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The New Zealand Drivers Study, Otago Medical School – Dunedin Campus

This is Case Study One for the Research Impacts study.

Begg and Brookland above Dunedin one-way system image @2x
Dr Rebecca Brookland (left) and Dr Dorothy Begg.

Participants interviewed for the case study

Principal investigator

Dr Dorothy Begg
Department of Preventive and Social Medicine (retired).


Dr Rebecca Brookland
Department of Preventive and Social Medicine.


Andrew Joel
Former Senior Education Advisor at the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), currently contractor and Drive Mobile Apps product owner at the NZTA.

Jennie Gianotti
Former Network Behaviour Manager at the NZTA. Currently, Manager of Education Development at Worksafe.

Dr Simon Gianotti
Former Road and Sport Team Leader at the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC). Currently, Injury Prevention Strategy Manager at ACC.

Summary of the impact

The work of the New Zealand Drivers Study (NZDS) has had a New Zealand and international impact. It successfully influenced policy and legislative changes along with road safety programme and campaign development. The main policy success was informing the decision to raise the minimum driving age from 15 to 16 in 2011. The forward-thinking research team achieved impact by creating relevant research questions and working closely with stakeholders and the community through meaningful engagement activities.

Underpinning research

At the time of the NZDS’ establishment in 2001, motor vehicle traffic crashes were the leading cause of death and injury among young adults aged 15–25 in New Zealand1. The NZDS research was created to provide an evidence base to facilitate policy and programmatic change aimed at reducing the number of deaths and injuries. The research design specifically looked at aspects of the graduated driver licensing system (GDLS) – that is progression from learner licence, to restricted licence, to full licence – with the aim of determining risk factors and protective factors for crashes, injury and infringements for the participants.

The study was a prospective cohort study with the initial pilot running from 2001–2004, and the main study from 2005–2013. Participants were recruited to the study through Automobile Association (AA) and Vehicle Testing New Zealand (VTNZ) centres when they applied for their learner car licence, and were followed as they went through the stages of the GDLS. Māori providers who ran driver licensing courses in their communities were also consulted, and recruited new drivers to the study. In all, 3992 new drivers were recruited to the main study and completed a baseline questionnaire at the time of their learner licence test. Further interviews took place after passing the remaining two stages of GDLS. Twelve hundred parents of the youngest drivers were also interviewed at the restricted licence stage. Ongoing follow-up continued through official records (crashes, injuries, infringements).

Key findings of the NZDS:

  • Most parents were in favour of the GDLS, but many had poor knowledge about the restricted licence stage conditions.
  • Parents can have a considerable positive influence on their adolescents’ driving through ensuring compliance with the GDLS components, limiting vehicle ownership, and modelling safe driving behaviours2.
  • One dispelled myth was that young people from rural areas had more driving experience prior to obtaining their learner licence, and were therefore safer drivers. The NZDS found that pre-licence driving had no protective effect on crash involvement at the learner or restricted licence stage, and that on-road pre-licence driving was actually associated with increased crash risk3.
  • A study looking at attitudes of young drivers and parents to raising the licence age found that there was little opposition from young people to raising the driving age, and that doing so would have little impact on essential travel among adolescents in New Zealand4.
  • Driving before obtaining a licence was found to be common practice in both rural and urban Māori drivers, highlighting the need for Māori community road safety providers to address this issue5.
  • Drivers who were ‘non-progressors’ (did not move from a learner to restricted licence) were shown to have a reduced risk of being a traffic offender in the first 2.5 years of licensure6.


The NZDS received approximately $3.9 million of funding from the following funders:

  • Health Research Council
  • Accident Compensation Commision
  • New Zealand Road Safety Trust (now Community Road Safety Fund)
  • National Safety Council
  • Royal Society of New Zealand

Research snapshot

  • The NZDS has produced 17 research publications (cited 143 times in publications from 20 different countries), two industry reports, and one PhD and one Masters thesis.
  • Dr Begg and Emeritus Professor Langley were called on for their expertise to give a presentation on raising the minimum driver licence age to the Transport Industrial Relations Select Committee on Land Transport, Road Safety and Other Matters on 26 October 2010.
  • Findings were disseminated beyond academic publication via workshops, mini-symposia and face-to-face meetings with interested stakeholders such as the NZTA, Ministry of Transport (MOT), the Dunedin City Council, community groups and iwi.
  • Results were disseminated to overseas organisations considering a change to a GDLS system. For example, Dr Begg was invited to provide policy advice to Sweden, VicRoads Victoria Australia, and present to the US National Safety Council. A paper from the latter was published in the Journal of Safety Research7.
  • Dr Brookland was invited by the Royal Society (London) and the Science Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India to present at the Commonwealth Science Conference in India in 2014.

