The Irish Times view on enforcing rules for learner drivers: a system without much credibility

If the sanctions imposed by the courts are not significant enough to act as a deterrent and they are not enforced, then the process is flawed

The revelation that only one in 20 learner drivers told to hand back their licence after committing a road traffic offence did so is yet another example of the inexplicably lax approach taken to enforcing the law in this area.

The release of the figure – by junior transport minster Jack Chambers in response to a Dáil question from TD Catherine Murphy TD – comes on the heels of the Road Safety Authority’s recent highlighting of the extent to which learner drivers are booking, but not sitting, driving tests in order to renew their licences. In 2023 there were 6,441 no-shows at tests.

There is also a serious problem of learner drivers flouting the law that they must be accompanied by a qualified driver. Roughly 180 people are caught doing so every week but the consequences are relatively minor – a fine of €160 and two penalty points.

The above speaks to a sense of impunity amongst some learner drivers. The consequences for road safety and public confidence are obvious.

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The problem cannot be laid at the feet of the Garda – though of course they have an important job, albeit with resources on which there are a lot of other demands. But if the sanctions imposed by the courts are not significant enough to act as a deterrent and – as this week’s revelation about handling licences back indicate – they are not enforced, then the process is flawed.

Clamping down on learner drivers who break the law would doubtlessly be a politically unpopular measure, particularly given the long waiting lists for tests; the national average waiting time is 20 weeks. It would not be welcomed by rural politicians given the limited public transport services available outside of the main urban areas.

But when one in 20 learner drivers who flout the law feel they can at least partially ignore the consequences then the situation is close to being out of control. And the statistics make clear that far too many younger drivers continue to lose their lives on the road.