How to ensure Learner Drivers are safer on our roads

Learner drivers are among our most vulnerable road users, so how can we ensure they are safer on our roads asks Geraldine Herbert

What is the Transport Minister Shane Ross proposing?

Transport Minister Shane Ross is considering changing the law to allow Gardaí to seize vehicles being driven by unaccompanied learner drivers. Currently if a learner driver, who is driving unaccompanied, is stopped by a Garda they are issued a fine and two penalty points but allowed to then continue their journey.


Why are unaccompanied learner drivers an issue?

According to figures from the RSA unaccompanied learner drivers are eight times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash compared with those accompanied by an experienced motorist. Despite the risk over 7,000 learner drivers have been given penalty points for driving unaccompanied since 2014 and 2,766 in 2016 alone.


Why is it so prevalent?

Historically our blasé attitude to driving unaccompanied came from the days when you had to wait a considerable number of months for a driving test. The current waiting time for a test is on average 10 weeks depending on location and test centre preference but it can vary considerably e.g.  Loughrea its 16.6 weeks whereas in Raheny its 8.4 weeks


What changes were made to the law in 2014 for both learner and novice drivers?

In 2014 changes were introduced by the then Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe, following news that 2013 saw the annual number of road deaths rise for the first time in several years.

New penalty point categories were introduced

1)      Learner permit holders driving unaccompanied or failing to display an L plate.

2)      Failure by novice drivers to display an N plate – all newly qualified drivers will have to display ‘N’ for ‘Novice’ plates on their cars for two years.

3)   N-plate drivers caught speeding, using a mobile phone or not wearing a seatbelt will face double the penalty points incurred by regular motorists for such offences.

3)      N-plate drivers will also have a lower permitted blood alcohol limit – 20mg instead of 50mg for fully licenced drivers.

4)  N-Plate drivers are also subject to a lower penalty point threshold of 7 points.


What about the risks for Novice Drivers?

According to the RSA Research tells us that novice drivers are most likely to be killed on our roads in the first two years after passing their test due to their inexperience. Measures such as the introduction of the N plate are designed to protect our most vulnerable road users so that they can become safe, competent and confident drivers, helping to ensure we have fewer collisions, fatalities and injuries on our roads.


How long does it take to be an experienced driver?

The Road Safety Authority (RSA) says motorists are inexperienced until they have driven 100,000km in all weather and traffic conditions. This is the equivalent of driving around the Earth’s equator two and a half times.

However, to gain this experience, it takes an average of seven years of driving on the road.


What changes could be introduced to the driving test to make learners safer on the road?

Better trained drivers will lead to safer roads so in the UK they have revised the test to make it more focused on the key skills required in day to day driving,


Changes introduced in 2017 to the UK Driving Test

  • Increase to the independent driving section of the test

The independent driving section of the test has been doubled from 10 minutes to 20 minutes

The idea is that assessment can be made of a candidate’s ability to manage and prioritise distractions, providing variable routes and exposure to different road and traffic conditions to improve judgement. It also means that less time is spent on minor roads, giving more time to include routes that focus on high-risk areas such as high-speed roads. In Ireland part of the driving test is driving for approximately 8 kms in a variety of road and traffic conditions.


  • Use of Sat Navs into the test

New drivers to demonstrate their ability to navigate using satellite navigation.

According to a recent survey some 52 per cent of those behind the wheel use sat nav to navigate their way around so it is important that new drivers can follow directions from a sat-nav and relate what is happening on the screen to the road ahead.


  • Reversing around the corner

If you hate reversing around a corner, and let’s be honest you are not alone you will be relieved to know that it will no longer form part of the test. Instead, learners will be asked to show how they can reverse out of a parking bay

Reversing around a corner has long been a part of the test in order to mimic parallel parking but as on street parking is generally becoming a thing of the past the ability to reverse in and out of a parking bay is not considered a more necessary skill.


  • Vehicle safety questions

There will be new questions on vehicle safety



It is important that a new driver understands the operation of the different elements of their car. To this end the driving test needs will know ask a how a candidate would operate a rear heated screen while driving, fog lights, windscreen washers and wipers etc.


What about Motorway driving?

There are also plans to incorporate motorway driving. The proposals are that motorway lessons will be voluntary, and only permitted where the learner is accompanied by an approved driving instructor in a dual-controlled car.


You can listen back to Geraldine Herbert discussing this issue with Sean O Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1


Geraldine Herbert

16th March, 2017



Author: Geraldine Herbert

Contributing Editor and Motoring Columnist for the Sunday Independent and editor of wheelsforwomen. Geraldine is also a regular contributor to Good Housekeeping (UK) and to RTÉ Radio One, Newstalk, TodayFM and BBC Radio. You can follow Geraldine on Twitter at @GerHerbert1

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