Cost of getting a licence is keeping young off the road
It costs young people in Northern Ireland on average £1,000 to obtain a driving licence, prompting fears they are being driven off the road.
The revelation comes after it emerged that the number of learner car drivers applying to take a practical test has fallen by 31% in five years.
New statistics published by the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) also showed that the figure is down by more than 11% in just one year.
DVA said 46,745 learner car drivers applied to take their practical driving test in 2012-13, while 49,968 theory tests were conducted, 6.9% fewer than in the previous year.
Despite the decline in numbers there has been an increase of almost 10% (to 56%) in the pass rate for private car learner drivers.
DVA group director of testing and standards, Pat Delaney, said a sustained fall in driving test applications was linked to how expensive getting a licence and then running a car has become.
"Most of those who present themselves for driving tests are younger drivers and the principal factor for the drop in numbers is cost," he said.
"There's the ever-rising cost of insurance and the cost of keeping and maintaining a car, as well as pressures associated with the general downturn in the economy." The driving test comes in two parts – a theory test, which costs £30, followed by a practical test, priced at £45.50.
Alternatively, DVA also offers a £62.50 weekday evening and weekend practical driving test for anyone who wishes to avail of it.
Mr Delaney said a number of approved driving instructors are currently offering deals to ease the financial burden for would-be learner drivers.
"Not everybody uses an approved instructor to learn to drive; parents, other family members and friends can often help reduce costs."
Not passing any part of the driving test means more tests and greater expense.
"I've heard of one case from our UK colleagues in the Driver Standards Agency where they had one person who actually did the theory test close to 100 times," added Mr Delaney.
Driving instructor and manager of Acclaim Driving Academy, Elaine Cummings, said it's not the high cost of learning to drive that's putting people off, it's the fact that less money is available because of the economic downturn. "People will take on average 35-40 lessons to reach the standard required by the DVA for the driving test," she said.
Acclaim Driving Academy, which has instructors across Northern Ireland, has seen a decline in young learner drivers.
"You're probably talking on average £1,000 to learn to drive – that could include your driving lessons, your theory test, theory study material, applying for your driving test and paying for car hire on the day," she said.
Roland Kerr, managing director of Kerr Group Insurance, uses black boxes recorders to help young drivers keep down costs.
"The only way forward is to find some way of reducing how expensive driving is for young people; using black box technology is one way of keeping down car insurance costs," he said.
£1,000 – average cost of learning to drive
35-40 – the average number of driving lessons it takes to prepare for a driving test
£30 – the cost of theory driving test
£45.50 – the price of a practical driving test
46,745 – the number of people who applied to take a practical test in 2012-13.
£25 – the cost of a one-hour driving lesson