Prison term, €2k fine, if learners drive your car unaccompanied

Motorists who allow their vehicles to be used by unaccompanied learner drivers will be hit with €2,000 fines and could be jailed for up to six months under strict new laws agreed by Cabinet.

The planned laws, which are set to be imposed after a high-profile campaign by victims of road crashes, will also see the vehicles of offending motorists seized by authorities as part of a wide-reaching road safety clampdown.

Under existing rules, while a learner driver who is driving alone in a vehicle can be prosecuted for putting other people at risk, the person who owns the vehicle is able to escape any punishment.

However, under a new amendment put forward by Transport Minister Shane Ross which is due to be considered as part of the Road Traffic Bill later this month, owners will now be prosecuted for failing to secure their vehicle.

If passed by the Oireachtas as expected in the coming weeks, the new amendment — which was agreed by Cabinet yesterday and will relate to cars, vans, farmyard vehicles and commercial vehicles — will mean the owners of motorists will face €2,000 fines if they allow a learner driver to use their vehicle unaccompanied.

They will also face potential jail sentences of up to six months and, under an extension of existing garda powers, will have their vehicles seized when an offence occurs.

Cabinet agreed to the amendment, which will now be discussed at committee stage of the Road Traffic Bill later this month, after it was initially examined by the attorney general Seamus Woulfe in recent weeks.

While it is unclear exactly how many people will be affected by the incoming rules, latest garda and Road Safety Authority figures show more than 10,600 fixed penalty points notices were issued to unaccompanied drivers in 2017.

The road safety clampdown comes as latest Road Safety Authority figures show that of the 12 fatal road crashes involving learner drivers last year, 10 involved unaccompanied learner drivers, in line with previous years.

Among the most high- profile cases of people who lost their lives during fatal crashes involving unaccompanied learner drivers was the double fatality of 58-year-old Geraldine Clancy and her 22-year-old daughter, Louise.

Geraldine and Louise Clancy

Both women were killed in a crash in Fermoy, Co Cork, on December 22, 2015, involving unaccompanied learner driver Susan Gleeson, who was given a three-year suspended sentence in 2016 for dangerous driving.

Geraldine’s widower and Louise’s father, Noel, has repeatedly called for stronger sentences for such offences.

Road Safety Authority spokesman Brian Farrell last night strongly backed the proposed laws, telling the Irish Examiner they will undoubtedly save lives if introduced, and must be acted on immediately.

“We absolutely welcome the plans to fine and prosecute the person who supplies the vehicles, but for us the real power in the proposed law here is the extension of section 41 laws which will allow the gardaí to seize the vehicle, because it is absolutely vital to have a deterrent,” said Mr Farrell.

“Our own figures show that 25% of crashes where someone died involved a learner driver, despite learner drivers representing 12% of the population, so that underlines the risks involved.

“This is not about trying to put people off the road, but the reality is learner drivers need to be accompanied while they are being put in charge of a potentially lethal weapon.”

When asked if the proposed laws are excessive for circumstances where a relative of a vehicle owner may only be driving a short distance, Mr Farrell said: “I don’t accept that. Most crashes happen 5km-10km from a person’s home. It’s the roads nearest your home, the roads you maybe relax too much on, that are the most dangerous.”

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