Government scales back free driver’s licence re-sits over wait times

The government is cracking down on waitlists for driver’s licences by scaling back the eligibility for free test re-sits.

It reverses a decision made by the previous government last year, which replaced re-sit fees for theory and practical tests with an upfront all-inclusive fee. It was hoped those changes would save drivers $86 each on average.

But Transport Minister Simeon Brown said it had led to “unacceptable” wait times and no-shows, and an increase in failure rates.

Brown said in some parts of the country, applicants were waiting more than 60 days to sit their tests, up from an average 13 days in the three months prior to the previous government’s changes.

From 8 July, applicants for Class 1 theory and practical tests will only be eligible for one free re-sit, and will be required to pay for any additional tests, while overseas licence conversions will no longer be eligible for free re-sits.

“Our government has sought to take a balanced approach to this issue by limiting the number of free re-sits to get these wait times under control,” Brown said.

“These changes will reduce no-shows and incentivise driver licence applicants to prepare and pass their tests, reducing the driver licence backlog, while continuing to ensure that Class 1 applicants remain eligible for a free re-sit.”

Labour’s Transport spokesperson Tangi Utikere said it would impose another cost on motorists, in addition to the reversal of the Clean Car Discount and a planned 12-cents per litre increase to fuel excise from 2027.

He said the removal of re-sit fees also removed barriers for people who may have struggled to get a license, including to get into employment.

“Not everyone is able to get their license on the first go. But this is going to penalise those who want to make a real go of it and do the right thing,” Utikere said.

“We know that for many people, getting a drivers license is also a pathway to employment, and so that’s going to be another deterrent, and disappointing for many.”

Brown said NZTA would also address the backlog by recruiting more driver testing officers, and increasing the number of courses to train them up.

Available hours for theory and practical tests would also be expanded, and text alerts would be introduced to remind people their test is coming.

There will be a three-month transition period for drivers who have already paid the up-front application fee to progress through their current licence stage.

Tests will no longer be treated like a lesson

A driving instructor collective says scrapping unlimited free re-sits will stop people treating tests like a lesson.

Driving Change Network national director Wendy Robertson said the unlimited free re-sits put unnecessary demand on the testing system, with sky-rocketing wait times meaning many were unable to secure a booking.

“New drivers trying to get their licence so that they can enter workforce, or access the independence a licence gives you, were unable to secure a test booking without long delays, or having to travel to other areas of New Zealand,” Robertson said.

Driving Change Network is a collective of driving educators, many of whom are community providers for people who do not have the resources to learn to drive on their own.

“The long delays meant that they had to provide additional lessons to keep their students test ready, and also prevented them from exiting students from their courses and taking on new clients who wanted assistance to prepare for their licence tests. This compounded in creating additional costs for those programs.”

She said the change strikes the right balance by giving learners a second go, free of charge.

“It also takes into account that often when people sit their practical test for the first time, they have test nerves, so that gives them a second chance.”

But, those taking a test to convert their overseas licence to a New Zealand licence do not get a second free chance, and will have to pay for every additional re-sit.

Robertson said demand for overseas conversion of licence has also placed pressure on the testing system because of free re-sits.

“When the re-sit fees become free, it coincided with twelve months after our borders opened, so a large number of people were utilising those free re-sits for overseas conversions.”

She said the changes should encourage overseas drivers to seek lessons before testing.

“But it also means that new drivers aren’t tempted to use the practical test as a lesson, and encourages them to practice and be test-ready when they go to the testing station.”

The government has also added overtime allowances and sped-up training for testing officers to help clear the backlog of people needing a driving test.

Robertson said it will still take a while for wait times to clear.

“People have been able to book for the next four months, so there’ll be a little bit of a lag, but I am confident that with just one free re-sit, that the no-shows will reduce and people just chancing it when they go for their test will also reduce.”

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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