Up to 30,000 people on their third or subsequent learner permit have never sat a driving test and in some cases may have been driving for almost 30 years without ever holding a full licence.
The figures emerged after the Road Safety Authority examined records of learner permit holders back to 1994, following inquiries from The Irish Times.
This data show tens of thousands of learner motorists on their third or subsequent permit since 2018 have been driving for many years without ever sitting a test.
Learner permit holders on their first or second learner permit were excluded from the analysis as this four-year period is when learner motorists are undergoing lessons and acquiring driving experience.
To secure a third or subsequent learner permit a driver must show evidence of applying for a test.
However, there is no legal requirement for a learner driver to actually sit a driving test before renewing their learner permit. A permit can be renewed based on a test booking alone.
Although data on the number of motorists driving for many years on a learner permit has been published previously, this is the first time information has been made available on the proportion of these drivers who have never sat a test.
According to the RSA, 28,570 drivers were on a third or subsequent learner permit first issued between 2018 and 2009.
However, the true figure of learner permit holders who have never sat a test is likely to be higher. This is because data between 2008 and 1994 does not clearly indicate whether those still on a learner permit have ever sat a test. There are also approximately 600 drivers on learner permits first issued before 1994, with no records existing as to whether they ever sat a test.
The RSA believes a significant cohort of drivers who secured their first learner permit before 2008 and who still have not got a full licence may not have sat a test.
The RSA said learner drivers who “roll” their permits each year contribute to the relatively high number of drivers who fail to show up for their driving test on the day, which exacerbates demand for driving tests as these test slots go unused.
At the start of this year about 420 drivers a month failed to show up for their driving tests, around 3 per cent of the total tests.
More than a decade ago the Road Safety Strategy (2013-2020) included an action to end the loophole that allows learner drivers to continuously renew their licence without having to sit test.
A target to achieve this by 2014 was missed. The RSA then made a renewed commitment to “make it mandatory to sit a driving test before renewal of learner permit is granted” by 2016, a target which was also not met.
Instead, the new Road Safety Strategy (2021 – 2030) dropped the goal of ending this practice and instead set out a more limited ambition of reducing the incidence of drivers renewing their licence each year without sitting a test.
Neither the RSA nor the Department of Transport provided a reason for this policy change.
The RSA said it was an offence for a learner permit holder to drive unaccompanied and said it was participating in a working group with officials from the Department of Transport to explore options to respond.
Minister of State at the Department of Transport Jack Chambers said he was “committed to reducing the number of people driving on multiple learner permits”.
He said the current Road Safety Strategy 2021-2030 seeks to “eliminate the incidence of unaccompanied learner permit drivers and to reduce the number of learner car drivers who hold a third or subsequent learner permit from 24.6 per cent to a maximum of 10 per cent by 2024.”