About driver licences

Stage 1 - learner licence

Before you even start to learn to ride on the road, you'll need to get a learner licence.

Who can apply for a learner licence?

To apply for a learner licence you have to:

  • be at least 16 years old
  • have passed a basic handling skills test.

The basic handling skills test

To make sure you can ride safely on the road on a learner licence, you need to pass a basic handling skills test before you get your learner licence.

This means you will need to practise some basic motorcycle handling skills off the road, before you go for your licence. You can either do this on private property, ie not on a road, or take lessons with an approved motorcycle instructor.

You will sit the test with an examiner who has been approved by the Transport Agency to conduct basic handling skills testing. In most areas the approved examiners will be motorcycle instructors. Ask at your local motorcycle dealer or a driver licensing agent or visit www.nzta.govt.nz/bhst.

Normally, you will need to provide the motorcycle on which you take the test. The motorcycle must be a LAMS-approved motorcycle and, because you will be an unlicensed rider, you will not be able to ride the motorcycle to the test venue. Some test examiners can supply motorcycles, so check when you book for the test.

Learner approved motorcycle scheme (LAMS compliant motorcycles)

LAMS compliant motorcycles are:

  • motorcycles that have an engine capacity not exceeding 250cc and that have not been prohibited by the Transport Agency
  • motorcycles that have an engine capacity exceeding 250cc but not exceeding 660cc and that have been approved by the Transport Agency.

The following groups of motorcycles are not LAMS compliant:

  • motorcycles that have an engine capacity not exceeding 250cc and that have been prohibited by the Transport Agency
  • motorcycles that have an engine capacity exceeding 250cc but not exceeding 660cc and that have not been approved by the Transport Agency
  • motorcycles that have an engine capacity exceeding 660cc.

A full list of approved and prohibited motorcycles is on the Transport Agency website at www.nzta.govt.nz/lams.

If you do use your own motorcycle for the test you must:

  • ensure that it is up to warrant of fitness (WoF) standard (the test examiner will check your motorcycle before the test starts and if it isn't up to WoF standard, you won't be able to sit the test)
  • bring your own safety helmet.

You must also bring identification, preferably photo ID, so the examiner can verify your identity.

Unsuitable motorcycles

Motorcycles such as pit bikes, mini bikes, paddock bikes and junior-sized motorcycles cannot be used when undertaking a basic handling skills test. You will not be allowed to take the skills test if you turn up on one of these bikes. Motorcycles with automatic transmission are no longer permitted to be provided by the examiner for you to use for the basic handling skills test.

If you are unsure about whether this applies to your motorcycle, call us on 0800 822 422.

What the basic handling skills test assesses

During the test you will be asked to perform the following:

  • a left turn from a standing start
  • moving off
  • accelerating
  • riding in a straight line
  • riding round a roundabout
  • riding through left and right curves
  • braking including in an emergency situation
  • parking safely.

You will need to demonstrate:

  • balance
  • positioning
  • speed control
  • correct braking techniques
  • head checks
  • looking ahead to where you are going
  • signalling.

Reasons you would fail the basic handling skills test include if you:

  • ride too fast
  • ride outside the marked course
  • are unable to carry out instructions
  • put your foot down while moving
  • fail to use the front brake
  • fall off
  • don’t look to where you are going.

Note: this is not a complete list.

If you successfully pass the test, you’ll be given a Basic handling skills certificate. You can then apply for your learner licence.

How do I apply for a learner licence?

You'll need to go to a driver licensing agent to:

  • fill out an application form (you'll be asked if you want your licence to identify you as an organ donor; see below for more information)
  • present your Basic handling skills certificate
  • present evidence of your identity
  • book a time to take the theory test
  • pay for the theory test and the learner licence application
  • meet the eyesight requirements
  • present a medical certificate if required
  • provide a signature
  • have your photograph taken.

Note: you shouldn’t take anyone else with you while you are sitting the test.  If you do take dependent children (under the age of eight) with you, it is at your own risk as they may distract you, which could cause you to fail the test.

Medical declaration

To ensure all drivers and riders on our roads are medically fit to drive, the driver licence application form contains a medical declaration.

Every applicant has to complete this declaration. If you have any of the conditions listed below, you may need to provide a medical certificate.

The declaration asks you to declare these types of medical conditions:

  • diabetes
  • locomotive joint or limb problems
  • strokes
  • nervous or mental disorders
  • high blood pressure
  • seizures, fits, convulsions, epilepsy
  • serious injuries (for example, head or spinal injuries)
  • visual disturbances (for example, cataracts, double vision, glaucoma)
  • cerebral vascular accidents or disease
  • cognitive impairment
  • any other condition that may affect your ability to drive safely.

Organ donation

When you fill out your driver licence application form, you'll be asked the following question: ‘Would you be willing to donate organs in the event of your death?'

The Transport Agency can't produce a driver licence for you until you have ticked either ‘Yes' or ‘No'.

By ticking the ‘Yes' box and signing the form, you are indicating your wish to be identified as an organ and tissue donor and have the word ‘DONOR' printed on your driver licence. (It's also put on your record on the driver licence database.)

In the event of your death, your family may be asked for their agreement before organs or tissue are removed for donation. That's why it is very important to discuss your decision with your family.

It's a good idea to think about organ donation before you go to the driver licensing agent.

If you would like more information about organ and tissue donation, contact Organ Donation New Zealand on 0800 4 DONOR (0800 436 667) or visit their website.

