Driving tests

Why don’t we have to redo a driving test every few years?

When you look around, you’ll see plenty of examples of bad driving and you might be wondering why it’s not compulsory to do some form of ongoing driver training every few years, especially as migrants from 25 countries don’t need to take a theory test at all!

If bad drivers or, conversely, the thought of having to do something like a compulsory driving test every few years, makes you angry, keep on reading as we discuss the pros and cons.

Does anyone have to do driver training?

People might only be reminded of their poor driving is if they are pulled up by police for some infringement, or they have a child who is learning to drive and they point out their parents’ bad habits.

The only time people have to do any kind of mandated driving test is if they lose their licence, they are getting a different licence, for example, a truck or motorbike licence, or they have reached 75. Older drivers have to have an assessment at age 75, 80 and every two years after that. They may need to go for an on-road safety test if the doctor deems them potentially unfit to drive.

Drivers may have to do some kind of driver training for work, for example, our fleet driver training. Truck drivers in New Zealand have to renew a dangerous goods endorsement every five years, which takes about three hours, and might refresh competency certificates for sideloaders and truck loader cranes every three years. However, the core licence, whether you drive a car or truck or ride a motorbike, is yours forever, unless you lose it through disqualification.

Howevere, in the UK, truck drivers have to do continuous driver training (it’s called a driver CPC and it’s 35 hours of periodic training every 5 years).

What happens with no periodic training?

This lack of driver training input gives plenty of time for people to pick up bad habits. Consider that if you forgot how to indicate on roundabouts, and then see a hundred people doing it wrongly when driving straight through a roundabout, you may ‘misremember’ being taught that way; that’s how the human brain works.

Is the solution to have some kind of driving test every five or ten years? It’s one option, but it would create several problems:

Theory test

This would be the easiest to administer. Let’s assume that it’s just generic Road Code information rather than being specific to a vehicle, so that all drivers, regardless of the type of vehicle, would do the same one. In fact, you could do it on our website quite easily. However, a remote theory test is open to cheating. If you make the location of the theory test somewhere like VTNZ or AA, they’re already overwhelmed with applicants a lot of the time and there are unacceptable queues (I’m looking at you, VTNZ Mt Wellington).

Let’s say we make the theory test every five years. As there are at least 4.5 million licence holders in New Zealand, that would mean 900,000 additional tests to be conducted per year, or around 17,300 per week. Each test takes half an hour, so that’s a total of around 8650 hours of testing that needs to be conducted, assuming everyone passes the first time (which will absolutely not be the case).

That’s doable if it was spread out through the week, but there would be a large demand on the weekend because the majority of licence holders work. There would need to be additional staff and computer terminals at testing stations to account for the extra people. At certain testing stations, parking would be even worse than it is now given the extra people wanting to take tests.

We also know that putting an experienced driver in front of a theory test is never as successful as you’d imagine. The majority will fail unless they practice first. Let’s assume that the majority of people practice and only 20% fail the first time therefore need to resit the test. That would make the total number of tests per year 1.08 million.

Practical test

A practical test would be the most rigorous option, but also extremely difficult to administer. There’s a high likelihood that a large number of people would fail because most people believe they are good drivers, and therefore won’t get lessons with a driving instructor beforehand. Resits would be required, and probably at least half of the people will need it. Now, I know you’re thinking that sounds harsh, but remember that you are the one looking around you and seeing all this bad driving, and driving instructors will agree that the majority of people will struggle if they have been driving alone any more than a couple of years.


Compliance with the retesting would be a massive issue. What would be the parameters around taking the test? If it’s due every ten years and you didn’t pass, do you automatically lose your licence? What if there are delays in testing? Right now it can be up to 4 months before you can do a practical test, so that will be worse, and there will be bottlenecks at key times when people are available (weekends, for example).

There would be the need to train and recruit many more testing officers and administrators.

Chasing people for non-compliance would be costly and time-consuming. Police don’t need any extra work, but this is likely to increase the number of drivers driving around without a valid licence.

Setting it up

The minister of transport would need to decide that this is a change which would see him or her re-elected, and we know it isn’t because everyone will hate having to take a test (especially the ones that fail it the first time). It would have to go through Parliament because law changes would need to be made in the Land Transport Road User Rule and others. This is the legislation which outlines how we use the road and what our rights are as licence holders. It can take years to get legislation changed, and it would need to be bi-partisan because it’s unlikely to pass in one term. A bill would need to be created before it goes to the various readings in the house.

Notifying people

It might not be too onerous, to set up a system to notify people. We already notify licence holders when their licence is about to expire, so if the test was to be conducted at the same time, this would be negligible.

Cost implications on poor families

A retest would not be able to be free as it would be a massive financial burden on the government. This would disproportionately affect poorer families. Obviously a theory test is the cheapest to administer, but it still requires an administrative support network around it. If the theory test was administered at home, this would require everyone to have internet access, which isn’t the case.

Should we have periodic testing?

Periodic testing for everyone is probably overkill, and it’s political suicide, so let’s think of a better suggestion that’s easy to administer: a theory test for certain use cases.

  • All immigrants, regardless of their licence, must take at least a theory test before they have permission to drive in New Zealand.
  • Anyone whose licence is suspended must take at least a theory test to regain their licence.
  • Anyone convicted of certain other more serious driving crimes (causing a crash, etc) must take a theory test.
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Darren has written over 3000 articles about driving and vehicles, plus almost 500 vehicle reviews and numerous driving courses. Connect with him on LinkedIn by clicking the name above

Posted in Advice, Driver licence