Safer driving

Something must be done about youth driving.

The statistics are oft-quoted but they bear repeating because they lie at the heart of the Government's move, among other things, to raise the driving age to 16.

Take comparison with Australia: New Zealand drivers in the 15-19 age group suffer an average of 21 deaths a year for every 100,000 of population, compared with Australia's rate of 13.

Further, young drivers between the ages of 15 and 24 in this country comprise 16% of all licensed drivers but in 2008 they were involved in around 37% of all fatal crashes and 38% of all serious injury crashes.

According to Ministry of Transport statistics this led to 122 deaths and 800 serious injuries at a social cost of $1.1 billion.

Road crashes in fact are the highest single killer of 15- to 24-year-olds and the leading cause of their permanent injury.

Broadening out the international comparisons, 15- to 17-year-olds in New Zealand have the highest road death rate in the OECD and 18- to 20-year-olds the fourth highest.

Such a woeful performance is exacerbated by the knowledge that for every young at-fault driver killed, 1.3 other road users also die as a result.

To put it bluntly, our young are killing themselves on our roads at a rate that exceeds any other developed nation, and they are killing other people as well.

Accordingly, the announcement by Transport Minister Stephen Joyce of a package of measures last week to begin to address the problem has been broadly welcomed across the political spectrum.

The Labour Party has said it will vote for the reforms and it is now simply a matter of Parliamentary process, including legislation, before changes come into effect.

Foremost among this first step in implementing the Safer Journeys: New Zealand's Road Safety Strategy 2010-2020, is the raising, as stated, of the driving age from 15 to 16.

But this is only one of a package of moves.

Others include making the restricted licence test more difficult to encourage 120 hours of supervised driving for learners; and improving road safety education for young people.

Resistance to the Government's plans comes largely from the rural sector where young drivers typically start earlier than their urban cousins - in the farm paddock or gravel back road - and by the age of 15, it is argued, are more mature, independent and geographically distant from schools or sports clubs or the homes of friends.

Raising the age to 16, says Federated Farmers, will unfairly penalise them.

It does, however, support more driver training.