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How tougher learner driver laws have had impact on roads

Numbers involved in incidents show a big fall-off as more now taking the driving test

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'DRIVETIME' (RTÉ Radio 1) reporter John Cooke took to the road recently with a Garda Roads Policing Unit to see learner-driver laws being enforced.

It's just over a year now since the introduction of tougher penalties aimed at preventing learners from driving unaccompanied.

The law also made it an offence to provide a vehicle to a learner to drive unaccompanied.

John wanted to see if there had been any changes since the new legislation was introduced, and gauge public opinion. Most of the feedback from drivers was positive.

Many said that, while the laws did pose challenges, they were ultimately in the best interests of road safety.

The new laws aim to protect those learning to drive. I've said it before that permit holders need to understand that a permit is not a full licence.

It allows them to learn to drive, and it's on condition that they are accompanied by a fully qualified driver.

They also must always have 'L' plates on display.

Have the new laws made a difference? Yes, they certainly have. Our independent research shows that 91pc of learner drivers are aware of the new law and have changed their behaviour in some way.

Garda enforcement activity shows more than 2,500 vehicles have been seized since the new laws started in December 2018.

The number of people applying for a driving test over the last two years is showing a significant change as larger numbers are coming forward for the test. An extra 39,921 learner drivers took the test in 2019. Immediately after the new laws were introduced, there was a 47pc increase in driving test applications; it has remained steady throughout 2019. Critically it's those learner drivers who have been relying long term on a learner permit that are coming forward.

The number of people holding a fourth or subsequent permit has dropped by 10,189 from January 2019 to January 2020: a 22pc decline.

More people taking lessons, coming forward for the test and passing mean they have up-skilled and proven they are competent to drive solo. This can only improve road safety.

That seems to be the case, judging by collision data for the past few years. The numbers involved in fatal and serious injury collisions have reduced. If you take the period when the new law was publicly debated in 2018 and then when enforced in 2019 you can see a clear drop in the number of unaccompanied learner drivers involved in collisions.

In 2016 and 2017 there were 10 learner permit holders involved in fatal crashes each year. In 2018 it dropped to three and in 2019 it had dropped to two.

A similar trend can be seen in the number of serious injury collisions involving learner drivers. In 2017, 34 learners were involved in serious injury collisions. In 2019 there were 14.

But it isn't all stick - we've been using a carrot approach too. For example, running radio ads to encourage people to take their test so they can become better safer drivers and save money on their insurance costs.

We've also sponsored a new six-part series on RTÉ One called 'The Test' aimed at demystifying and humanising the driving test. It features people who have, after many years driving on a learner permit, come forward to go for their driving test.

After the first episode alone, we noted a spike in applications for a driving test appointment. It airs Mondays at 7.30pm.

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