Row erupts over number of lessons learners must take
A ROW has erupted over the number of lessons learner drivers should be forced to take before they are eligible to sit their driving test.
From next week, new rules come into effect making driving lessons mandatory for learners.
However, driving schools claimed yesterday that the mandatory minimum of 12 hours of lessons -- costing in the region of €420 -- is insufficient to prepare a learner for the driving test.
It is understood that some schools are planning to insist on novices taking more lessons -- but road safety and consumer chiefs hit back, telling learners that no driving school can force them to take any more than the required 12 hours of compulsory basic training.
Learners facing this pre-condition have been advised to shop around and switch to another registered instructor.
The Essential Driver Training scheme, which comes into effect next Monday, makes driving lessons mandatory for the first time.
Those applying for their first driving licence -- a learner permit -- must complete 12 hours of lessons with an approved driving instructor before they can sit a driving test.
They also have to complete up to 36 hours of additional 'homework' with a parent or other suitable sponsor -- someone with a full driving licence.
The scheme only applies to first-time learner permit holders. Drivers currently on permit, who fail their tests, will not have to undergo the course.
With lessons averaging €35 an hour, this means novices will still have to fork out at least €420 to complete the new mandatory syllabus.
But Padraig McHale, of the Leinster Driving Campus, in Kildare, warned: "Twelve lessons are not enough to get someone up to driving test standard. You would need to double or treble that."
A spokesman for the Road Safety Authority (RSA) said that learner drivers would not be required to take any more than 12 lessons.
It said learners were free to take any of the 12 one-hour modules with any driving school, or instructor.
Lessons and practice sessions must be noted in a special logbook, making it easy for learners to switch instructors if they are unhappy.
The RSA said it would be monitoring the performance of the driving schools and investigating any complaints.
It is expected to review the operation of the scheme after 18 months.
Niall Doyle, of the Irish Insurance Federation, welcomed the new scheme.
Reacting to complaints by some driving instructors that it was wrong to allow parents to supervise the driving practice sessions, he said: "That is a bit like a teacher sending a student home with homework, but parents not being allowed to help them with maths."
There is no set fee for driving lessons. However, the current average is about €35 per hour. Many schools are expected to offer discounts to learners who sign up for the mandatory 12 hour course with them.
Aviva, the country's biggest motor insurer, is to offer learners free insurance for six months as named drivers on the family car if they sign up to their driving school.
This can result in savings running to several hundred euro.
The Irish Independent understands that other insurance companies and motoring schools are preparing to roll out special discounts ahead of the start of the Essential Driver Training scheme.
This is because of a major oversupply of driving schools, some 1,876, which can now only operate if they are accredited by the RSA.