The Safer Journeys Action Plan 2011-2012 included investigating maximum licence time limits for learner and restricted licence holders as supporting actions to increase the safety of young drivers.

The time limits on learner and restricted licences changes have been passed into law through a transport rule change.  The new rule will come into force on 1 December 2014. 

View the Associate Transport Minister Michael Woodhouse’s media statement (external link)

View the Regulatory Impact Statement on Proposals to address driver licence pooling (PDF, 80kb)

View the Cabinet paper on Proposals to address driving licence pooling (PDF, 144kb)

View the media statement announcing the start of the project to look at time limits for learner and restricted drivers (external link)

Read questions and answers about the the rule change

Time limits for holding learner and restricted licences

Background information

The overall objective of Safer Journeys is a safe road system increasingly free of death and serious injury. The Graduated Driver Licensing System (GDLS) contributes to achieving this objective by ensuring drivers (including motorcycle riders) have demonstrated the necessary skills to operate vehicles safely and, where full competence has not been demonstrated, they operate under appropriate constraints, that is learner and restricted licence conditions. 

The aim is for drivers to progress through the GDLS until a full licence is obtained, thus demonstrating that they have both the skills and the competence to drive safely. The required levels of supervision and restrictions reduce at each of the three stages in the licensing process.

For drivers not to progress through the stages presents a challenge to the integrity of the GDLS. The system is not intended to have drivers remain at the learner or restricted drivers licence stages.

The general population should be able to expect safe practice by drivers because the GDLS is based on maximising safety through demonstrated skills for safe driving. 

What is happening now?

A significant number of drivers are not progressing through the GDLS to obtain full drivers licences. As a result pooling has occurred at both the learner and restricted licence stages. Pooling is said to occur when people spend two or more years on a learner licence and three or more years on a restricted licence. This means that they remain on their learner or restricted licences for well beyond the mandatory minimum time periods[1], without progressing to the next stage of the GDLS. 

When people spend 2 or more years on a learner licence and 3 or more years on a restricted licence, licence pooling is said to occur.

Remaining on learner and restricted licences (pooling) can also increase the likelihood of drivers not complying with the conditions of their licence and incurring infringements.

In 2011, the following offences by learner and restricted licence holders were detected by Police — note, this is not a complete list of offences.

 Offence2011 
Learner driver unaccompanied  58,853 
Failing to display L plates  25,934 
Restricted driver carrying unauthorised passengers  29,791 
Restricted driver unaccompanied at night  10,335 
Learner's motorcyle greater than 250cc  409 
Restricted rider's motorcycle greated than 250cc  186 

For 2011 approximately 71 percent of all learner licence breaches were incurred by holders of learner licences who come within the pooled definition. For the same year about 36 percent of all restricted driver licence breaches were incurred by holders of restricted licences who come within the pooled definition.

What has changed?

Currently all licences have to be renewed every 10 years, irrespective of whether the licence held is a full, restricted, or learner licence. Having a licence time limit would mean reducing the period of time for which a learner or restricted licence can apply. This would reinforce the need for the driver to decide whether to progress to the next stage of the GDLS. It is recommended that the same requirements apply to both learner and restricted licence holders.

In setting a learner and restricted licence time limit, a balance is needed between providing sufficient incentive for individuals capable of progressing to do so, but avoiding prematurely forcing those who do not feel skilled enough to progress.

A time limit of 5 years for learner and restricted licences has been adopted because it is considered to be a suitable balance between allowing adequate time for driver training and providing an incentive for the licence holder to progress to the next licensing stage.

The 5 year time limit applies only to learner and restricted car and motorcycle licence holders, and not to learner heavy motor vehicle licence holders. This is because heavy motor vehicle licence holders have not been shown to contribute to the licence pooling issue, and have a very high level of licence progression.

The time limit will apply to all new licences obtained after 1 December 2014 and to those existing learner and restricted licence holders when their licence is renewed. This is the easiest option to implement and the most cost effective. It will gain significant coverage after 5 years and near full coverage after 10 years, by which time all current licences will have expired, and will have the new time limit applied to them.

1 The mandatory minimum periods are 6 months for learner licences, and 12 to 18 months for restricted licences for drivers under the age of 25.