Story: Cars and the motor industry

Page 6. Licensing, safety and limits

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Vehicle and driver licensing

Cars needed to be registered and licensed by a local authority from 1905. Annual licensing of all drivers first appeared in 1925. Before the Transport Department was established in 1929, road safety and car regulation was, confusingly, the responsibility of several government departments and 300 local bodies.

Since 1987 New Zealand has had a three-stage graduated driver licence system. A learner licence is gained by passing a theory test. The learner licence must be held for at least six months. During this time, a learner driver must be supervised by a driver with a full licence whenever they drive.

The next step is to gain a restricted licence by passing a practical driving test. After this, the driver can drive alone (except from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.), but cannot carry passengers without a supervisor.

Before applying for a full licence, the driver must have held a restricted licence for at least 18 months if aged under 25, or at least six months if aged 25 and over. The driver must pass another practical driving test, and will then receive a full driver licence – which lasts for 10 years before needing to be renewed.

Car crashes

Young people, particularly males, are disproportionately likely to be involved in a crash. However, in the 12 years after the graduated licensing system was introduced, the number and rate of fatally or seriously injured vehicle occupants aged 15–24 nearly halved. In 2006 a third of road users killed or injured were in this age group, and two thirds were male.

While risk-taking behaviour is more pronounced amongst young males, when the crash statistics are adjusted to allow for the greater distances driven by young men than young women, the gender distinction mostly disappears. Driver inexperience seems to be an important factor in crashes. Loss of control on corners and head-on crashes are the main causes of fatal accidents. Cornering too quickly is the major cause of injury accidents.

Accident insurance

From 1928 drivers were required to gain insurance against their liability to pay damages arising from death or injury to others. The premium was payable to a nominated company with the annual vehicle licence fee. This scheme lasted until 1974, when cover for everyone was provided under the Accident Compensation Act 1972, again from premiums paid with the annual licence fee.

Vehicle safety

Compulsory inspection of vehicles was introduced in 1931, initially for passenger service vehicles such as buses, and, later, for goods vehicles and school buses. From 1937 this requirement was extended to private cars. The aim was to reduce the number of accidents caused by faulty vehicles. During and after the Second World War few cars were imported and the warrant of fitness (WOF) inspection was essential in checking the condition of an increasingly ageing national vehicle fleet.

WOFs were issued for six months. After 1985 cars less than three years old could gain a WOF for 12 months.

Seat belts became available in cars from the 1950s. In the 2000s it is compulsory for the driver and all passengers to use them.

Drink driving

The blood alcohol limit for drivers of 100 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood was introduced in 1969 and dropped to 80 milligrams in 1978. This was further reduced to 50 milligrams in 2014. In 1993 the legal limit for drivers under 20 years of age was dropped to 30 milligrams. These drivers were subject to a zero blood alcohol content limit from 2011.

Despite ongoing drink-driving campaigns, alcohol still plays a major role in road crashes. In 1996, 31% of crash deaths and 69% of serious crash injuries were alcohol-related. Innocent victims made up nearly half the total. People aged 15 to 39 had the highest incidence of death and injury.

Speed limits

An open-road limit of 50 miles (80 kilometres) per hour was introduced during the Second World War – when many roads were unsealed – to conserve tyres and road surfaces. As highway engineering and roads improved, the limit was raised to 55 miles (89 kilometres) per hour in 1963. In 1969 it was raised to 60 miles (96 kilometres) per hour on a few designated motorways.

In 1973, during the first oil shock, all limits were reduced to 50 miles (80 kilometres) per hour. The limit was metricated to 80 kilometres per hour in 1975, and was lifted to 100 kilometres per hour in 1986.

How to cite this page:

Eric Pawson, 'Cars and the motor industry - Licensing, safety and limits', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/cars-and-the-motor-industry/page-6 (accessed 19 November 2019)

Story by Eric Pawson, published 11 Mar 2010, updated 15 Dec 2014