High insurance costs blamed for drop in young drivers

The number of young people applying for learner permits continues to fall

The number of young people holding a driver’s learner permit or full driving licence has dropped significantly in the past decade.

The number of young people holding a driver’s learner permit or full driving licence has dropped significantly in the past decade.


The number of young people holding a driver’s learner permit or full driving licence has dropped significantly in the past decade, with student bodies blaming high insurance costs for pricing young people out of the market.

Data from the Department of Transport shows the number of 17- to 20-year-olds applying for a learner’s permit has continued to fall over the past 10 years with just a small increase in applications between 2014-2016.

Student Union groups say this drop reflects the rising price of car insurance, which they say is inaccessible to students in university who already face the burden of accommodation and living costs away from home.

The drop may also reflect the growing number of young people who choose to spend their money on trips abroad and socialising while relying on public transport to get around rather than investing in a vehicle.

More men

In 2006, 90,413 young people aged 17-20 held a learner’s permit, while a decade later this number had dropped by more than a third to 57,821 permit holders.

There were 40,899 first-time applications for a learner’s permit in 2006, while in 2016 there were 31,731 first-time applications.

The number of young people aged 17-20 with full licences peaked at more than 52,000 in 2008, before steadily dropping to 32,143 in 2014. This number has since begun to rise, with 35,173 full licence holders aged 17-20 in 2016.

In contrast, the number of first-time owners of full licences has fluctuated over the past 10 years, peaking at 27,698 in 2008 before falling to 14,165 last year.

The number of male applicants for permits and licences has remained higher than female applications over the past decade, with nearly double the number of young men holding licences than young women between 2014-2016.

Enjoy driving

These numbers reflect similar statistics from the UK which show 33 per cent of young people aged 18-25 have a driving licence today, compared to 54 per cent in 1990.

The UK-based research, carried out by car leasing company Cars on Demand, found that only 11 per cent of 18- to 25-year-olds consider car ownership important, with 41 per cent saying they did not enjoy driving.

Some 36 per cent of the 2,000 respondents were more interested in ordering an Uber than driving their own car, 16 per cent were more focused on owning the latest phone or laptop, while 24 per cent ranked “making it” on social media as the ultimate status symbol.

A spokeswoman for the Society of the Irish Motor Industry said changes in the theory test and procedures for obtaining a provisional licence, along with adjustments in waiting times, could all have played a role in the falling number of Irish licence applications over the past decade.

However, Dillon Grace, president of the student’s union at Maynooth University, blames “prohibitive levels” of Irish car insurance for “pricing young people out of the market”.

“Costs of higher level education are already escalating, including accommodation. Students are left with very little money to pay the thousands of euro needed to tax and insure a car, particularly those who come from areas without good public transport facilities.”

A request for a quote from Axa Insurance found that insurance for an 18-year-old driver with a learner permit in Galway would cost €3,231.

This rises to €3,447 for an 18-year-old in Dublin, and to €4,009 for a similar driver in Longford.

Subject to the completion of the 12 driving lessons through the Irish School of Motoring, a further saving of up to €400 could be achieved on these premiums, Axa said.

Greater risk

Axa defended its pricing structure, underlining how younger drivers were at greater risk of road accidents and recommending they start off on their parents’ policy to lower the price.

University College Cork student union president Eolann Sheehan says the high cost of the 12 mandatory driving lessons required before taking your driving test also puts off younger drivers.

With driving schools charging between €30-€40 per lesson, many young people choose to learn with poor quality driving instructors to save cash.

He disagrees with the findings that young people are more interested in spending money on tech gadgets and travel than on transport needs.

“Students’ priorities are pure economics. Fees are number one on everyone’s list and then the priority is accommodation.

“When you go to university in the UK you go for 12-15 weeks straight but a lot of students in Ireland drive home at the weekend. It’s part of the Irish culture to go home on a Sunday and get the family dinner into you.”