Youth Traffic Offences (Completed)

Young people are over-represented in traffic offence and road safety statistics.

A focus on young drivers therefore presents a significant opportunity for reducing road trauma.

This AA Research Foundation programme looks into the questions:

Is traffic offending a leading path into the criminal justice system for young New Zealanders? 

Are there more effective interventions than standard penalties for reducing reoffending and justice costs as well as improving road safety outcomes?

Expert Steering Group

A wider Reference Group has been established for this project rather than the AA Research Foundation's typical Steering Group structure.

The Reference Group includes representatives from NZ Transport Agency, Ministry of Transport, NZ Police & Police Youth Aid, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Social Development, Department of Corrections and Ministry of Justice (including Youth Crime & Sentencing).

Phase 1 - Youth Traffic Offence Data Collection (2009-13)

The first phase of this research was to gather data on all types of traffic offences for 14-19 year olds over a 5 year period from 2009-2013 from the Police Infringements Database, NZ Transport Agency Driver License Register, and Ministry of Justice’s Case Management System and Collections Department Database.

The report paints a clear picture of the levels of traffic offending and the pathway for youth through the Justice System.

The good news is that the overall number of youth traffic offences are coming down.

However, this research shows there are some big opportunities for the Justice System to deal more effectively with young drivers, reduce reoffending and reduce the burden on our courts.

Some of the issues this research revealed were:

  • Police issued 670,000 infringements to young drivers over the five years.
  • The most common offence was breaches of graduated driver license conditions.
  • 75% of fines for driver license breaches and 90% of fines for unwarranted or unregistered vehicles do not get paid and end up referred to the courts for collection.
  • Traffic offences make up nearly 50% of all first-time court offences.
  • Drink driving offences are around 25% of all first-time court cases.
  • Young people that appear in court on a traffic offence have very high reoffending rates within 5 years.

The report does not make policy conclusions, but the information draws attention to areas where it may be worth exploring new policy approaches.

Potential areas for new policy approaches:

  • Shortcutting continued driver license offending by integrating driver licensing into the penalties for those caught driving unlicensed or in breach of the terms of their license.
  • Providing better options for penalties for unwarranted or unregistered vehicles, given the extremely high level of unpaid fines for these offences.
  • For some drink drive offences, providing penalties outside of Court (administrative penalties or diversion from Court) to reduce court workloads (for example, alcohol interlocks).

Download Youth Traffic Offences Stage I Report

Phase 2 - Detailed Data on Driver Licence & Drink Driving Offences (2009-14)

Phase 2 of the Youth Traffic Offences project provides researchers, policymakers, and designers of penalties and interventions, with a rich data set of driver licence and drink driving offences by youth aged 15-19 from 2009-2014.

The research looked at their path through the Justice System (Police infringements, fine payments and Court offences).

The main report is large, although this is partly due to some data repetition.

It reveals different trends and patterns in New Zealand’s traffic enforcement and justice systems.

The data provides insights into current operations, and raises a wide range of questions worthy of further research.

Key findings from the research include:

  • A continuous decline in overall youth traffic offending (38% from 2009 to 2014), a remarkable achievement for New Zealand and an endorsement of the various road safety, Police and youth justice strategies.
  • An even more remarkable 62% decline in youth drink driving and 84% decline in youth repeat drink driving over the study period. This is an endorsement of the legislative and policy changes around youth drink driving and young drivers during this time.
  • The high level of fines referred to Court unpaid for Learner (nearly 80%) and unlicensed driving (90% ‘Drove without appropriate licence’) offences, especially compared to Restricted licence offences (57%).
  • That the number of Restricted and unlicensed driving offences remained relatively steady through significant changes to the GDLS in 2011 (increase in minimum driving age and making the Restricted test tougher).
  • The large and growing number of Learner licence offences (top two offences: “Learner Driver Unaccompanied” and “Failed to display L-plate’), possibly connected to the above changes in 2011.


Summary report

Appendix to summary report

Main report   

Phase 3 - Investigation of Innovative Penalties  

Phase 3 looked into innovative penalty approaches being used in New Zealand and internationally.  The aim was to find alternatives to the current system that may be more effective at reducing reoffending and justice costs, as well as improving social outcomes such as road safety and offender rehabilitation. 

The Phase 3 report extracts the key insights from a comprehensive international literature review of interventions for youth offenders. It also reports on current programmes in New Zealand. Many international and New Zealand experts personally contributed time and insight, adding great value to the report.

The report identifies:

  • Interventions and technologies that can complement or enhance existing penalties (such as fines and demerits).
  • Ways to better target the specific needs of youth.
  • Promising approaches for designing and developing pilot intervention programmes.
  • Considerable limitations in much of the research, highlighting the need for careful evaluation to be able to convincingly demonstrate success.

It is hard to pick out useful insights from such a comprehensive paper without appearing to give them undue weight; however some illustrative examples are:

  • Youth are more heavily influenced by peers and home setting; it is good practice to involve peers and/or family in youth programmes.
  • Youth benefit from longer, more intensive interventions than adults; one-off or short interventions are less enduring.
  • Best practice programmes use a mix of respected, well researched therapies (eg Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Risk Homeostasis), and theory-backed approaches (eg Deterrence Theory, Brief Interventions, Transitional Teens Theory).
  • Of youth offender programmes that have shown evaluated outcomes, two stand out as worth further investigation: The Blacktown Traffic Offenders Programme (New South Wales, Australia) and the Right Track Programme (New Zealand).
  • A rapidly growing area is online training (eg the UK e-Learning Seatbelt Wearing Course).
  • Technological interventions (eg Active Accelerator Pedal, Seat-belt Interlocks, Intelligent Speed Adaptation) also show great promise.
  • A very recent outcome for Alcohol Interlocks is that (in contrast to adults) youth first-time drink-drivers have an enduring reduction in offending after the interlock is removed.

The earlier Phase 1 and 2 reports provide data on offence types and outcomes, and regional and demographic characteristics. Taken together, this suite of 3 reports will be a valuable resource for anyone designing and trialing interventions to reduce re-offending by young drivers, and hence reduce injury and death involving this high risk, high cost group.


Phase 3 Youth Project Lit Review 2017


None of this research would have been possible without the generous participation of the New Zealand Police, Ministry of Justice, Department of Collections, NZTA, and Ministry of Transport.

AA position on young drivers

Read about the AA's views on how we can help to make young drivers safer on our roads.

Page last updated: December 2020

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