Tuesday 19 March 2019

There's no room for compromise with unaccompanied learners

Not all learner permit holders are in their teens or early twenties, writes Brian Farrell of the Road Safety Authority

STRICTER PENALTIES: Long test waits are no excuse. Stock Image
STRICTER PENALTIES: Long test waits are no excuse. Stock Image

Brian Farrell

There has been criticism in some quarters, that the new penalties targeting unaccompanied learner drivers are an attack on young people. The commentary has largely focused on the fact that young people needed to get to college or work and absolutely need the car to get around.

The glaring fallacy of such an argument of course is that it's been an offence for a learner driver to drive unaccompanied for many years now. Learner drivers are at risk, due to their inexperience, when they're learning to drive. This is because they are simply not experienced enough to deal with every possible situation they might encounter on the roads.

It's the penalties that have changed. These penalties give the Gardai the power to seize the vehicle of an unaccompanied learner driver and also to prosecute the owner of a vehicle that provides one to a learner to drive unaccompanied.

According to the Gardai, a total of 477 vehicles have been seized to date and interestingly about a third of these seizures were as a result of a detection for other offences such as speeding, using a mobile phone while driving and drug driving. Just take a look at the Garda twitter feed and you'll see some of these cases.

It doesn't matter why you need to use a car, if you are a learner permit holder you are an unlicensed driver. You simply cannot drive on your own until you have passed a driving test. And you can only do this once six months have passed from getting your first learner permit and you've completed 12 mandatory driving lessons.

There are 244,627 learner permit holders in this country. A large proportion (125,753) of these drivers are on their first learner permit and are probably restricted by the mandatory lessons and six months rules before they can take a driving test.

But you cannot say the same for the 50,151 people who are on their fourth or subsequent learner permit. What have they been doing for the last six years plus while holding multiple learner permits? Delve further into the figures and you discover that there are 6,074 people who are on their eleventh or more learner permit!

Have these people made genuine efforts to pass a driving test? and are they driving accompanied by a fully qualified driver?

These individuals have been eligible to take a test since they were at least 18 years old so what have they been doing for the last 12 to 21 years? These figures really do not support an argument that all learner permit holders are young adults in their late teens or early twenties.

Looking at the breakdown of people who hold a learner permit by age it doesn't appear that it's made up exclusively of people in their late teens or early twenties.

Of those who hold a learner permit, just under half (43%) are over 30 years of age. There are 58,834 learner permit holders aged between 30 and 39 years of age and 27,976 between 40 and 49 years of age.

But what stands out among those aged 30 to 49 is that almost 24,000 are sitting on a fifth or subsequent learner permit. They account for 65% of all people relying long term on a permit.

The introduction of stricter penalties is finally going to instil a greater level of respect for the laws around driving unaccompanied and are likely to motivate people who have been avoiding it, to come in and take their driving test.

And every indication suggests as much, because since the introduction of the new penalties on 22nd December 2018 we have received upward of 7,000 driving test applications more than we normally would at this time of year. It's encouraging to see so many people coming in for their driving test at last. Importantly, we have the resources to meet this demand. We have been planning for over a year now for the expected increase in applications that the new penalties would create.

We have recruited 76 driver testers since 2016 (52 alone started testing in 2018). A further 15 testers will commenced training in January 2019 who will start testing this month, and an additional 7 testers will begin training in March.

Waiting times for a driving test have also dropped. The national average waiting time is now 8.6 weeks (the RSA commitment is to maintain it at ten weeks) and waiting times in the majority of test centres are now below this level. The problem that driving test candidates now face is being called sooner than expected for their driving test, so if applying for your test, be ready.

Whatever you need your car for, you simply cannot drive unaccompanied and using the excuse of long driving test waiting cannot be used if stopped by a garda.

Sunday Independent

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