness, unemployment or widow's benefits
    • someone you look after as their primary caregiver.

Stage 3 – full licence

Drivers under 25 years of age

You will need to be at least 18 years of age and have held your restricted licence for 18 months before you can apply for your full licence.

If you present an approved advanced driving course certificate, the minimum age reduces to 17½ and the length of time you must have held your restricted licence reduces to 12 months.

Drivers 25 years of age or over

If you are 25 years of age or over you must have held your restricted licence for at least six months before you can apply for your full licence. This period reduces to three months if you present an approved advanced driving course certificate.

* The approved advanced driving courses are Street Talk or Defensive Driving.

Obtaining a full licence

To get your full licence, you must apply at a driver licensing agent and:

  • fill out an application (form DL1).
  • present evidence of your identity and evidence of your address (see the Identification requirements section)
  • prove your eyesight meets the required standard (see the Eyesight requirements section)
  • have your photograph taken and provide a signature
  • book a time to sit the full practical test (see the Booking your practical test section)
  • pay the full licence application and test fees (see the What it costs section)
  • pass the full licence practical driving test (see the Passing your practical tests section).

Once you hold a full licence, you can drive either automatic or manual vehicles, regardless of the type of vehicle you sat your test in.

Identification requirements

You must present evidence of your identity and evidence of your address each time you apply for a driver licence.

You must present evidence of name change if you are changing the name on your driver licence, or if the name on your evidence of identity/address documents differs from what you want on your driver licence.

Evidence of identity

Acceptable evidence of your identity must confirm your full name and date of birth. It must be an original (not a photocopy) of one of the following:

  • A New Zealand photo driver licence that is current or has expired less than two years.
  • A current New Zealand temporary driver licence that is accompanied by an acceptable form of photographic identification (eg 18+ card, student ID, current or expired passport).
  • An overseas or New Zealand passport that is current or has expired less than two years.
  • A full birth certificate* issued in New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Niue or Tokelau.
  • Another acceptable identity document. Refer to factsheet 20 for the full range of acceptable identity documents.

* old-style birth certificates that do not include your parents' details are no longer accepted by government agencies (including the NZTA) as evidence of identity.

Evidence of name change

Acceptable evidence of name change must be an original (not a photocopy) of one of the following:

  • A marriage or civil union certificate.
  • A dissolution of marriage or dissolution of civil union order.
  • A deed poll certificate, change of name certificate, a statutory declaration confirming change of name, or a birth certificate showing both names issued by the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

Evidence of address

Acceptable evidence of your address must show your name and address. It must be an original (not a photocopy) of one of the following:

  • An account statement issued within the last 12 months by your bank, building society, credit union or credit card company.
  • A telephone, gas, or electricity account issued within the last six months.
  • Another acceptable form of identity issued within the last 12 months that shows your address.

Eyesight requirements

You must prove that your eyesight meets the required standard each time you apply for a new licence class. To do this you can:

  • present a satisfactory eyesight certificate issued by a New Zealand registered optometrist (this certificate must be no more than 60 days old)
  • present a satisfactory medical certificate issued by an New Zealand registered medical practitioner (this certificate must be no more than 60 days old)
  • pass an eyesight screening check at a driver licensing agent.

Note: The agents' eyesight screening machines eliminate the need for many drivers to be tested by an optometrist or medical practitioner. However, if you don't pass the screening check then you must provide one of the certificates listed before your application can proceed. Some drivers choose to supply a certificate instead of taking a screening check. If you have vision in only one eye (monocular vision) you must present an eyesight certificate from a doctor or optometrist.

Who can be a supervisor

A supervisor is a person who:

  • holds a current full New Zealand driver licence for the class of vehicle you are learning to drive and
  • has held their full New Zealand driver licence for at least two years (or where their full New Zealand licence has been held less than two years, they have held an equivalent overseas driver licence for at least two years) and
  • does not have a supervisor condition on their New Zealand licence.

What it costs

You pay an application fee and a test fee for each licence stage.

  Fee
Learner licence application fee
$48.70
Learner licence test fee $47.40
Total $96.10
   
Restricted licence application fee
$48.70
Restricted licence test fee $88.30
Total $137.00
   
Full licence application fee
$50.00
Full licence test fee $61.70
Total $111.70

If you don't pass a test, then you will need to pay another test fee when re-booking. You won't be charged another application fee.

Booking a practical driving test

Make sure you are ready for your practical test.

The restricted and full tests are tough tests that assess your driving skills. It is recommended that you get plenty of practice (as least 120 hours if you have a learner licence) before you sit a practical test. More information about the restricted and full practical test contents can be found on our website

You can book a time to sit your restricted or full licence practical licence test:

  • online
  • by calling our contact centre on 0800 822 422
  • at a driver licensing agent.

