Parliament voted to increase the minimum age for learning to drive to 16. Together with a recommended 120 hours of supervision, it effectively makes the minimum age for obtaining a full license 17 and a half.
There are some who will have cheered this as a victory for ‘common sense', while others will have hailed it as another step in combatting that scourge of a good night's sleep, the boy-racer. Yet why is it that Federated Farmers, the Automobile Association and even the youth arm of the Council of Trade Unions, have all expressed concern that increasing the learner starting age is not a silver bullet.While our politicians may believe that learning to drive from 16 will suddenly lower the youth road toll, we don't. Federated Farmers supported leaving the age where it was, but vastly improving the training curriculum and time spent on a learner license. This approach was common with experts like the AA and those who work with young drivers. In fact, statistics tell us the learner license period is the safest period of a driver's life. The peak in accidents comes when drivers drive solo on a restricted license at 17, 18 and 19. Driver education needs to start at a much younger age including that rite of passage, the push bike. Imprinting good behaviours is behind the Peugeot Kids Driving School for 3 to 6 year-olds. In a similar way, some early education centres after training, are issuing "gun licences" to use toy guns.
So instead of swaddling our children in cotton wool until they turn 16, let's, give them the skills and abilities to drive safely from a younger age. I was struck by the comments of Scouts New Zealand's, Ed Kulik, after a council demolished a tree hut. "Kids these days are wrapped in cotton wool. They need to be able to climb trees and fall out of them sometimes....I'm disappointed that we can't teach our children what is safe and that they can't experience danger so they know how to get out of it". This message is about young people learning the limits of their natural abilities and learning to drive from 16, just defers this vital experiential step one year later. With 16 being the start for driver training, 120 hours of supervised driving could take up to two years to obtain and filling in a log-book is open to rorting - ‘tidy your room and I'll give you 6 hours'. But what's deeply concerning is that the realistic minimum age for getting a full drivers license becomes 17 and a half. With 18 the current minimum for purchasing alcohol, this creates a dangerous cocktail of temptation, opportunity and peer pressure. While there is going to be a zero blood alcohol limit for drivers under 20, this change to the starting age immeasurably closes the gap. On-farm, our children get to experience tractors, utes and quad bikes suited to their physical ability. On the road, driver training needs a thorough syllabus akin to what private pilots go through. After all, it takes a minimum of 45 hours to obtain a private pilot licence but this training is highly structured and ability driven.
Given you can fly solo at 16, the real farce of increasing the age is that we won't trust Sally with keys to the Corolla, but we'll throw her the keys to the Piper Cherokee instead. Obviously, it's not the age we're learning to drive at, its how we're learning to drive.