“Too many rural teenagers are killed and injured in road crashes when they start to drive by themselves on their restricted licence, and we need to do something about it” says ACC’s General Manager Insurance and Prevention Services, Keith McLea. At the same time he understands that rural parents want their teenagers to gain their driving independence as early as possible.
ACC strongly supports the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) plan to introduce a tougher Restricted Licence practical driving test from February 2012, to reinforce the need for 120 hours of practice in a range of conditions and situations. To support this, ACC and the NZTA are encouraging teen learner drivers and their parents to register with Practice.
Practice (www.practice.co.nz) is a free online programme that helps young drivers develop the skills they need to pass the practical driving test and gain their Restricted Licence. Using the programme will help them become competent drivers, and prepare them for the requirements of the new licence test.
Overseas research shows that if a learner driver has done 120 hours of supervised driving, their chances of being injured in a crash once they start driving alone is 40% lower than if they had completed around only 50 hours.
Because they help with farm work, many rural kids get behind the wheel before they are old enough to drive on the roads. However, Dr McLea is reminding parents that although these teenagers might feel confident driving around the farm, they don’t necessarily have the skills to drive safely on the road in all conditions, or drive safely in town too.
“Driving in the country is good for learning to drive in some challenging conditions, such as on narrow, winding roads, and in loose gravel. But learner drivers also need lots of practice in city situations too. They need to learn to drive in heavy traffic, how to stop and start at busy city traffic lights, what is a safe following distance, and applying the give way rules,” he says.
The safest way for teenagers to learn all these skills is with an experienced driver sitting right beside them. That experienced driver teaching them to drive is usually the teen’s parent. The Practice programme is designed to help make it easier for parents to teach and learners to learn.
“Investing a bit of extra time when they are learning is a smart thing to do. It helps keep them safe, and helps them achieve their independence sooner; allowing parents more time to get on with the job of running a busy farm,” he says.
When a young driver passes their theory test and gains their Learner Licence, they will be sent a brochure about joining Practice. Once they have signed up, and enlisted the help of a ‘Guide’ – usually a parent, relative or experienced friend – to teach them to drive, they can access a raft of information, tips and videos on the Practice website.