Action to close loophole allowing learners drive for years without sitting test shelved

No policy changes expected in the short-term because of the suspension of driver testing due to the pandemic

The Road Safety Authority has long been aware that some learner drivers were “rolling” their learner permit

The Road Safety Authority has long been aware that some learner drivers were “rolling” their learner permit

 

Action to deal with a loophole that allows learner permit holders to drive for many years without having to pass – or even sit – a test has been shelved by the Department of Transport.

In response to queries from The Irish Times, a spokeswoman for the department said the impact of the pandemic and the long caretaker government meant it had not been possible to make policy changes.

She said proposals put forward last year by the Road Safety Authority (RSA) to deal with the issue, where learner drivers can renew their licence continuously without the requirement to sit a test, needed to be re-examined.

However, no policy changes are expected in the short-term because the suspension of driver testing due to the pandemic has created a significant backlog of people seeking a driving test.

The Road Safety Authority says more than 43,000 people are waiting for a test and those on a learner permit may have to wait until April 2021 for a test date due to the level of demand.

“Therefore it would be prudent to delay any changes to regulations to make it mandatory for long-term permit holders to sit a test until the driving test service has stabilised,” the spokeswoman said.

Among the RSA’s suggestions to create a disincentive for people to remain on a learner permit long-term were that for a “fifth or subsequent permit, an increase in the cost of the permit; a decrease in the duration of a permit; a requirement to take mandatory lessons with an approved driving instructor and a requirement to take a driving test before another permit can be issued”, she added.

Currently a driver can renew their learner permit once they have booked a driving test. However, they do not need to provide proof of having sat the test, and there is no legal requirement for a learner driver to take one in order to renew their permit.

This loophole partly explains why some drivers fail to show up for their test, with an RSA spokesman saying about 10 per cent of applicants, up to 500 a week, fail to attend.

Once a learner permit holder, even one who has never sat a test, is accompanied by a fully licensed driver they are not breaking the law.

Rolling over

The issue was highlighted again earlier this year when it emerged that when former minister for agricultural Barry Cowen was detected drink driving in 2016, he was driving on a learner permit.

The former minister for transport Shane Ross said “rolling over” a learner permit for many years and in some cases decades, was an abuse of the system that had to end.

According to the RSA, as of March this year there were more than 35,500 people driving on their fourth or subsequent learner’s permit.

The RSA has said the so-called Clancy Amendment, introduced in 2018 and which makes it illegal for learner drivers to drive unaccompanied, provides a strong incentive for those driving on a learner permit for a long time to secure a full licence.

The RSA has long been aware that some learner drivers were “rolling” their learner permit. In the current Road Safety Strategy (2013-2020) there was a requirement to deal with the issue by 2014.

A mid-term review of the strategy, published at the end of 2016, said the solution was to “make it mandatory to sit a driving test before renewal of learner permit is granted”.