Learner licence theory test

The learner licence theory test is designed to test whether your knowledge of the road rules is good enough for you to ride on the road. Knowing the road rules is important for you to become a safe rider.

You will sit the theory test at a driver licensing agent's office.

The test is made up of 35 questions about road rules, road hazards and safety practices that relate to motorcycles. The questions will appear in a random order.

All questions are multi-choice and you select the answer you think is correct by clicking on it. You can change your mind after clicking an answer but it will be locked in when you decide to move on to the next question. You will know if you have correctly answered the question before the next question displays.

To pass the test you need to get at least 32 questions right out of 35. If you get more than three questions wrong, you will need to book to take the test again at another time, and you'll need to pay another test fee, but not another application fee.

If you pass the test, you’ll be given a temporary learner licence, which is valid for 21 days. Use it until you receive your photo driver licence in the mail.

How should I prepare for the theory test?

Before you book your theory test, you need to be thoroughly familiar with the road rules. You will need to read and learn everything in The official New Zealand road code for motorcyclists. You will probably need to read it several times to understand everything you need to know to be a safe rider.

To help you learn the road rules you can test yourself against the questions from the theory test. If you wish to test your knowledge of the Road code further, or familiarise yourself with the computerised theory test, you can do this by going to www.roadcodepractice.co.nz.

Speech or language difficulties

If you are having difficulty preparing for your theory test because of a reading or language difficulty, there are several organisations that may be able to help:

  • Literacy Aotearoa
    phone: 0800 678 910
    website: www.literacy.org.nz
  • English Language Partners New Zealand (formerly ESOL Home Tutors)
    phone: (04) 471 2382, or look in your phone book for your local branch
    website: www.englishlanguage.org.nz
  • Citizens Advice Bureau
    phone: 0800 FOR CAB (0800 367 222), or look in your phone book for your local branch
    website: www.cab.org.nz.

People with reading difficulties can also apply for:

  • extra time to complete the theory test
  • the theory test to be given orally.

Besides English, the computerised theory test is available in the following languages:

  • Arabic
  • Chinese (simplified and traditional)
  • Gujarati
  • Hindi
  • Korean
  • Māori
  • Punjabi
  • Samoan
  • Tongan

Paper-based theory test translations remain available only in the following languages:

  • Arabic
  • Chinese
  • Korean
  • Samoan
  • Tongan.

For more information about these options, talk to a driver licensing agent when you book your test.

There are also options for people with English language difficulties when taking the practical driving tests. Talk to a driver licensing agent or call us on 0800 822 422 for more information.

What are the conditions of a learner licence?

  • You must ride a LAMS-approved motorcycle (for a list of approved motorcycles see our website at www.nzta.govt.nz/lams).
  • You must not ride between 10pm and 5am.
  • You must display an L (learner) plate on the back of your motorcycle at all times when you are riding. Failure to display L plates could result in 25 demerit points and a fine of $100.
  • You must have your learner licence with you whenever you are riding.
  • You must not carry a passenger.
  • You must not tow another vehicle.
  • There is a zero alcohol limit if you are under 20. That means if you ride after consuming even one drink you can be charged with drink driving. If you have an alcohol level of less than 150 micrograms per litre of breath and less than 30 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood you could be fined and given 50 demerit points. If your alcohol level is higher, you could be disqualified from driving, given 50 demerit points and either fined or imprisoned.

    If you're 20 or older, the legal alcohol limit is 250 micrograms per litre of breath or 50 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood.
  • Breaching the learner conditions of your driver licence (other than failing to display L plates) could result in you receiving 35 demerit points and a fine of $100. If you breach any other conditions of your driver licence you could receive 25 demerit points and be subject to a fine of $400.

Your new learner licence will be valid for five years. You can now ride on the open road and gain the skills and experience that will enable you to progress to the next stage.  When you feel you are ready you can apply for your restricted licence. 

If you do not progress during the five year period, you will need to pass a theory test once your licence has expired before your learner licence can be issued for a further five years.    

L plates

If you're riding with a learner licence, you must display L plates on your vehicle.

L plates show other road users that you are a learner, so they will be more considerate of you on the road while you are learning to ride. They also mean that police officers can make sure learner drivers are following the conditions of their licence.

The L plate must have a black L on a yellow background and must be at least as large as the measurements shown on the diagram below.

Picture of an L plate, showing required dimensions

L plate

L plates can be purchased from driver licensing agents, or you can make your own.


If you are not complying with your licence conditions the police can now prevent you from continuing to ride until you are able to comply with the conditions of your licence. They may also do one or more of the following:

  • direct you to ride straight home
  • take your keys
  • immobilise your motorcycle, or
  • have it moved to a place where it is not a traffic hazard.

Learning to ride

Learning to ride a motorcycle is very risky and many people have crashes while on their learner licence. It is important that you learn good riding skills from a competent person.

Professional or private instruction?

Whoever teaches you should be a skilled and experienced motorcyclist. It is highly recommended that you get professional instruction.

Learning to drive with an instructor

Instructors charge a fee for training and must hold a driving instructor (I) endorsement for each class of licence they want to teach.

Before your first lesson, ask the instructor to show you proof that they hold a current instructor endorsement.

To find a motorcycle instructor or training school, ask at a motorcycle dealer or driver licensing agent.

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Last updated: 11 February 2015