Time to test foreigners before they drive, says safety campaigner

The government must require all drivers to pass a simple, computer-based test that simulates New Zealand driving conditions, before buying or renting vehicles in this country, says the car review website dogandlemon.com.

Editor Clive Matthew-Wilson, who is an outspoken road safety campaigner, says many foreign nationals lack the skills to drive safely on New Zealand roads, yet the government does nothing to stop them from using vehicles in this country.

"While the national figure of accidents involving foreign drivers is quite low, I’m not sure that’s much consolation to the families of the dead victims.”

Matthew-Wilson says drivers from Asia and the Indian subcontinent often have minimal or no real driving experience. 

In February, Rhys Middleton, 23, died when the motorbike he was driving along State Highway 5, in Eskdale, north of Napier, collided with a vehicle driven by foreign national Jieling Xiao.

Xiao pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death, but Matthew-Wilson says the government must share the responsibility.

“Prosecuting foreign drivers after they’ve killed someone doesn’t help the victims. The time to act is before these drivers get behind the wheel of a car.”

“It’s totally unacceptable that the government demands high standards of driving from New Zealand drivers, but accepts appallingly low standards of driving from tourists."

“Anyone with an international licence can drive for up to a year in this country. There is also clear evidence that many people from India and China are driving using fake licences.”

The Indian government estimates that 30% of Indian drivers’ licences are fakes.

“There is also currently a global epidemic of fake licences originating from China, but even the official licences may not be what they seem.”

A Chinese source told dogandlemon.com that bribery is common:

“Drivers give bribery money to the police; the police will issue them licences under the counter. That's illegal, of course, but not many corrupt guys are caught.”

Matthew-Wilson says the government must act to prevent further bloodshed.

“The government constantly offers the excuse that testing foreign drivers would breach an international treaty. Fine. Let’s test everyone, including locals, when they first rent, buy or lease a car. A sixty second computerised test will not cause great hardship, but may save countless lives.”


Structure of the proposed computerised driver test

In the 1930s, London Transport suffered an alarming number of accidents involving its bus drivers. Its solution was a crude but effective cognisance test. The test consisted of a small, flat-edged revolving wheel with a wiggly line on its outer surface made of solid dots (which, collectively, loosely resembled a winding road). The prospective bus driver was required to manually move a pointer so that it stayed in contact with this series of dots.

Accidents on London buses dropped substantially, apparently largely due to the success of this cognisance test; that is, its ability to weed out drivers who weren’t capable of safely controlling a bus.

Amazingly, this same test was still in use in the early 21st century for evaluating prospective pilots for the British Royal Air Force. Only 40% of prospective RAF pilots could pass this test: the other 60% failed, and were rejected.

British motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson can be seen demonstrating the test here:


Such a test could easily be developed as a smartphone and tablet app, and provide a simple but effective test of driver cognisance. The prospective driver would have to follow the wiggly line on the smartphone or tablet screen, which would move faster as the test progressed, effectively measuring both general cognisance (the ability to maintain a consistent pattern of functional behaviour) and reaction times (the ability to adapt to sudden changes in driving conditions).

Such a test could effectively weed out those who were not capable of driving safely. If they failed a test, they could be offered a second chance the next day, after some sleep and perhaps study.

A multi-lingual facsimile of this same test would be available online, so the prospective driver could study during his or her period of rest, and thus gain the skills and understanding to pass the test after a period of recuperation.