Overturning Driver’s License Inequality – One Student or Police Check at a Time
A powder blue Toyota rolls out of the school gates and blends into the teeming traffic of a busy Lower Hutt road.
Taita College Student Jacinta Po Ching learned to navigate traffic in the school car. When she gets her license, she will be able to commute to her part-time job in retail, to and from school and to the beach.
“As you get older, it actually becomes a burden [not having your licence]especially for families who don’t have enough money for gas or have little time to finish work early and pick you up,” said Po Ching, who is the school principal.
Last week the government announced an $86.5 million funding increase for driver’s license testing and training – estimating it could help 64,000 people get a driver’s license thanks to support from the Department of Social Development and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency.
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In a May 4 statement, Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni said much of the community could not access training or driving tests due to cost and other barriers. “This disproportionately disadvantages Maori, Pacific people, single parents and rural communities,” she said.
But programs run by schools and the police are already tackling the problem. Taita College has bought its own car and offers its own driving lessons to help younger drivers in the community.
Taita College Principal Karen Morgan saw such a need for her students to get licenses that she first lent her own car for lessons.
She didn’t want students to miss out on jobs, she said.
“We thought about reversing that, finding a solution to that, and having the car, we absolutely change that whole paradigm, so they can get out there and work.”
The school bought the Toyota on its own budget in 2020. Former computer teacher and car enthusiast Patrick Harlow was hired to deliver intensive four-day courses in traffic laws and road safety, while giving students driving lessons.
Around 30 students have completed the program by 2021, of which 10 have obtained their restricted license. Classes continue in 2022.
Morgan said a worrying number of people in the community were driving without a license – and she didn’t want to see young people involved in car crashes, being fined or ending up in court.
“Part of that was saying we need to stop these kinds of statistics and do it in a positive and proactive way to make sure our students become role models for their friends, parents, cousins and uncles who don’t have their license. .”
Data from Waka Kotahi shows that in New Zealand, 2,434 unlicensed drivers were involved in crashes between July 2020 and June 2021.
During the same period, 298 young people aged 15 to 19 were involved in vehicle accidents in the Wellington, Porirua and Hutt Valley area – 133 were driving with infringing licenses and 25 had no licenses at all .
Harlow said the cost was a huge barrier for young people to get their license.
He said it was between $75 and $150 for professional driving lessons. Added to this is the cost of the tests: $93.90 for a first attempt at a learner’s permit and $134.80 for a restricted one.
“I have been teaching here for 30 years, I know our students and every help we can give them makes all the difference. Parents may not have the time, means or patience to teach, so kids can come here in a non-threatening environment and do it in a relaxed way,” Harlow said.
Employment through driving licenses – New Zealand Police
While Taita College has developed its plan to help students obtain permits, the police also have a program to obtain a driver’s license without a license.
Steve Greally, the National Road Enforcement Officer, said the He Tangata program was established in 2018.
Officers who stop unlicensed drivers can refer them to the program. More than 1500 people have successfully obtained their license through the program since its launch.
“We shouldn’t immediately jump to the conclusion that they’re just guilty and have to pay,” Greally said of unlicensed drivers. “We need to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
“Sometimes when you take a harsh approach to resolving infractions, you can actually exacerbate the problem, the grief, the stress for those people. And you can get much worse results as a result.
Greally refers to a life entangled in the justice system.
Much of the nation’s prison population had their first interaction with the justice system through a traffic violation.
According to the Howard League, in 201765% of Maori prisoners had committed a driving offense as part of their initial prison sentence, including driving without a licence.
Sepuloni mentioned the problem when announcing increased government funding for driver’s licenses, saying that “there are many people in our prisons whose journey to criminal records started with fines for driving without a license. Today is a big step forward to change that.
Greally said the He Tangata program is something of a world first, trying to help would-be offenders learn an essential life skill and not end up in the justice system.
People referred to He Tangata may still be fined for driving without a license, but officers often waive the fine upon completion of the program and issuance of a license.
Among those who took their degree after entering the program, 81% passed the first time, more than the national average which fluctuates around 70%.
Additionally, Greally said that 27% of people participating in the He Tangata program went on to find employment.
“Think of it as a concept,” Greally said. “If we extrapolate that, we get more and more people through these types of programs, the effect that will have on crime, on road safety and, in fact, hauora, people’s well-being.
“It’s a very good thing for someone to be employed, they take pride in their accomplishments and part of that helps [improve outcomes]. It’s not a panacea, but I think it’s a very good first step.
The He Tangata program also saw a 55% reduction in infractions among those who obtained their license and a 33% drop in demerit points.