Plea to raise driving age to stop 15-year-olds killing
By PHIL HAMILTON and JOHN HARTEVELT - The Press | Friday, 17 October 2008

The Government should raise the driving age before there are more fatalities involving 15-year-old drivers, Coroner Sue Johnson says.

She was speaking yesterday at the inquest into the death of Christchurch City councillor and Paralympian Graham Condon, 58, who was killed on September 8 last year when a car hit him while he was cycling.

The driver, a 15-year-old girl, had breached her restricted licence by having four friends in the car.

On the same day Condon was killed, teenagers Emma Susan Reynolds, Chloe Wilhelmina Cockerell and Melissa Kate Norton died when the car they were in hit a power pole in Ellesmere Junction Road near Lincoln.

Emma, the driver, had a restricted licence, so was not allowed to drive with passengers.

The Coroner yesterday added her voice to that of the Chief Coroner, Neil MacLean, and the Canterbury road policing manager, Inspector Derek Erasmus, in a push to hurry through a Government bill to lift the driving age.

An amendment to road safety legislation, backed by the Government, has proposed raising the driving age to 16 and extending the time for a learner's licence from six to 12 months so that drivers would be 17 before they were able to drive alone.

The plan is before the parliamentary transport select committee and set to go out for submissions.

The Coroner said yesterday there was an urgent need for change.

"There's an urgency which should take priority," she said.

"Until they are, there will be further deaths involving 15-year-olds on restricted licences because some will lose attention due to their lack of maturity.

"I recommend they be pursued urgently."

Yesterday, Transport Safety Minister Harry Duynhoven said the public was of a mood to change the driving age.

"I would be surprised if there wasn't strong public support for it, judging by the letters that I have received from people over the years on the issue," Duynhoven said.

It would be considered "in the very early days" of the next parliament, he said.

"I know that it's a bill that a large number of MPs on all sides are keen to have debated, so I imagine it would be one that would come fairly quickly."

National has not taken a position on the amendments to raise the driving age, saying it will make a decision after hearing submissions to the select committee.

Condon's wife, Kathy, who was supported by a large party of family and friends, said there was no way 15-year-olds were mature enough to drive safely.

"We both felt very strongly that 15 is too young to drive," she said. "Our two children didn't get their licences until they were 17.

"Parents need to take some responsibility and make sure they are mature enough."

Erasmus told the inquest that 11,000 notices for breaching licence conditions had been issued in Canterbury in each of the past three years.

He said proposed changes to increase demerit points and lessen fines would be more effective as the threat of suspending a licence had more impact on young drivers.

However, raising the driving age would be a good start.

"In my view, the best thing we could do is raise the driver licence age," he said.

"Fifteen is very young to be making decisions and driving a vehicle.

"The driving environment has changed significantly. There's a lot more traffic and there are more distractions for a driver."

The driver of the car, who has name suppression, admitted a charge of careless driving causing death and was disqualified from driving for two years and sentenced to 180 hours community work.

From here.