Guest Post: Worrying holes and corruption in driver licence testing

A guest post by :

During the summer, I found myself waiting outside in the sun on Lincoln Road in Auckland while a friend attended to some business inside his bank. While  taking in the passing parade, I witnessed a Chinese woman in a large late model Mercedes attempting to parallel park. To my incredulity – and while a line of  cars banked up behind her – I counted 13, yes  thirteen  to and fro movements while the woman attempted this relatively simply manoevre. She finally achieved a parallel park of sorts, albeit with the passenger-side wheels about 1.5 metres out from the kerb, meaning her car projected 1.5 metres out into the stream of traffic.

I approached the woman and asked if she had a New Zealand drivers licence. She replied that she did. I then asked if she had been tested by a native New Zealander or someone from her own country. She replied: “None of your business” which of course she was perfectly entitled to do. I have no authority.

 For my sins I currently have a fair bit to do with teenagers, and getting a driving licence is a big issue for them. Quite simply, there is no way the woman I observed could possibly have passed the kind of test my daughter and her friends are subjected to, with fails for such “faults” as being overly cautious at a stop sign, or  indicating for two seconds less than the prescribed length of time before a turn.

As luck would have it, not long after I observed this woman’s astounding performance, it was announced that some 500 licences had been cancelled – I later learned the recipients were all Indian – after the discovery of corruption in the driver licencing testing system. The testers responsible are all now before the courts. No prizes for guessing where they are from.

My initial enquiry regarding what I had observed and the  testing of foreign drivers elicited the following response from a  wee snowflake called Zoe Walker at the NZTA:

“The Transport Agency does not share and will not tolerate your outdated and prejudicial view of overseas drivers, particularly Asian female drivers. However we do acknowledge that at the core of your misguided comments is a genuine concern…”

Long story short, after I received a formal apology for the lecture,  the exchange  eventually led to a formal  OIA request made to the NZTA. My questions were as follows:

  1. What rules, if any, prevent an overseas born driver from taking a practical driving test from a tester born in their own home country? (For example, is there anything to stop a Chinese born driver from taking a test from a Chinese tester?)
  2. What steps if any is your organization taking to monitor tests conducted by overseas born testers on candidates from their own home country?
  3. After the recent discovery of corruption among drivers licence testers, how many of those testers have been barred from being testers?
  4. Are  any of the testers found to have been taking bribes or other inducements still permitted to test drivers, and if there are any,  are there any restrictions on those persons?

The answers to the above questions were:

  1. There are no rules that prevent people from overseas countries undertaking a driver licence test with a testing officer from the same country;
  2. The Transport agency undertakes sophisticated scanning of driver testing data including individual testing officer performance. [this is the kind of meaningless non answer often heard in the House at Question Time, and could better have been answered by one word: None];
  3. The endorsements of all testing officers involved were suspended immediately…The suspensions remain in place while charges laid by NZ Police are pending;
  4. As charges against three testing officers are still before the court, none have yet been convicted of taking bribes or inducements.

In my view, the testers currently facing corruption charges, and other “holes” in the system, indicate that we do not have a driver’s licence testing system that is fit for purpose.

As things currently stand, drivers from Commonwealth countries are permitted to drive here for one year before obtaining a New Zealand licence. This includes drivers from Tonga, one whom is  my wife. She obtained her Tongan licence without having to be troubled by any test – that is the way many things are done up there, and probably in an unknown number of other jurisdictions.

With the greatest respect to my wife, there is simply no way she was capable of driving safely here without a crash course – pardon the pun – from me. There are of course no motorways in Tonga, and the sections of “open road” – on which the limit is 65 kmh – are not more than a few kilometres long at best. No-one parallel parks; drivers simply park their cars at an angle in the nearest gap.

India is of course part of the Commonwealth. We already know that 500 drivers from that country  have had their New Zealand drivers licences cancelled because their tests were administered by allegedly corrupt testers who have been suspended, and  are now before the courts. God knows whether  their experiences in India equipped them to drive for a year here without facing a tester – even one from the sub-continent.

Another OIA reveals that no figures are kept on whether drivers responsible for crashes are New Zealand born, or born overseas.  There is of course  much  anecdotal evidence of New Zealanders taking the keys from overseas drivers driving on the wrong side of the road, or otherwise driving dangerously.

In short, I do not want anyone  to have to face the woman I saw attempting to parallel park – especially not on a country road.  At least on the motorway one can identify the foreign driver in the middle lane doing 65kmh while gripping the wheel in terror, and give them a wide berth. From all of  the above, it is surely quite clear there is a problem?

I suggest  it has been put in the “too hard” basket because the problematic drivers will be those with brown skins, and not Australians Canadians or Brits. Someone – either in the NZTA or the government – needs to find some backbone and act.

DPF: Note I don’t agree with the suggestion that one should ban people of a particular ethnicity from testing other members of that ethnicity. That is treating people as a group rather than individuals. If there is a problem with certain testers, then the better response is greater auditing including investigators posing as test sitters and seeing if they get passed when they shouldn’t.

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