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Pass rates climbing and crashes falling as young Otagodrivers study up on road rules


The NZ Transport Agency is congratulating young drivers and their parents in Otago for working hard to learn the road code as pass rates in the region for New Zealand's computerised learner driver licence theory test continue to increase, while crashes involving teen drivers drop.

The regional pass rate for the Class 1 (car) theory test has reached 70% this year, compared to just 52% when the tests were first introduced in the region in November 2009.

Regional Manager Access and Use Kieran Turner says the results are higher than the current national pass rate of 67%, and the region's continual improvement in pass rates showed that local young drivers were showing genuine application in getting to know the road rules and learning to become safer drivers.

"It's encouraging that our new generation of young drivers are increasingly showing that they're willing and ready to get a good understanding of the rules to help them share our roads safely."

The Transport Agency introduced computerised theory testing for learner driver licence tests nationwide in late 2009. The test asks 25 general and 10 class-specific questions randomly selected from a databank of over 200 questions, but unlike the old paper 'scratchie' tests which the computerised test replaced, it presents them as a random string of 35 questions.

Transport Agency Road Safety Director Ernst Zollner said when the computerised test was introduced in 2009 it quickly became apparent that the old paper scratch test was well past its use by date.

"The old test was more than 10 years old and all of the questions, the answers and their exact sequences were well known. It was apparent that many learner licence applicants were memorising the tests and learning by rote rather than actually studying the full road code and learning the road rules. For that reason we expected to see a drop in the pass rate in the early days of computerised testing, and we did. The overall national pass rate dropped from 77% in the last six months of the old paper testing regime to less than 50% when the computerised test was first rolled out in November 2009.

"Since that time we've seen the pass rate for computerised theory testing steadily increase as young drivers have gotten the message that they really need to learn the road code before sitting the test. That's great news for everyone who uses the road, because we need our newest drivers to be safe drivers who understand the road rules."

The Transport Agency also encourages young drivers who have passed the theory test and gained a learner licence to put in plenty of supervised practice and use the free resources at link) to prepare for the more challenging restricted licence practical test which was introduced in February last year.

Mr Zollner said while it was pleasing that the number of fatal and serious injury crashes involving teenage drivers in New Zealand had dropped from 475 in 2008 to 257 last year, road crashes were still the single biggest killer of teenagers in New Zealand.

"With an average of one teenager killed on New Zealand roads every week in recent years our teen crash rates were still among the worst in the developed world."

"That’s a situation no-one should accept, and New Zealanders are looking for decisive action to reduce this needless waste of young life and young potential,” Mr Zollner said. “Raising the standard of driving required to gain a licence with more challenging tests is an essential part of the solution.”

Mr Turner said that it was also encouraging that the number of fatal and serious injury crashes involving teenage drivers in Otago had dropped from 46 in 2009 to 23 last year, but there was no room for complacency.

"We're very pleased to see fewer teenagers being seriously hurt or killed on our roads, but every death and serious injury is a tragedy, and we need to do better. We hope the improving pass rates for theory tests are indicative of an overall improvement in young drivers' safety habits that will help to stop these tragic crashes from happening."

Mr Turner said more challenging driver tests were a key element of the Government’s Safer Journeys action plan to improve the safety of young drivers, and other changes introduced as part of the same package have included increasing the minimum driving age to 16, lowering the youth alcohol limit for teen drivers to zero, and encouraging teen drivers and their parents to buy the safest vehicles they can afford.


Learner Licence Theory Test Pass Rates

New Zealand




Fatal and Serious Injury crashes with teen drivers**

New Zealand




* The computerised theory test was introduced in November 2009. **The minimum licensing age in New Zealand was increased from 15 to 16 on August 1, 2011. This effectively removed approximately 20,000 teens from the pool of potential learner licensed drivers/theory test applicants.

View a pdf of the charts here. [PDF, 26 KB]