Pass rates plunge on driver tests
By TOM FITZSIMONS - The Dominion Post
Last updated 05:00 19/06/2010

Half the people who take the basic learner-driver licence test for cars fail, figures show.

The pass rate has plunged since last year, when the test was changed to stop people from learning the sequence of answers by memory.

Transport authorities say the figures show Kiwis do not take driving seriously enough, and instructors say that some learners get behind the wheel with scant knowledge of the road rules.

The 35-question theory test is multi-choice and based entirely on the road code. Passing requires at least 32 correct answers.

In the worst result so far this year, one person got only seven questions right. The 30-year-old incorrectly answered such questions as what to do at a red light, whether it was acceptable to reverse back to a motorway off-ramp, and whether alcohol impaired driving ability.

Another person took the test 18 times in four days at a cost of $753 before finally passing.

The pass rate for the learner test was nearly 80 per cent until last year, when the New Zealand Transport Agency switched from paper tests to a computer version.

The move followed concerns about people learning the tests by rote from practice versions available at service stations. The new test also includes 10 different language options, because of fears interpreters had been helping people to pass.

After the computer test was introduced last September, the pass rate dropped to 42 per cent, but it has now climbed back to 50 per cent.

NZTA driver licensing standards manager Jim Furneaux said it was alarming that the results showed people had been passing the old tests without learning the road code.

People sitting the new tests "shouldn't have to do anything more than they've ever had to do and that is swot the material," he said. "But what I think we tend to have is the wrong attitude to driving in the first place. I don't think we treat it seriously enough in terms of learning a skill."

Such attitudes could be linked to New Zealand's crash rates, which were high compared with other countries, Mr Furneaux said.

Sarah McPhee, managing director at AAA driving school, said many new drivers struggled with basic parts of the road code. "The give-way rules would be the worst."

It had been more difficult to pass the theory test when oral questions were included and people had to think about the answers, she said.

"It's the understanding of the road code people have a problem with the reasons behind the rules."

Wayne Young, president of the New Zealand Institute of Driver Educators, said give-way rules were a weakness for new drivers, and some test questions were quite technical, such as how cars behaved when tyres blew out.

Figures obtained under the Official Information Act show men fared worse than women in all types of driver tests, with men in their 20s having the worst pass rate for the learner test last year.

Work has also begun on the practical restricted licence test to make it much harder.

From here.