Learner-driver permit loophole must be closed, says Fianna Fáil

More than 125,000 learner-driver permit holders have never sat their driving test

Minister for Transport Shane Ross:  asked to clarify how long he has known 125,860 learner-driver permit holders who obtained their first licence between 1984 and 2016 have never taken a driving test.  Photograph: Laura Hutton

Minister for Transport Shane Ross: asked to clarify how long he has known 125,860 learner-driver permit holders who obtained their first licence between 1984 and 2016 have never taken a driving test. Photograph: Laura Hutton

 

The Government must urgently address a loophole which allows more than 120,000 learner drivers continue driving for years without taking a driving test, Fianna Fáil has said.

The party’s transport spokesman Robert Troy said the huge number of people who have renewed their learner permit without ever having taken the test is worrying.

“There are a number of issues at play here and the Minister needs to address them urgently,” he said.

“It’s also concerning that the Road Safety Authority (RSA) has been aware of this for many years,” he added.

He said the Minister for Transport Shane Ross must clarify how long he has know of this issue.

The Irish Times revealed on Tuesday that 125,860 learner-driving permit holders who obtained their first licence between 1984 and 2016 have never taken a driving test.

The figures were released by the RSA following a Freedom of Information request from The Irish Times.

The RSA said the 125,860 learner permits remain active, meaning they are being renewed every year.

No proof needed

Under the current rules, a driver can renew their learner permit once they have booked a driving test. 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.

The issue also partly explains the proportion of drivers who 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.

Moyagh Murdock, chief executive of the RSA, said on Tuesday that the figures were quite stark. “We weren’t aware that there was that many still driving around without having made some attempt at passing the test,” she said.

“I think the frustrating bit is that people don’t even show up for a test, that they just book it, get their learner permit reviewed and then forget all about it.

“That is frustrating when we have a lot of people who genuinely want to pass the test who are waiting on a test appointment for quite some time,” she told RTÉ.

The authority said the recent Clancy Amendment – which introduced penalties for learners who drive unaccompanied – has led to a 30 per cent increase in driving test bookings. It believes the legal change will see the number of long-term learner permit holders gradually fall.

She said the RSA has submitted suggestions to the Department of Transport such as shortening the length of time for a repeat learner permit from 12 months to six months, especially for those on their fourth, fifth or sixth permit and also to increase the cost of a learner permit from €35 to €50.

‘Gaming the system’

The RSA said while longer waits for a driving test were an issue for some drivers between 2016 and last year, the average waiting time nationally now stands at 8.4 weeks, following the hiring of additional testers.

Mr Ross said the practice of “rolling over” a licence for many years and booking but not sitting a driving test is a significant problem and not sustainable. He accused those doing so of “gaming the system”.

Conor Faughnan, AA Ireland director of consumer affairs, said the Clancy Amendment should help encourage drivers on a learner permit for a number of years to sit the test.

“I suspect it’s a problem that will over time gradually solve itself but nevertheless there’s no denying it looks somewhat scruffy at the moment,” he said.

“I know the Minister said they were ‘gaming the system’. I think to put it more accurately individuals have simply not bothered going through a driving test because they’ve never truly felt that they’ve needed to.”

Insurance Ireland said all insurance companies make individual underwriting decisions based on “risk appetite and underwriting criteria”.

“It is likely that the premium quoted will be significantly higher if you are driving on a learner permit rather than a full licence,” a spokesman said.