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Ian Mallon: Learners' plan gets it so wrong -- it's both too tough and too soft

THE new proposals for L-drivers smack of a money-making racket for the already wealthy driving schools of Ireland.

As it stands, impoverished motorists have to deal with high road taxes and inflated insurance premiums -- and they will now have to fork out up to €1,000 to 'learn' whether they know how to drive or not.

Under the new proposals learner drivers will have to pay for a very minimum of 12 hours' driving with a motoring professional.

Motorcyclists, who are killing themselves at far less a rate than other drivers on our roads, will have to fork out for a third more, clocking in with 16 hours.


So if you are young, and a capable driver, you will not sit a test until after you have poured your hard earned cash into yet another driving cash cow.

In the old days, you would learn how to drive, sit the test and be passed or failed depending on your level of capability.

Most bizarrely, learner drivers will have to keep a log book in which they will note how many hours they have driven.

Have I missed something here? Is this some sort of 1980s ANCO work scheme, where you get your little log book stamped every time you complete an exercise? What's wrong with a centralised computer database that you can access through your BlackBerry or iPhone?

Once again the Transport Minister Noel Dempsey has got it all wrong with his handling of the problem of youngsters dying on the roads.

His new proposals are too soft where they need to be tough, and too tough where they need to be fair.

And, all this from a minister who prefers to fly than to drive, as witnessed by his recent visit to the MacGill Summer School in Donegal, when he brought the Government jet and told his driver to meet him at Derry airport.

Under the proposals, learner drivers will have their night-time driving curfewed if they commit an offence.

I agree that something needs to be done about night driving, but if they commit an offence, take their car off them for a period -- don't just curtail their exploits on the road.


Also, law-breakers will be restricted as to how many passengers they have in the car.

I'm sorry, and I know this won't make me very popular amongst the kids, but young drivers should not be allowed carry more than one passenger.

How many times have emergency services come across cars and their occupants squeezed together like sardines, as families, entire communities and in some cases whole counties are left with the devastating consequences of kids being allowed to legally pack four passengers into their cars.

An area I find utterly ridiculous is the doubling of penalty points for learner drivers if they are caught offending.

Speeding, not wearing seat belts, using a mobile while driving, dangerous overtaking and running traffic lights will be severely dealt with if you're a learner.

However, these offences should be savagely dealt with no matter who you are.


Frankly, there seems to be no appetite by the authorities to deal with the whole mobile phone issue anyway.

I do welcome the punishments of drivers having to retake their tests for offences -- but is this just a ruse to get more money sloshing through the already bulging coffers of our driving schools?

In any case, daft or not, none of these proposals are possible if they are not rigorously enforced by gardai -- and I, for one, doubt that the Justice Minister has the appetite to increase Garda presence on the roads.