Rules will hopefully make safe driving a gift for life

LEARNER drivers and those about to get behind the wheel of a car for the first time may wake up this morning swearing at the actions of road safety chiefs.

Victims of road crashes and families who have lost loved ones will, on the other hand likely, view the driving licensing changes as commendable.

Either way, the strict new rules flagged by the Road Safety Authority (RSA), signed off by Transport Minister Noel Dempsey in May, are well overdue.

Inexperienced and, particularly, young drivers make up a disproportionate number of Ireland’s road deaths. Unpublished research by the RSA reveals as many as nearly one in ten of all driver deaths between the periods 1997-2006 were learner permit holders aged 17-24.

Other figures published in the Irish Examiner earlier this week also revealed those same aged drivers are five times at risk of dying on Irish roads. In fact, 1,289 road users in those ages have lost their lives over 11 years, the equivalent in fatalities of several plane crashes.

The recent carnage on roads this summer with 12 people losing their lives in just two crashes, in Donegal and Kerry, also justifies the licensing changes.

But whether the larger public will agree with the new rules and, more importantly, whether the Government will back them up with legislation remains to be seen. Many of the changes will cost learner motorists extra. There’s the 12 hours of compulsory lessons for car drivers as well as the planned computerised hazard exam motorists will have to take before going for their test.

Furthermore, the driving license test is set to be overhauled as is the driving theory test, which will no doubt allow its makers to pump up applicant prices.

The requirement on parents or supervising drivers to accompany learners and to sign in “homework” books may not suit every ambitious motorist, so much so that they will have to rely on more driving lessons to fill up their “learner log” book.

That means more costs.

Several of the key points announced by road safety chiefs will also need to be backed by further legislation. The doubling of penalty points for offending learner drivers, the hazard test and the restrictive ‘R’ plate for newly qualified full license holders will all need to be addressed by Transport Minister Noel Dempsey before they can be rolled out.

Clearly though, with the changes, the onus will be on parents and those informally teaching learner drivers for the first time to drill home the rules of the road. Driving ‘mentors’ are expected to even have to accompany learners on informal driving lessons at night and then to sign off on them.

And while cynics may say the licensing changes will only fill the pockets of driving schools, give gardaí more powers to take people off road and effectively push this country further towards being a nanny state, their role in saving even one life makes them justifiable.

As it stands, the driving test produces a plethora of results with failure rates averaging about 50% in some centres. But you can also start your engine at a centre and be fully up to speed with tips on how to pass your exam.

These changes, while they will undoubtedly hammer down on offending drivers, will hopefully make safe driving a gift for life and not just for 30 minutes around a test centre.


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