Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Learner driver changes considered

Northern Ireland's Environment Minister Alex Attwood has said learner drivers could be allowed to drive on motorways before taking their test

Learner drivers could be allowed to drive at 70mph under radical changes to testing in Northern Ireland, the country's Environment Minister has said.

Alex Attwood said he was also considering lowering the current age limit of 17 at which young people could get behind the wheel.

The SDLP minister said it was important that learner drivers got used to driving on motorways before they were allowed to take their test.

He told the Assembly that current laws banning L-drivers from motorways did not seem to be "very sensible".

"I believe we have an opportunity to have the most radical re-configuration of driving testing in a way that can potentially work its way through to reducing insurance costs for everybody, but particularly new drivers, and improve road safety and improve driver capacity," he said.

"I am inclined to go the road of allowing L and Restricted drivers to drive at a speed of 70mph rather than 45 mph. I am inclined to agree that learner drivers should be able to go on the motorway in a dual controlled vehicle with a qualified driver instructor in order to learn how to drive on the motorways."

The minister added: "I am looking at more radical changes including the potential to allow people to get a licence earlier than 17 but not be allowed to take a test for a period after (provisional) licence, potentially up to a year.

"In all of those ways I think we can create opportunities for young drivers to drive, to have a better training regime in preparation for qualification and in a way that can work its way through to reduce insurance costs."

The minister said he hoped to table legislation in the Assembly by autumn on his plans to reduce the permitted blood alcohol limit for drivers in Northern Ireland from 80mg/100ml to the 50mg/100ml threshold that is currently in operation in the Republic of Ireland.

Mr Attwood said he would also be monitoring trials in England on roadside saliva tests to identify drivers under the influence of drugs.

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