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Wait times for tests drag out months for frustrated drivers

Drivers in Tairawhiti have the third-longest wait in the country to sit practical tests to get their restricted or full driver's licence.

They face an average 84-day wait to sit the test for a full licence, and a 97-day wait for the restricted driver's licence test.

The wait has more than doubled from five weeks in March, to now more than 12 weeks.

An 18-year-old Gisborne woman had to wait just over a year to get her restricted licence after failing the practical test three times.

“I would recommend going down to Napier and doing it. It would be quicker,” she said.

“My first fail I brought my dad with me and he talked in the back seat of the car, and I got an automatic fail.”

She then had to wait three months to sit the test again.

The next time she failed on her parallel parking.

Then it was another two month wait for another test.

She failed a third time and eventually got it on her fourth go — just over a year later.

“Once you get it it's great, I now have my independence.”

Morrinsville and Gore are the only other areas in New Zealand where the waiting time is worse.

Driving Change Network Coordinator Wendy Robertson said the latest figures showed the nationwide average wait times were around 50 days.

The Driving Change Network is a diverse group of more than 200 stakeholders working in driver education, training and licensing.

The group was told by Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency that their goal was to have services back to “pre-Covid levels” as soon as possible. But Ms Robertson says testing services were under strain long before the 2020 lockdown.

“Pre-lockdown, people throughout New Zealand were still waiting between four and eight weeks to secure a driving test slot, which is far too long.”

Ms Robertson says there were several factors contributing to the increase in wait times, including the 2020 lockdown which saw tests cancelled, delayed, and the emergence of cautious booking practices such as not allowing language interpreters or support people.

“However, the main issue is the government's user-pays system, which doesn't have the capability to match demand for testing services.

“The government needs to move towards a centrally funded model where driver education, training and licensing is equitable and accessible to everyone in the community who wants to learn to drive.

“We need more driving testers available at each site, and an increase in testing hours. We also need more focus on driver education and training so learner drivers are better prepared for their practical test.

Ms Robertson said some areas of the country saw their calendar booked out as soon as new test booking time slots opened.

“These wait times create a huge amount of anxiety for people,” she said.

“They know if they fail their test it could take months to re-sit it, and these test failures create additional demand on a system which is already overburdened.”