Warning as 14,000 L-drivers caught in garda clampdown
THOUSANDS of learner drivers have been caught driving without L-plates or unaccompanied by a qualified driver.
Almost 14,000 'L' drivers have been summonsed for driving without L-plates or a qualified driver since the new laws were introduced in July 2008.
The Irish Independent has learned that many of these drivers have been hit with minimum fines of €1,000 for dangerous driving, driving unaccompanied or having wasted the "second chance" they were given.
As part of their campaign, gardai have mounted "Operation Permit" to target learners driving unaccompanied to secondary school. It has been credited with leading to a large reduction in this activity.
The head of the Garda Traffic Corps, Assistant Commissioner Kevin Ludlow, said there was a "real purpose" to the clampdown, adding that inexperience and levels of competency directly lead to fatal accidents and serious injuries.
Although statistics on the number of 'L' drivers convicted were not available from the courts service, it is understood that it is easier to prosecute the two offences than more hotly contested ones such as drink-driving.
"Either they are driving accompanied or not, and either the accompanied driver is qualified or not," said Asst Comm Ludlow.
Latest figures from the Road Safety Authority (RSA) show that learner drivers were responsible for nearly one in five fatal crashes in 2008 -- the latest period for which such detailed statistics are available. They accounted for 18 out of 103 road deaths attributable to driver error.
"Local gardai would have the discretion to caution individuals known to them and can escalate to one of the options of enforcement should the offender continue to drive unaccompanied," said Asst Comm Ludlow.
"Driving on motorways and driving between nought to six months (on a learner permit) are certainly a no-no from our perspective."
A breakdown of the figures show there has been a substantial push in enforcement compared with the period before the introduction of the laws, when Transport Minister Noel Dempsey said gardai would adopt a "common sense approach".
There were 2,807 drivers charged with driving unaccompanied in the 18-month period to July 2008 -- an average of 155 per month. But since the new laws came into force on July 1 2008, 7,128 'L' drivers were charged with driving unaccompanied-- an average of 339.
An additional 3,160 drivers were charged with driving without 'L' plates in the 18-month period up to July 1 2008 -- an average of 175 per month. But this number has more than doubled since: 6,816 learner drivers were charged
The RSA said long waiting times for driving tests were no longer an excuse to break the law as they had dropped to an average of 10 weeks.
Learner drivers accounted for 13pc of all drivers killed on the roads in 2008 -- 17 out of 125 driver fatalities. And around 32 learner drivers were injured in serious crashes
The Public Against Road Carnage group want the gardai to prevent learner drivers from driving unaccompanied.
Spokeswoman Susan Gray said she had been contacted by a mother who had lost her daughter in a road crash.
"Her daughter was a learner driver who had no driving lessons, no L-plates and was driving alone. The gardai stopped her twice before she died but didn't prosecute her for any of these offences," she said.