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Lax licence system 'still costing lives' despite fall in fatal crashes by L-drivers

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The number of unaccompanied learner drivers involved in fatal crashes has fallen by half but experts warn the licence system is still costing lives.

Learner drivers were involved in 57 fatal crashes between 2013 and 2018, figures released to the Irish Independent show.

Of that number, 42 were driving unaccompanied, less than half the number in the six years previous.

The spotlight has once again been cast on the learner driver system since it was revealed Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen was caught drink-driving in 2016 while on a provisional licence at the age of 49.

Mr Cowen confirmed he was driving accompanied at the time but revealed he had driven unaccompanied on a number of other occasions.

It is an offence for a learner to drive unless accompanied by a fully licensed driver.

The Road Safety Authority (RSA) said there had been a "substantial" drop in the number of unaccompanied drivers involved in fatal crashes.

Between 2007 and 2012, 87 learner drivers who were unaccompanied were involved in fatal collisions on our roads, compared to 42 between 2013 and 2018.

A further 75 drivers involved in fatal collisions between 2013 and 2018 were categorised as "licence unknown".

In 2018, three unaccompanied drivers were involved in fatal crashes, compared to 10 the previous year.

By comparison, 859 fully licensed drivers were involved in collisions between 2013 and 2018.

An RSA spokesperson said figures for 2019 were not yet available for publication, but it is understood they show a continuing move downward.

Significant progress has been made since the Clancy Amendment introduced tougher sanctions in December 2018, giving gardaí the power to seize cars where learners were caught driving alone. In the first five months of this year, 1,190 vehicles were seized by gardaí because they were being driven by unaccompanied learner drivers.

The figures also show that 1,346 motorists got penalty points between January and June this year for driving unaccompanied.

However, as the RSA now has to deal with a backlog in driver tests caused by the Covid-19 pandemic concerns have been raised about the impact this will have.

Aidan Jordan, director of Jordan School of Motoring, said Ireland's learner system fell short compared to that of other countries. "Ireland must be the only country where you can drive to a test centre, fail and then drive home again," he told the Irish Independent.

"The learner system is far from perfect and has cost lives. The RSA is trying to bring in measures to crack down on people constantly renewing their learner permits and these measures would be welcome."

An RSA spokesperson said: "While enforcement of our learner driver laws is a matter for the gardaí, we have shared our concerns with some learner drivers not turning up for a driving test accompanied by a qualified driver and they (gardaí) have mounted enforcement activity in the vicinity of test centres."

Car driving tests were expected to resume this coming Monday, the RSA also said.

This is despite the Government putting the brakes on entering phase four of the roadmap out of lockdown due to the worrying rise in coronavirus cases.

Truck, bus and motorcycle tests resumed on June 29.

As of March 2020, there were 114,223 drivers on their first learner permit, while there were 35,000 people driving on their fourth or subsequent learner's permit.

The RSA said this was down 24pc compared to 2019.

A total of 6,542 people are on their 11th or subsequent permit while 1,825 are on their 10th one, 2,494 are on their ninth permit, and 3,113 are on their eighth such licence.

Irish Independent