Tricky road to a new driver’s licence

I just got my driver’s licence renewed, but it wasn’t easy.
That was my fault…entirely. Instead of doing what a lifetime of journalism taught me – proper research – I listened to what others said. Bloody nightmare, was the consensus.
The problem is we’re all different at that moment when society rightly demands to know whether advancing age has made us a menace on the roads.
There’s a lot of potential impediments to driving when you’ve got kilometres on the clock – fading eyesight, wobbly heart, diabetes, arthritis, strokes, dementia, et al.
I could have found all that out by consulting the NZ Transport Agency (Waka Kotahi) website, which has a plain and simple rundown. But no. I preferred to consult friends my age.
One in particular had a helluva time. A retired bus driver who’d driven safely all his life, he was declined by his GP for medical reasons, and failed both the road code and practical driving tests. He missed the driving one for going too slow on the open road.
After hearing all that (he got there in the end) I was more than a bit worried my driving days were about to end this coming February 15, after 60 years without an accident and only one recent speed camera fine for letting our overly lively little car hit 58 in a city street.
I started the process by going on the Automobile Association website and attempting the road code test. What a shock – I scored 21 from 35 (a pass is 33).
I bought the 20-question pack ($20) and after four goes got my score up to 30.
It’s an ingenious and useful refresher. Each new test repeats the ones you got wrong last time and after each attempt you start to absorb such obscure rules as how much your trailer can weigh with a load and what’s signified by a yellow cat’s eye.
There’s also a blue car whose options in a variety of traffic situations must be correctly chosen from four or five suggested answers. If you get it wrong, the correct answer comes up, too.
The next step was a trip to the GP for a medical. Our med centre has a specialist who puts you through basic tests like eyesight, diabetes and dementia (my score was 30/30, so that was reassuring).
That was followed by a thorough going-over from the doctor. She said I was fine to drive, filled out an elaborate form and signed me off.
Next stop was the Automobile Association office in central New Plymouth, where my first move was to pick up a frighteningly thick copy of the NZ Road Code and get in a deceptively short queue.
The cramped and busy office has two queues for licences and one for “other”, attended on the day I went by three extraordinarily patient and skilful women (with a backup to support them).
Each member of the public in the queues seemed to have a different version of getting a licence or some kind of transport issue that needed sorting out, and each took a long time.
The women were not only helping people fill out forms, but also checking their credentials and sitting them down to take headshot photos, each time with advice that “it’s okay to smile “ (in contrast to that familiar passport photo edict to play it sombre).
Even though I stood at the head of my queue for what seemed like half an hour, the system was complicated by people returning from having filled out their forms and thinking it was okay to jump to the front.
I was tempted to say something to one guy, but he stood at least seven feet tall and looked determined to brook no objections, especially from a pensioner.
In the end, the woman at “other” had no takers, so came around to ask me what I was after. Her response changed my life.
When she saw the medical certificate from the doctor, she told me to return the road code to the book stand: “You won’t be needing that. You won’t be doing any tests. We can issue your licence now.”
No road test? Nup. Your doctor says you’re fine to drive for the next five years. We’ll issue a temporary licence until the agency sends out your new one.
My blood pressure – which had been up a bit at the doctor’s – returned to normal. As did my life.

About Jim Tucker

Supposed to be retired, after quitting journalism teaching in 2013 (after 25 years, preceded by 22 years as a newspaper journalist and editor), but find myself busier than ever with various book projects, advising law firms, and writing articles for magazines like North & South and Live.
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