Tuesday 23 January 2018

EXCLUSIVE: 'The learner driver system in Ireland is killing people' - Driving instructors demand change

Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

Driving instructors are calling for the learner driver system in Ireland to be changed before “more needless deaths occur”.

Monday marked the start of Road Safety Week and instructors are using it to highlight the flaws of the Essential Driver Training (EDT) programme.

Aidan Jordan
Aidan Jordan

The Road Safety Authority (RSA) introduced the programme in 2011 in an attempt to improve the learner driving system in Ireland.

But since its inception, driving instructors have spoken out about a number of problems with the EDT.

Aidan Jordan is director of Jordan School of Motoring and he has been leading a campaign calling on the RSA to address the “blatant problems” with the system, which he said is leading to needless deaths.

“As the system stands, you have to do twelve one-hour lessons before you do your test but then you are also expected to practice with a sponsor for three hours in between lessons, and that is where the problem is occurring,” he told Independent.ie.

Mr Jordan says that the majority of learner drivers in Ireland are practicing unaccompanied and RSA statistics back that assertion up, with 43pc of learner drivers choosing to drive alone. This equates to over 80,000 drivers.

“It bothered me how learner drivers were driving unaccompanied to meet me at the test centre. A huge part of driving instructors’ income is meeting learner drivers at test centres for pre-test lessons. I stopped meeting learner drivers at test centres in 2010. Overnight my business fell by 40pc.

“The response from my driving instructor colleagues was ‘you’re mad’ and ‘it’s not your business about how a learner driver arrives for a driving lesson’,” he said. 

Mr Jordan says his motivation to do something about the current system stems from people who have lost their lives in road accidents involving unaccompanied learner drivers.

“The beautiful picture of Zoe Scannell in her communion dress is my motivation to keep up the fight. The learner driver system in Ireland is killing up to 15 people a year and something needs to be done,” he said.

Zoe Scannell in her Communion dress

Zoe Scannell (8) died instantly in June 2014 when the car in which she was a rear seat passenger collided with a vehicle being driven by Leaving Cert student, Ian Lawlor O'Donovan (18), which had veered onto the wrong side of the road.

Learner driver O'Donovan was unaccompanied at the time.

"What Mr. Jordan is asking for is on the basis of a vested interest," Brian Farrell, Communications Manager at RSA told independent.ie.

"The only authority that can sign off on competence is the RSA and that is done through the driving test itself. There are also consumer protection issues to consider around this too in allowing an instructor decide how many lessons a candidate must take before they can take the test.

"Finally we would again reject Mr. Jordans assertions in relation to the Essential Driver Training (mandatory lessons) system. The EDT programme has been hugely successful and there is a de facto increase in the pass rates among drivers who have completed EDT lessons versus those who have not.

"In relation to driving unaccompanied the RSA fought for and welcomed the introduction of penalty points for driving unaccompanied and failure to display L plates. We also sought and welcomed the lowering of the penalty point threshold for these drivers from 12 points to 7 points (at which point they face disqualification from driving for six months).

"The enforcement of these laws is solely the responsibility of An Garda Siochana, not the RSA. The RSA has no powers to compel drivers to drive accompanied or display an L plate (or N plate). We are working closely with the Gardai to jointly mount education and enforcement campaigns regularly through the year. This is backed up on our side with national and local radio and online advertising reminding these drives of their legal responsibilities. Since the introduction of the penalty points almost 10,000 penalty points notices have been issued to learner drivers for breaching the terms of their ‘Learner Permit’."

In 2012, a Hungarian woman who was practicing driving in her car unaccompanied died after she accidentally drove her car off the quay in Newport, Co. Mayo.

Campaign poster
Campaign poster

Edina Voros had only completed four EDT driving lessons at this point and was practicing in between lessons.

In the inquest, her partner described her as “not a very good driver and she would forget to press the clutch sometimes”.

Francis Docaigne is director of Castletown School of Motoring in Cellbridge, Co Kildare and he says the EDT system as it stands is far from satisfactory.

“I strongly do believe that you should not have a learner permit until an assessment is conducted by the RSA to see if the driver is fit to be on a public road.

“Some people are still lethal on the roads after twelve lessons and need much more than twelve lessons. Many of them are not able to handle the cars and do not know the rules of the road. Nationally speaking, the RSA say up to 15 people are killed nationally by learner drivers on the road,” he told Independent.ie.

87 learner drivers who were unaccompanied were killed on Irish roads between 2007 and 2012. 194 were involved in serious accidents and 2,565 received minor injuries. No updated figures are currently available.

There were 12 fatalities where a learner driver was accompanied.

Under Irish law, if a driver is pulled over when driving unaccompanied by gardaí, officers have no power to seize the vehicle.

By comparison, in Italy, if you are caught driving unaccompanied you cannot get your next learner licence for three years.

In Ireland, 2,526 learner drivers are on their 11th learner permit or more.

According to the RSA theory test the cost of a single fatality on Irish roads is an estimated €2,667,000.

This includes lost output, human costs, medical cost, property loss, insurance, and policing, of a road death in Ireland.

In response to questions about the current EDT system, the RSA said: “Some countries like the UK have no formalised driver training. Ireland has a model that has formal training – the RSA emphasises that best practice is to mix the formal training with accompanied practice overseen by a sponsor.”

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