Details of the impact


Policy and legislation

Findings from the NZDS informed the following legislative changes wand policy documents:

  • The driving age was revised on 1 August 2011 from 15 to 168.
  • The Treasury document Regulatory Impact Statement: Safer Journeys – New Zealand’s Road Safety Strategy 2010 to 2020, which discusses impacts of the minimum driving age being raised9 p12.
  • The Land Transport (Driver Licensing) Amendment Rule 2014, clause 60(1) (ca) which states that drivers can only remain on their learner or restricted car or motorcycle licence for five years to prevent ‘licence pooling’ (staying on the same class of licence and not progressing)10.
  • In May 2011 one study was cited by Member of Parliament Rahui Katene (Māori Party – Te Tai Tonga) in their parliamentary speech on the Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill11.
  • Associate Minister of Transport Hon Simon Bridges’ proposal to address driver licence pooling presented to the Cabinet Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee in 2012.
  • The Ministry of Transport Regulatory Impact Statement Proposal to address driver licence pooling in 201212.

Programmes and campaigns

Multiple national road safety programmes and campaigns were undertaken by NZTA, ACC and Auckland Transport as a result of the NZDS:

  • The NZTA young driver programme DRIVE, a driving skills app and website13.
  • The NZTA and ACC commissioned a retrospective study from the NZDS to validate a theoretical model of crash risk versus a behaviour profile in order to inform the DRIVE programme14.
  • Findings from the study of parental attitudes in the NZDS contributed to the development of four NZTA campaigns including the Street Talk defensive driving course15 and the Safe Teen Driver campaign to encourage parents to stay involved in their teen’s driving.
  • Behind the Wheel Mangere (funded by the NZTA, ACC and Auckland Transport) was a local driving education and social marketing programme working to reduce high crash rates among young drivers and reduce rates of unlicensed driving16.


Policy and legislation

NZDS studies were referenced in:


  • A submission to the Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee in Melbourne, Victoria in 2016 as part of a case study profile of GDLS in New Zealand17.
  • The document How effective is the ACT road ready pre-licensing driver education program at changing novice driver risk-related attitudes and reducing the offence and crash involvement of novice drivers in the ACT?18.

European Union

  • The European Union policy document Study on driver training, testing and medical fitness (2017)19.
  • The European Commission Horizon 2020 project Safety Causation, Benefits and Efficiency (SafetyCube), with the objective of developing an innovative road safety Decision Support System20.

United Kingdom

  • The policy document Public Health Wales supports the introduction of graduated driving licensing (GDL) for new drivers in Great Britain21. In February 2018 Prime Minister Theresa May tasked an investigation into the possibility of a GDLS in the UK, with a pilot scheme launched in Northern Ireland during 2019/202021.
  • New Zealand was referenced as a case study in moving to a GDLS in the UK in the policy document Getting young drivers back on the road in safety by the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, UK22.

Pathway to impact

Characteristics of the research

  • The high quality of the NZDS research has been a key feature of the impact achieved.
    • The large data set enabled statistically-significant conclusions to be drawn when looking at smaller cohorts within the data. Cross-matching of multiple data sources provided a rich source of information.
    • Research questions were constructed carefully, including the addressing of issues specific to New Zealand legislation, myths in New Zealand around young drivers, questions that were being raised in the media, as well as looking at unmet need. Addressing research questions relevant to stakeholders and the community was considered more meaningful than solely addressing what the literature highlighted as a need. This meant that the research outcomes could be readily applied and used in practice.

"Impact means research can be applied straight away – we’re constantly looking for applied research that we can literally buy off-the-shelf.”

Andrew Joel – Former Senior Edication Advisor, New Zealand Transport Agency


  • Proactive engagement with the community was vital. While this required significant investment in time and money, it was considered worthwhile in order to translate the research into impact. Face-to-face meetings with community groups and iwi enabled meaningful consultation on project development and feedback on the research plans. This took place prior to commencement of the main study and continued throughout the project. A key objective of the pilot study was relationship building. Meetings took place in the participants’ communities – Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne, Ruatoria, Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill. Through this engagement, researchers were able to recruit a good representation of rural, urban, Māori and non-Māori participants.
  • Keeping in close contact with stakeholders was key to achieving impact. This was particularly important in organisations where there was relatively rapid staff turnover (for example, government agencies).

“Get out there, make sure people know who you are and what you’re doing. Especially the people who are likely to be influenced or affected by your research.”

Dr Dorothy Begg – Principal Invesitagor, New Zealand Driver’s study

Awareness of the policy environment

  • An awareness of the policy environment and potential implications of policy change was crucial, including:
    • Taking advantage of policy windows and opportunities; for example understanding timings enabled a submission to be made prior to the driving age legislation being debated in parliament.
    • Anticipating the effect of policy changes by conducting research on this; for example, the impacts of potentially raising the driving age were anticipated by asking young people what the effects on them would be.

A targeted approach

Stakeholders interviewed expressed their appreciation for proactive engagement and a targeted approach to research and dissemination from the NZDS researchers.

