Radical plans to shake up the training and test system for new drivers could lead to a drop in Northern Ireland’s sky high car insurance premiums — particularly for young people.
As the Belfast Telegraph revealed earlier this month, it will mean that while teenagers can get provisional licences six months earlier than at present, they will have to wait until they are aged 17-and-a-half for full licences.
Insurance industry chiefs yesterday welcomed the proposals by Environment Minister Alex Attwood (below), although a leading road safety organisation expressed concerns about 16-year-olds driving.
“I know that the proposals will challenge our thinking, but we need to challenge our thinking,” said Mr Attwood.
But it could be several years before the current premiums for teenage drivers go down, since legislation to underpin the new system is unlikely to come into force until next year.
Under the plans, newly qualified drivers would display N-plates for two years. Currently, R-plates are displayed for one year.
Up until the age of 24, new drivers would not be allowed to carry passengers aged 14 to 24 — apart from immediate family members — in the first six months.
And learners would be permitted to take lessons on motorways when accompanied by an instructor, meaning the present 45mph speed restriction would be axed.
Otto Thoresen, director general of the Association of British Insurers, said: “The insurance industry has been calling for these reforms, and politicians in Westminster should consider following Northern Ireland’s lead.
“These measures should benefit young drivers on the road and in their pocket. By helping to make them safer drivers and reducing their crash risk, they will benefit from lower motor insurance premiums,” he said.
Mr Attwood said his proposals represented “the most radical change in the driver training regime for a generation”.
Mr Attwood said road deaths have recently fallen to their lowest level since records began. “But we can do more. Car drivers under 25 are responsible for 44% of road fatalities but hold only 11% of full car licences. To turn this problem around we need fundamentally to change how we help new drivers become safe drivers for life,” he said.
Independent road safety charity Brake welcomed the year-long learning period and ban on carrying young passengers — but voiced disappointment over the lower minimum age for holding a provisional licence to 16.
The youth-centred road safety campaign Driving Change was also positive. Project manager Ian McQuitty said: “The driving test needs to more closely reflect the realities of today’s driving conditions and these proposals go some way to addressing that.”
How the new system would work
Six key proposals in the far-reaching revamp of the driver training regime in Northern Ireland
Young people can get a provisional licence six months earlier — age 16½
Learner will have to hold their provisional licence for a minimum of 12 months before they can sit their first practical test, so will be unable to get a full licence until aged 17½. At present teenagers get their provisional licence at 17 and can take their tests a day later. The new proposals envisage a lead-in time.
All learners will have to follow a new, structured, ‘Learning To Drive’ syllabus
Before taking their first practical, drivers will have to produce evidence — in the form of compulsory student logbook signed off by their Approved Driving Instructor (ADI) and/or supervising driver — that they have actually completed it.
The 45mph speed restriction on learner and restricted drivers and riders will be removed
This brings Northern Ireland into line with Britain and Ireland and most other European countries and will mean learner drivers will be allowed to take lessons on motorways when accompanied by a driver instructor in a dual-controlled car.
Young new drivers (up to age 24) will not be allowed to carry young passengers (aged 14 to 20, except immediate family members) during their first six months post-test
The R-plate currently displayed by newly-qualified drivers restricted to 45mph will be replaced by an N-plate (for new drivers), which must be displayed for two years
Mr Attwood said R-plates are being replaced to reinforce that the new regime for drivers and riders is not just about restriction, but about reducing risk through better preparation, on-going learning and gaining experience.
Mr Attwood also said he is working with the Irish government on plans which would mean “mutual recognition of penalty points on the island of Ireland by 2014”