L-drivers to be urged to move to full licences

THOUSANDS of motorists on long-term learner permits are to be encouraged to move to full licences, according to the Road Safety Authority (RSA).

RSA chief executive, Noel Brett told the Dáil Public Accounts Committee yesterday there are 22,861 motorists who have had five or more learner permits.

Provisional licences have now been fully phased out and replaced by learner permits which last two years. Learner drivers cannot apply for a renewal of the learner permit with providing proof that they have applied to take the driving test.

However, Mr Brett said the RSA was aware that some learner drivers consistently kept renewing their learner permit without ever actually sitting the driving test.

He claimed elderly motorists with little driving experience accounted for a large portion of this group.

The RSA said one of its supervisors had been tasked with identifying people who had numerous renewals of their learner permit and who might be reluctant to take the test in order to encourage them to move on to a full licence.

Mr Brett said one of the biggest problems with current driver testing was the number of people who failed to show up for their appointed test.

It is estimated that 12% of applicants do not take the test at the appointed time.

Over 60,000 drivers were given a controversial “amnesty” in 1979 when they were granted a full driving licence without sitting a driving test due to a large backlog of applicants. “It is acknowledged that historically Ireland has had a lax attitude to learning to drive/taking a driving test and had a long term reliance on provisional licences,” said Mr Brett.

There are approximately 277,000 motorists with learner permits in the Republic at present.

The PAC heard that the average waiting time to sit the test is now 8.6 weeks compared to 34 weeks a few years ago when there were over 435,000 people on provisional licences.

However, Mr Brett warned the RSA would face “significant challenges” in keeping wait times down to existing levels in 2011 due to the Government’s current recruitment embargo.

He also expressed concern that he could not fill two vacancies at supervisor level and 8.5 vacancies among driver testers because of the ban.

The current staffing levels for driver testing consists of 7 supervisors and 123 driver testers based at 52 centres.

&Meanwhile, the National Roads Authority (NRA) was criticised by members of the PAC including its chairman, Bernard Allen, over its failure to provide for rest and services areas when designing the country’s motorway network.

“It was a massive error by the NRA who can’t use [a lack of] funding excuse.”

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