Andrew Joel from the NZTA said:

“They’ve been very approachable and eager to discuss research, and shared early findings with me. They’ve been very prepared to come and help speak to stakeholder gatherings or participate in workshops. It just has more impact when you have the actual researchers available to answer questions”.

Dr Simon Gianotti of ACC said:

“It taught us that we had to keep refreshing our products. It also taught us how to communicate and talk to the young people, what was of relevance to them, and how to work with different age groups. It told us more about who we’re trying to target, how we’re trying to target them, and what would be the best way to do it.”

What next?

  • Rebecca’s driving research is continuing with a focus on improving health and wellbeing outcomes in older adults. She has a current HRC project; NZPATHS: NZ Prospective Older Adult Transport and Health Study (2018–2022).
  • Rebecca has continued her involvement in young driver research. She is:
    • Co-investigator on the Evaluation of the Dunedin Community Driving Programme project, a programme run by NZ Police to assist youth traffic offenders to progress through GDLS.
    • Associate Investigator on the Australian young driver DRIVE Re-linkage project. (DRIVE is Australian equivalent to NZDS)
    • Associate Investigator on the Australian led The Road to Compliance: Integrating Three Theories project.
  • For the NZDS, further follow-up of crash, injury and infringement data is currently being explored.


  1. Langley J, Begg D, Brookland R, Ameratunga S, McDowell A, Broughton J. Establishment of the New Zealand Drivers Study. New Zealand Medical Journal. 2012; 125(1357).
  2. Brookland R, Begg D, Langley J, Ameratunga S. Parental influence on adolescent compliance with graduated driver licensing conditions and crashes as a restricted licensed driver: New Zealand Drivers Study. Accident Analysis & Prevention. 2014; 69: 30-9.
  3. Begg D, Langley J, Brookland R, Ameratunga S, Gulliver P. Pre-licensed driving experience and car crash involvement during the learner and restricted, licence stages of graduated driver licensing: Findings from the New Zealand Drivers Study. Accident Analysis & Prevention. 2014; 62: 153-60.
  4. Begg D, Langley J, Brookland R, McDowell A, Ameratunga S, Broughton J. The opinions of newly licensed drivers in New Zealand on the minimum car driver licensing age and reasons for getting a licence. The New Zealand Medical Journal. 2009;122(1306).
  5. Begg D, Connor J, Broughton J. Unlicensed driving among urban and rural Māori drivers: New Zealand Drivers Study. Traffic Injury Prevention. 2009; 10(6): 538-45.
  6. Langley J, Begg D, Brookland R, Samaranayaka A, Jordan H, Davie G. Nonprogression through graduated driver licensing: Characteristics, traffic offending, and reasons for nonprogression. Traffic Injury Prevention. 2012; 13(1): 7-13.
  7. Gulliver P, Begg D, Brookland R, Ameratunga S, Langley J. Learner driver experiences and crash risk as an unsupervised driver. Journal of Safety Research. 2013; 46: 41-6.
  8. New Zealand Government. Driving age increases next week. 2011.
  9. Woodside M. Appendix B: Regulatory Impact Statement: Safer Journeys - New Zealand’s Road Safety Strategy 2010-2020. 2019.
  10. Parliamentary Counsel Office. Land Transport (Driver Licensing) Amendment Rule 2014.
  11. Katene R. Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill - Third Reading: NZ Parliament; 2011
  12. Ministry of Transport. Regulatory Impact Statement: Proposals to address driver licence pooling 2013.
  13. DRIVE.
  14. Brookland R, Begg D. Testing risk segmentation model for young drivers with the New Zealand Drivers Study dataset. Final report prepared under contract to the New Zealand Transport Agency and ACC. Dunedin: Department of Preventive and Social Medicine; 2014.
  15. Street Talk. Street talk provider request system 2019.
  16. Innovate Change. Māngere young driver development.
  17. Bah A, Boden J, O’Bree E. Submission no. 85. Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee.2016.
  18. Lennon A, Bates L, Evenhuis A, Somoray K. How effective is the ACT road ready pre-licencing driver education program at changing novice driver risk related attitudes and reducing the offence and crash involvement of novice drivers in the ACT? 2016. 24_schnyder_Desktop_FinalReport_ACTRoadReady.pdf
  19. EU Publications. Study on driver training, testing and medical fitness. 2017.
  20. Theofilatos A, Aigner-Breuss E, S K, Alfonsi R, Braun E, Eichorn A, et al. Identification and safety effects of road user related measures. Deliverable 4.2 of the H2020 project SafetyCube2017.
  21. Sarah J Jones. Graduated driver licensing; A position statement for Public Health Wales. 2016.$All)/495FD2C7E0BEDAE08025807300415CF5/$File/13.291116%20Graduated%20Driving%20Licensing%20Position%20Statement.pdf
  22. Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety. Getting young drivers back on the road in safety. 2013.