If you book online or via the call centre, then you must allow an extra 30 minutes prior to your test, or visit a driver licensing agent prior to your test, to complete the application requirements (eg having your photo taken and eyesight checked).

Check what time the licensing agent opens on the day of your test. If your test is early in the morning and the agent is not open you will not be able to complete the requirements listed above. This means you will need to visit an agent on a day prior to your test.

Check the location of your test. Not all test sites have driver licensing agents. This means that if your test is booked at a testing only site, you will need to visit a driver licensing agent at another location to complete the application requirements before you sit your test.

Changing or cancelling your test

If you have booked a theory or practical test and want to change or cancel your test, you will have to pay a further fee.

Where there are two or more complete working days (excluding weekends and public holidays) between the day you change or cancel your test and the day of your appointment, you will need to pay a rescheduling fee of $16.40.

Where there are less than two complete working days (excluding weekends and public holidays) between the day you change or cancel your test and the date of your appointment, you will not pay a rescheduling fee, but will need to pay a further test fee.

You may be eligible for a refund of the first test fee paid where the cancelled test time is taken by another person. If the test fee is refunded, a processing fee of $16.40 will be deducted.

You can obtain a refund application (form DL13) online or by phoning our call centre on 0800 822 422.

Passing your theory test

The learner licence theory test is a computer-based, 35-question, multi-choice test that assesses your knowledge of road rules and safe driving practices.

All the information you require to pass the theory test can be found in The official New Zealand road code.

The official New Zealand road code can be purchased from many bookstores and driver licensing agents. It's also available online.

You can also practise the theory test online at roadcodepractice.

Passing your practical tests

The restricted and full licence tests are practical driving tests that assess your ability to apply your knowledge of road rules and safe driving practices.

Don't be late

The test can't be rushed. If you're late, your test will be cancelled. You'll have to re-book and pay another test fee (see the Changing or cancelling your test section).

Carry your driver licence

Make sure that your photo driver licence is current and that you have it with you. If you arrive for the test and your licence isn't current or you don't have it with you, you won't be able to sit the test. You'll need to re-book and pay another test fee.

Pre-drive vehicle check

The testing officer will look over your vehicle before the test to ensure it is roadworthy. They'll check the tyres, indicators, brake lights etc, and make sure your vehicle has a current warrant of fitness (WoF) or certificate of fitness (CoF), a valid licence label and a road user charges (RUC) label (if it runs on diesel). If your vehicle isn't roadworthy, the test won't proceed (even if it has a current WoF or CoF). You'll need to re-book and pay another test fee. Vehicles displaying trade plates or being driven on a space-saver tyre cannot be used to sit a practical driving test.

Taking a support person

When you sit a practical driving test you can choose to have a support person accompany you during the test. If you are considering bringing a support person, please read the Taking a support person information in The official New Zealand road code.

In-car video cameras

The testing officer may attach a small video camera to the front windscreen at the beginning of your practical test. The camera records the test and enables the testing officer’s performance to be audited. It also assists in investigating complaints where the test result is disputed.

If you do not wish for your test to be recorded, please inform the testing officer.

Further information

Further information on what the test involves, preparing for the test and a test day checklist can be found in The official New Zealand road code and our website.

After the test

After you pass the test you'll be given a temporary licence, valid for 21 days, to use while your photo driver licence is manufactured and mailed to you, which should take two to three weeks.

Driver responsibility

You must have your licence with you at all times while driving. The law requires that you must produce your licence immediately, when requested by an enforcement officer. Failure to do so can result in an instant fine.

It's illegal to drive, or attempt to drive, under the influence of alcohol. If you're suspected of being under the influence of alcohol, breath and/or blood tests may be required.

If you're under 20 years of age, there is a zero alcohol limit. This means if you drive after consuming just one drink, you can be charged with drink-driving.

If you're 20 or older, the legal alcohol limit is 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood or 400 micrograms per litre of breath.

It's illegal to drive, or attempt to drive, under the influence of drugs. If an enforcement officer suspects you're under the influence of drugs, you can be required to undertake a compulsory impairment test. If you fail the impairment test, then a blood test will be required.

Overview of the 3-stage graduated driver licensing system

The following chart outlines the process for obtaining a car licence.

Getting your car licence chart
Click on the image to view a larger version.

Where you can find out more

  • Email us: info@nzta.govt.nz
  • Call our driver licensing contact centre: 0800 822 422
  • Write to us: NZ Transport Agency, Palmerston North Office, Private Bag 11777, Palmerston North 4442

About factsheets

The information in this factsheet is a general guide only. It is not the source of the law.