N-plates signal new regime for learner drivers

August 1st is D-day for latest measure aimed at reducing road fatalities

Learner drivers will have to swap L-plates for N-plates and display them for two years

Learner drivers will have to swap L-plates for N-plates and display them for two years

Wed, Jul 23, 2014, 01:00

From August 1st, life for newly-qualified drivers will never be quite the same. Instead of just being able to tear-up the old L-plates, new drivers will have to start displaying N-plates – N for novice – which will have to stay on the car for two years.

As part of the new measures, N-plate drivers will be banned for six months if they rack up six penalty points, rather than the 12 for fully-qualified drivers. The application of penalty points for offences is also more draconian for N-plate drivers. Those caught speeding, using a mobile phone or not wearing a seatbelt will face double the penalty points incurred by regular motorists for such offences. N-plate drivers will also have a lower permitted blood alcohol limit – 20mg instead of 50mg for fully licenced drivers.

And if you just ignore the new system then be warned: failing to display your N-plate will also be a penalty point offence (two points) with a fine of up to €1,000.

Will such a heavy-handed system have the desired effect? “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 Road Safety Authority (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.”

Stigmatising drivers Certainly there seems to be some efficacy in the move. In the North, the R-plate (R for restricted) system has been in use for some time, along with other high-profile road safety campaigns (including some especially lurid television ads), and the rate of deaths in road accidents has come down. At one point, that rate stood at 10 per 100,000 people.

According to the PSNI, although overall road accident injuries rose slightly in 2013 compared to 2012, the per-head-of-population figure has now fallen to six per 100,000 – a figure that is in line with the rest of the UK. It would seem then that, as part of a broader system, an N-plate could well be useful, albeit we are not following the North’s plan of restricting those drivers to a top speed of 45mph, or just under 80kmh.

However, other issues are being raised around the introduction of N-plates, and key among them is the potential problem of stigmatising those drivers carrying N-plates on their cars and the possibility that they may be subjected to increased insurance rates.

Dominic Finlay, head of corporate affairs and PR for Liberty Insurance, told The Irish Times that “initially we see no significant difference in insurance rates for those on N-plates as opposed to those passing their tests right now, who just go straight on to a full licence. In an actuarial sense, obviously, we will be looking at it, though, and if there is a need to raise rates then that will have to happen.”

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