N-day for drivers as RSA unveils novice plates

Tomorrow is N-day for the country’s learner drivers as the Road Safety Authority unveils sweeping changes to the motoring licence system.

Billed as a safety measure, newly qualified drivers must display N-plates — N for novice — on their vehicles. The plates must remain on view for two years after passing the test.

Newly licensed drivers will also face stiffer penalties than other motorists. N-plate drivers will be banned for six months if they accumulate seven penalty points, rather than the 12 for fully qualified drivers.

Those caught speeding, using a mobile phone or not wearing a seatbelt will face double the penalty points incurred by other motorists for such offences. N-plate drivers will also have a lower permitted blood alcohol limit — 20mg per 100ml compared with 50mg for experienced drivers.

Failure to display an N-plate will attract two penalty points and a maximum fine of up to €1,000.

“The purpose of the Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) system is to reduce the number of collisions, deaths and injuries among learner and novice drivers, particularly among the high-risk 17 to 24-year-olds, during the learning to drive period and the period immediately after they pass their test,” said a spokesperson for the RSA.

“Research tells us that novice drivers are most likely to be killed on our roads in the first two years after passing their test due to their inexperience. Therefore, these measures are designed to protect our most vulnerable road users so that they can become safe, competent and confident drivers, helping to ensure we have fewer collisions, fatalities and injuries on our roads.”

In contrast to the rush of driving test applications that occurred in 2008 when the RSA introduced penalties for driving unaccompanied, there has been no extra demand for tests.

“We have around 3,000 to 3,500 test applications a week and we have not seen any fluctuations in that in recent months,” said Brian Farrell, communications manager of the RSA.

That may be because there would be little point as learner drivers must have a permit for a minimum of six months and, undertake mandatory lessons operated by the National Driver Licence Service. On top of that, there is a four to five week wait to get a test scheduled.

The new system here is more restrictive than the one currently in operation north of the border. In Northern Ireland, the R-plate (R for restricted) system has been in use for some time and requires that newly qualified drivers display it for one year.

The RSA insists that two years is the appropriate time. “International evidence suggests and collision statistics show that accidents mostly occur within two years of getting a full licence. It is simply a question of the greater the experience, the greater the safety. It usually takes about 100,000 kilometres to become experienced.”

Concerns that insurance companies may hike up premiums as a result of the measure were discounted yesterday by Liberty Insurance which said it had no plans to adjust rates.

“Newly qualified drivers currently are not obliged to be accompanied by an experienced/qualified driver so in effect the introduction of N-plates is not a change from that perspective,” said a spokeswoman.

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