Penalty point review to target learner drivers


TOUGHER PENALTIES for learner motorists who drive unaccompanied or fail to display L-plates are under consideration by the Minister for Transport.

The offences currently attract a fine of up to €1,000. Driving unaccompanied does not attract penalty points as the relevant piece of legislation, section 54 (c) of the Road Traffic Act (2010), has not been activated. Under this law the offence will attract one point.

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar recently decided stricter sanctions are required. “In the context of the overall review of the penalty-points system, I am considering bringing the offence of nondisplay of an L-plate within the scope of the penalty-point system, though such a measure would require primary legislation.”

The Minister is also considering either doubling the number of penalty points for driving unaccompanied or reducing the number of points a learner or novice driver can accumulate before being disqualified.

A spokesman said the Minister also intends to implement the one-penalty-point sanction, pending the introduction of a revised, higher penalty.

Asked why the existing offence had yet to be activated, the spokesman said that the department had completed “all the work necessary within its own area” but that the measure “can only be implemented in conjunction with all the relevant stakeholders”.

He added: “It’s already an offence for a learner driver to drive unaccompanied, to fail to display an L-plate, and those offences are punishable by a fine not exceeding €1,000 for a first offence.”

The Joint Oireachtas Transport Committee is due to discuss a review of the penalty-point regime today, although points for unaccompanied drivers was not included in this work.

The review proposes increasing the points for speeding from two to three and doubling the points for using a mobile phone to four.

The report also proposes easing the severity of several offences, including removing the requirement for a compulsory court appearance for failure to have a valid NCT certificate and imposing three penalty points instead.

Noel Brett, chief executive of the Road Safety Authority, said he welcomed the review and looked forward to recalibrating the penalty regime to focus on the most dangerous driving behaviours: speeding, using a mobile phone, failing to wear a seat belt and driving unaccompanied.

Varadkar has said he will take on board the views of the committee and incorporate any changes into the Road Traffic Bill 2012.

The department is also working on plans to introduce mutual recognition of penalty points between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

In Northern Ireland a learner driver caught unaccompanied faces three penalty points; not displaying L-plates also attracts three points.

Since 2008 all learner drivers, including those on second provisional licences, are required to be accompanied by a fully qualified driver.

Susan Gray, founder of the road safety group Parc, said a fine was an inadequate deterrent, as the maximum amount was almost never applied. She also pointed to recent evidence that many learner drivers are flouting this law.

A three-day Garda operation targeting unaccompanied novice drivers carried out on March 1st, March 2nd and April 19th found that 43 per cent of 2,200 learner drivers stopped were not accompanied by a full licence-holder. About 30 per cent of those stopped were not displaying L-plates.

Last year 3,150 learner drivers on provisional licences were summonsed after they were caught driving unaccompanied; 854 were convicted. The average fine was €150; the maximum fine, of €1,000, was not imposed.

Gray said that 45 learner drivers were involved in fatal crashes over the past three years when travelling illegally without qualified drivers and that 74 unaccompanied learner drivers were involved in serious crashes.

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