Thousands of L-drivers ignore test deadline
TENS of thousands of unqualified drivers have ignored a Government deadline and now risk being put off the road next week.
Huge numbers have still not passed their tests -- and new figures show thousands of provisional licence-holders have ignored the extended deadline to sit their tests.
From next Monday, gardai will stop and prosecute all provisional drivers found to be driving without a fully qualified driver in the car with them.
If the clampdown is fully enforced then a large number of drivers will find themselves in trouble with the law and having to take public transport -- or get someone to accompany them.
Last night Road Safety Authority chairman Gay Byrne said: "Nobody can possibly say they didn't know about the deadline. Nobody can possibly say they weren't warned -- and nobody can possibly say they aren't ready for it."
But despite the deadline, the numbers who are renewing their licence six or more times has jumped by a third in the past year alone.
And figures for the end of May show there are 335,828 unqualified drivers on the roads, despite a decline since 2006 and an emphasis on getting driving tests completed.
This accounts for around one in seven of the two million drivers on the roads.
The new regulations, which come in from next Monday, mean drivers relying on a provisional licence for their own independent transport will be breaking the law.
Transport Minister Noel Dempsey's plans to rush in the crackdown last year were heavily criticised by drivers, who pleaded for extra time.
But figures suggest many have ignored the extra eight months given to pass their tests.
The latest data from the RSA showed that 20,476 drivers are on their sixth and subsequent provisional licence -- up from 15,239 a year previously.
Many of these are likely to be in their 40s and 50s who have been on provisional licences for many years.
Conor Faughnan, of AA Roadwatch, said drivers have been neglecting the need to get a full licence for the past 25 years. "We are the only country in Europe where you could fail your test and drive away from the test centre," he said.
"It's embarrassing and ludicrous. I know many people are upset about this but nobody can say they didn't know this was coming."
Others are booking tests and then deferring or not preparing properly, meaning they do not pass, according to the Road Safety Authority.
RSA spokesman Brian Farrell said more than one-third of provisional drivers have applied for a driving test. With a rate of 12,000 tests being conducted per week, this represents just 10 weeks' work.
But he said many candidates are now getting called for a test much sooner than they might have expected, and as a result "are deferring their test or turning up poorly prepared".
He added: "Candidates need to realise that that they will now get called quickly."
However he said any driver who needs a test before the law changes on June 30 will be accommodated, even at short notice.
Gay Byrne, meanwhile, pointed out that 14 months ago a learner driver had to wait on average 64 weeks for a test.
This is down to 10 weeks and will shortly be reduced to eight weeks.
"A great number of people said we wouldn't meet that deadline. But in spite of the nay-sayers and doom-sayers we are going to meet that deadline, and with time to spare."
The road safety chief said it is now up to the gardai to enforce the new law.
While there does not appear to be any specific garda operation targeting learners planned for the beginning of next month, provisional licence holders were already under the spotlight as part of Operation Safeguard earlier this month.
Last night the RSA warned that the days when provisional drivers could repeatedly renew their licence without ever sitting their test are numbered.
"The era of driving on a provisional licence for decades is nearly over, without a shadow of a doubt," he said.
He said that some candidates are now being called within six weeks of applying for their test and urged that they only apply when their driving instructor has told them they are ready to be tested. Last year 109,366 drivers passed their tests, a significant jump on the 86,898 who passed in 2006.
The total of unqualified drivers on the roads has fallen, with the numbers on their first up to fifth licence dropping from 416,656 in 2006 to 356,466 at the end of 2007, a difference of 14pc.
Any learner driver caught driving unaccompanied will face a minimum €1,000 fine for a first offence. Meanwhile an accompanied driver must have passed their test at least two years earlier and must be licensed to drive that type of vehicle.