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Drive-alone ban to hit 420,000 learners

MORE than 420,000 learner drivers will be banned from driving alone from midnight on Monday.

Their insurance will be also invalidated if they crash, road safety chiefs warned last night.

If people flout the new law -- announced by the Government yesterday -- they face fines of €1,000 or jail terms of up to three years on a second offence.

Gardai last night insisted they would implement the drastic new measures which will put an end to provision licence holders, on their second licence, being allowed to drive without being accompanied by a fully qualified driver.

The new learner permit system starts from Tuesday.

It replaces the provisional licence with a learner permit - but crucially, all current licence holders will have to abide by the new restrictions.

Assistant Garda Commissioner in charge of the Garda Traffic Corps, Eddie Rock, said the new rules would be enforced "in a very effective manner".

He insisted: "Prosecutions will be taken."

Mr Rock also emphasised that gardai would police the changes in a commonsense manner which involved advice and cautions to motorists driving unaccompanied.

The serious prospect of learner drivers who flout the changes not being insured was raised last night by chief executive of the Road Safety Authority, Noel Brett.

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"It is our understanding that if drivers are not accompanied by a qualified driver they will not be insured and will invalidate their insurance in the event of a crash," he said.

The safety chief urged anyone on either a learner permit or a provisional licence to check with their insurance companies if they planned to drive unaccompanied.

Insurance sources said last night that while injured parties would be covered in a crash, some insurance companies could introduce clauses onto crash damage of the driver's car.

Learner permit holders will have to have held the permit for at least six months before applying for a driving test from December 1.

RSA chairman Gay Byrne said the new measures were necessary as inexperience was one of the major causes of road accidents here.

"It's absolutely statistically true that the 17- to 26-year-old male -- and it's a male problem, not a female problem -- are among the most dangerous drivers on the road," he said.

"Because young men suffer from a disease which can only be described as '17 to 26' -- that is the disease in itself,'' added Mr Byrne.

The plan will also involve the introduction of mandatory tuition for all learner drivers over the next three years.

The professional tuition will have to be recorded in a logbook.

It is also planned to introduce a reduced speed limit for learner drivers and a zero alcohol limit.

Under the new road safety strategy, the Road Safety Authority is to advise the Government on the recommended new blood alcohol level for drivers, but there no level given in the strategy.

It states that the Government will act immediately thereafter.

The new five-year plan is designed to save 400 lives between now and 2012.

The strategy contains 126 measures with specific and non-specific implementation dates. Named officials have been put in charge of each measure.

Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey yesterday said: "In effect it holds people accountable for saving lives and nobody can shirk from that."

Mr Dempsey said they had full buy-in from all of the agencies and government departments who had signed up to the strategy.

"There is 100pc commitment to make it work," he said.

Also included in the action plan is the national rollout of a Garda Traffic Corps by the end of 2008.

"This strategy must be a success. We know that. We owe it to the families of those who have tragically lost their lives on Irish roads over the years," added Mr Dempsey.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who launched the plan yesterday, said it should see Ireland approaching the best practice levels of the best performing counties in Europe.


The AA warned that it must be followed through with a clear commitment for implementation. Conor Faughnan of the AA said yesterday: "Our only concern is that the Government cannot allow these critical measures to be stalled by foot-dragging in the implementation, a problem which dogged the previous strategies."

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