Half a century ensuring drivers are up to speed

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Angus MacKay has notched up 50 years as a driver testing officer and he has many tales to tell. The Vehicle Testing New Zealand driver testing officer started his career as a motorcycle traffic officer with the New Zealand Transport Department on June 7, 1966, in Timaru.
‘‘In Timaru city, it was necessary to qualify as a testing officer, which I did and started driver testing in November that year,’’ Mr MacKay said. He had taken drivers for tests in a range of vehicles, including vintage, classic, left hand drive and electric vehicles. From time to time, Mr MacKay encountered some minor incidents, including a vehicle running out of fuel, a burnt-out clutch, punctures and a seized motorcycle engine. He had tested three generations of one family and many sets of twins. ‘‘One set of triplets, all girls, each had the same second Christian name, Precious,’’ he said. He had one test applicant who was nearly 100 years old (he passed the test). ‘‘It has been an enjoyable interesting profession testing applicants,’’ he said. Applicants included people from throughout the world. After Timaru, Mr MacKay moved south to Balclutha in 1969 to a patrol car position, driving a range of different cars, including Vauxhall PBs, MkIV Ford Zephyrs and Holden HQ V8s. Driver testing was conducted at various sites in South Otago, including Balclutha, Clinton, Clydevale, Kaitangata, Milton and Owaka. Applicants were required to complete local authority application forms and answer theory and oral questions before sitting a practical driving test that lasted about 20 minutes.
‘‘A fee of $1 was required for this.’’ Test routes were planned by traffic officers. The officers used a basic score sheet to record results. Mr MacKay transferred to Cromwell in 1972. In Central Otago, he carried out driver testing in Arrowtown, Cromwell, Queenstown and Wanaka. He also tested drivers who required special licences.
In 1979, he transferred back to Timaru and was promoted to traffic sergeant. Driver testing supervision was part of his duties. ‘‘In 1984, the new road test was introduced, modelled on the Michigan, USA, driving test. ‘‘I qualified as an instructor route planner for this.’’
Trained staff planned test routes in mid and south Canterbury. ‘‘The new road test provided a better measure of a driver’s ability to drive safely compared with the old type of test.’’ In 1988, he transferred to Gore and was promoted to senior traffic sergeant. Mr MacKay trained staff to administer the new road test in Gore, Balclutha, Invercargill and Alexandra. He also planned test routes. Another change came in 1992, when the transport enforcement division of the Ministry of Transport was integrated with the police force. ‘‘Driver testing was still conducted by testing officers until 1998, when it was privatised.’’ Between 1998 and 2003, he was the Southland Police District certifying officer, responsible for testing uniformed and nonsworn staff for driving departmental vehicles. ‘‘At the end of March 2003, I retired after 37 years with traffic/police, then started in April as a part-time drivertesting officer,’’ Mr MacKay said. ‘‘Over the 50 years [I] have experienced many different highlights when conducting driving tests.’’ The standard of driving had improved in recent years as applicants were tutored by driving instructors and gained experience before undergoing a practical test.
Mr MacKay said he had no plans to retire just yet and he was still enjoying the job.
He also enjoyed overseas travel and gardening.