More than 1,800 vehicles have been seized from unaccompanied learner drivers since a law came into force late last year, with new figures showing sharp differences in the number of vehicles impounded in the State’s Garda divisions.
It is an offence for a learner permit holder to drive unless they are accompanied by a fully licenced driver, and the Clancy Amendment, which became law on December 22nd last, aimed to clamp down on the practice.
The amendment allows a vehicle driven by an unaccompanied driver to be seized and also introduced penalties for car owners who knowingly permit their vehicles to be taken by an unaccompanied learner driver.
As of September 11th, 1,836 vehicles had been seized from unaccompanied learner drivers. The largest number – 284 – was seized in the Dublin Metropolitan West division, followed by the Dublin Metropolitan Southern division with 201.
The lowest number was in the Sligo/Leitrim division, where 12 vehicles were seized, followed by the Clare division with 14.
The Limerick division had 111 seizures from unaccompanied learner drivers, while there were 27 in the Galway division. The total for the Cavan-Monaghan division was 96. The Kildare division saw 138 vehicles seized while the Meath division reported 28 seizures.
Susan Gray, founder of the Parc road safety group, said the divergence in seizure rates between Garda divisions "appears to show real differences in approaches to this issue around the country".
“We are concerned about the apparent low rate of enforcement in some rural counties and we will be seeking updates on enforcement levels in the coming months in the hope that the disparity is greatly reduced,” she said.
No legal requirement
Part of the reason for the high rate of learners driving unaccompanied is that there is currently no legal requirement for a driver on a provisional licence to take a test. The Clancy Amendment was seen as a means of ending the long-term reliance on learner driver permits. A driver can renew their permit once they book a test but there is no requirement for them to sit the test.
The Road Safety Authority (RSA) has said that 125,860 learner permits issued between 1984 and 2016 remain active, meaning they are being renewed every year. Some 41,316 people are on their fourth or subsequent learner permit and 8,663 are on their 10th or successive learner permit.
The penalties for learner drivers who are caught driving unaccompanied include a fine of €80, very often a further €60 fine for driving without L-plates and two penalty points, rising to four on court conviction. A charge of €125 is also imposed to retrieve the car from the Garda pound.
In addition, motorists who allow their vehicles to be used by unaccompanied learner drivers face €2,000 fines, could be jailed for up to six months and can have their car seized.
Minister for Transport Shane Ross earlier this year said the practice of "rolling over" a licence for years and booking but not sitting a driving test was a significant problem and he accused those doing so of "gaming the system".
A spokeswoman for the Minister said that proposals submitted to Mr Ross by the RSA at the start of the year on the issue are still being considered. These include increasing the cost of a learner permit, reducing the length of a learner permit renewed without a driving test from 12 months to six months, or obliging a driver to secure driving lessons before they can renew their learner permit.