Driving licence in New Zealand

Driving licence in New Zealand

The New Zealand driver's licence system is a graduated system, which has been in place (with modifications, such as the L-plate requirement) since 1987. It consists of three phases for a car licence, each with varying levels of conditions.



A New Zealand driver's licence allows the holder to drive a moped, tractor, or all-terrain vehicle as well as a car, however, motorbikes and heavy vehicles require separate licences. Upon passing the respective test for each stage of the system, the successful applicant is given a plastic card which contains a unique identifying number, date of birth and photograph of the holder. Apart from passports and a special-purpose 18+ card, a driver's licence is the only legal form of ID for buying alcohol, tobacco and fireworks in New Zealand.[citation needed]

New Zealand driver's licences are issued by the New Zealand Transport Agency, but in the earlier part of the twentieth century were issued by local bodies, specifically city, borough or county councils.

Drivers must carry their licence at all times while driving. If they fail to do so they may face a fine of NZ$55.


The New Zealand driver licensing system is split into six classes of licence. Class 1 ("car licence") allows the driver to drive most cars, light vehicles, moped, tractor and all-terrain vehicles, while Class 6 ("motorcycle licence") allows the driver to ride a motorcycle. Classes 2, 3, 4, and 5 ("heavy vehicles licence") allow the driver to drive heavy vehicles of varying degrees according to the classes carried.

Classes 1 and 6 were previously able to be obtained after the driver's 15th birthday (but the minimum age rose to 16 from 1 August 2011),[1] and involves a three-tier stage system, starting with the learner licence, followed by the restricted licence, before finally obtaining the full licence. Classes 2 to 5 can be obtained only by a driver that carries a Class 1 full licence, and involves a two-tier stage system, missing out the restricted licence step. Drivers on a restricted licence may not normally carry passengers unless they have a supervisor with them, but there are some exceptions for immediate family members.[2]

This table shows which vehicles can be driven while holding which class of licence:-

Vehicle Class 1
Class 2
(Medium Rigid)
Class 3
(Medium Combination)
Class 4
(Heavy Rigid)
Class 5
(Heavy Combination)
Class 6
Car or light vehicle
(GLW ≤ 4500 kg)
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Car or light vehicle with trailer
(GCW ≤ 4500 kg)
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Moped or ATV Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Motorcycle No No No No No Yes
Tractor or farm machinery Up to 4500kg GLW unrestricted
Up to 18,000kg GLW if driven at 30km/h or less
Up to 18,000kg GLW Up to 18,000kg GLW Yes Yes No
Rigid vehicle
(GLW > 4500 kg)
No Up to 18,000kg GLW
Yes if vehicle has two or less axles
Up to 18,000kg GLW
Yes if vehicle has two or less axles
Yes Yes No
Rigid vehicle with light trailer
(GCW > 4500 kg, trailer GLW ≤ 3500 kg)
No Up to 18,000kg vehicle GLW Up to 18,000kg vehicle GLW Yes Yes No
Combination vehicle
(GCW > 4500 kg, trailer GLW > 3500 kg)
No Up to 12,000kg GCW Up to 25,000kg GCW Up to 12,000kg GCW Yes No


Learner Licence

A learner licence is gained after scoring at least 32 out of 35 on a multiple-choice test relating to road rules [1]. Once gained, it allows the holder to drive provided they display black-on-yellow learner plates and are accompanied by a "supervisor" (being any person who has held a full licence for at least two years). The learner licence is a blue plastic card, and is issued to an applicant who passes the learner's test.

Restricted Licence

A restricted licence is able to be obtained after having held a learner licence for at least six months and passing a twenty-minute practical driving test. This allows a driver to drive without L-plates, or a supervisor, between 5am and 10pm. If this requirement is not met, the driver may incur a $100 driving offence fee and/or demerit points. Drivers are only allowed to carry certain passengers with them, unless they have a full-licenced supervisor with them e.g.: an individual with a restricted licence may drive their children, siblings and also their spouse or long-term partner (even though they are not permitted to drive other individuals without a full licence). Like a learner driver's supervisor, the supervisor has to have held their full licence for over two years. The restricted licence is a yellow plastic card.

Full Licence

A full licence is able to be obtained after the driver has held a restricted licence for eighteen months, or twelve months for someone who has taken an approved course, such as the defensive driving course or the Street Talk programme. However, if you are aged over 25, you only have to spend six months on a restricted licence or three months upon completion of an approved course. The driver must pass a more thorough, hour-long driving test. It allows a driver to drive at any time with passengers and after 2 years to supervise drivers with learner or restricted licences. It is a green plastic card.

The full test includes: a) Showing your forms, an eyesight test and handing over your drivers licence. b) an initial physical car test (indicators - front and rear, brake lights and horn). If the car fails these tests the test will not occur and you will not get a refund. c) Basic driving test (Checking mirrors regularly, stopping completely at stop signs, turns etc.). Must get 80% right in this section to continue, although not stopping 100% completely at a stop sign or exceeding the speed limit can lead to an instant fail. d) Two Hazard identification phases:

i) Doing a task (eg: an intersection turn) and then pulling over and describing the "hazards" you noticed. eg: people, bikes, animals, other cars, anything moving etc).
ii) Driving in a busy area (eg: motorway) and describing the hazards you see (while driving) and mentioning how you are responding to them.

As at July 2010, the cost is $133.20 to book the first test for a full license (application fee plus test fee). Applicants who fail the test pay only the test component ($84.70) to repeat the test, but must wait a day before applying to resit the test.[3][4]


A New Zealand licence is valid for use for a limited period of time in many countries.[2] An International Driving Permit (IDP) may be obtained from the Automobile Association. To obtain an IDP a person must be 18 years of age or over, hold a full current licence and pay a NZ$20 fee. [3]

Visitors to New Zealand who hold overseas drivers licences may be required to take a driving test before they qualify for a full New Zealand licence. However, those from countries with similar road rules are only required to take a theory test (similar to the learner licence test) within a year of arrival or even simply convert their license to a full New Zealand drivers license for only $40 without any further tests (e.g. Germany); until this time they may continue to drive on their foreign drivers licence provided it is either written in English, or they have an authorised English translation available. But usually license without translation are commonly accepted from police and insurance companies.

Driving age concerns

Since a Learner licence could be applied for at age 15, the minimum possible age to gain a Full licence was sixteen and a half. A restricted licence could be obtained at 15.5 allowing driving alone under certain restrictions. Recently there has been a successful proposal to raise the minimum driving licensing age to 16 which has taken effect as of 1st of August 2011. This was initially met with objections from people living in rural or remote areas. Many teenagers in rural areas learn to drive "on the farm" from the age of 12 by using farm equipment such as tractors. These skills are very easily transferred to driving an automobile on the road. From a family day planning perspective, it is also easier for students to drive themselves to school when they become old enough as there is little public transport in rural areas.


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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