Car owners face jail for letting learners drive unaccompanied

The Road Safety Authority has said it will take steps to cut waiting times for driving tests in light of a proposed Government crackdown on learner drivers getting behind the wheel unaccompanied.

Noel Clancy following the inquest into the death of his wife and daughter, Geraldine and Louise. Pic: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts

Options being explored include evening and weekend testing in 2018 and greater efforts to have ‘no-shows’ at driving tests give advance notice they will not be turning up. RSA chief executive Moyagh Murdock said those people would not necessarily be penalised.

Under the amendment to the Road Traffic Bill on unaccompanied drivers, any car owner who knowingly allows their vehicle to be used by an unaccompanied learner driver could face up to six months in prison and a €2,000 fine. Vehicles could also be seized under the proposals, which have been passed by Cabinet and are currently being reviewed by the Office of the Attorney General.

The amendments are due to enter second stage in the Dáil next week and some of the detail has to be teased out.

A spokesman for the Department of Transport said yesterday there was no indication of any dispensation for older drivers still on a learner permit.

Any owner of a car who was also a learner driver and caught driving unaccompanied could face the rigours of the new laws as well as penalties for driving while unaccompanied, said the department.

The proposals come after some high-profile cases where people have been killed in road traffic collisions involving unaccompanied learner drivers, in particular, the deaths of mother and daughter Geraldine and Louise Clancy from Cork.

An inquest held earlier this year into their deaths recommended that gardaí be empowered to impound cars of those found driving without a full licence.

Noel Clancy, of Kilworth in north Cork, who lost his wife and daughter in the tragedy, said he backed that proposal and hoped the Government would bring in such laws by the end of this year.

That could now happen, with Transport Minister Shane Ross saying learner drivers could not break the law.

“We have statistics in front of us which show a large number of fatalities involve learner drivers,” said Mr Ross. “Out of 130 this year, 13 were learner drivers. Unaccompanied were 11 of them. And it is not just one tragedy, it is repetitive and has been ongoing for several years.

“What we are determined to do is to make sure that people do not lend their cars, give their keys to unaccompanied learner drivers.

“They mustn’t break the law, it’s simple. The learner drivers who drive unaccompanied are breaking the law,” said Mr Ross.

Regarding concerns raised by the Automobile Association about children taking the keys of cars without their parents’ knowledge, Mr Ross said the legislation would be quite specific and would say “they do it knowingly”.

One consequence could be even greater pressure on the driving test system.

Brian Farrell of the Road Safety Authority said 17 new driving testers had been hired since 2016 and another six have begun training, with additional resources available to cut waiting times.

“We are looking at weekend and evening testing to get more people tested,” he said.

Ms Murdock said between 400 and 600 scheduled tests a week do not go ahead due to no-shows or people failing to bring the correct documentation.

She said that last week, 25% of those vacant slots were filled and more work would be done to increase that number.

L and N drivers

- Noel Baker 

With news that the Government might be imposing tougher penalties on learner drivers taking to the road unaccompanied, many people will be hoping to pass a test as quickly as possible and move from Learner to Novice.

The differences between having an L plate and an N plate are quite significant.

As per existing laws, anyone with an L plate should only drive when accompanied by a fully qualified driver (and an N plate driver will not suffice).

They are also forbidden from driving on some roads, such as motorways, and are also subject to a lower drink-driving limit of 20mg, known as administrative zero, compared with the 50mg limit for those on a full licence.

It also takes fewer penalty points for an L plate driver to be put off the road. Once they reach seven points, they are banned from driving, versus the 12-point limit which applies to full drivers.

Those on an N plate are deemed to be a novice driver for a period of two years on passing their test, and in that period they are still subject to the lower drink-driving limit.

This is based on international studies which shows this can positively influence driver behaviour in the long run. In many other ways, however, they are essentially fully qualified motorists, and so it will take reaching 12 penalty points to be put off the road.



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