A road safety organisation has hit out at the Environment Minister’s radical proposal to lower the driving age to 16.
But Alex Attwood has said that although a licence could be obtained earlier than 17, learners would not be allowed to take their test for up to a year afterwards.
The minister also told the Belfast Telegraph he was considering extending the restricted period for newly qualified drivers to two years instead of one.
Ellen Booth, senior campaign officer at BRAKE, said that allowing people to have a licence before the age of 17 would be “counter-productive in terms of road safety”.
“We wouldn’t support the age at which drivers are able to learn to drive being lowered,” she said.
“Young driver crashes result from a combination of age and inexperience and at 16 you would be more likely to take risks than at 17.”
The SDLP minister stressed his goals were to improve road safety and driver capacity.
“The proposal is that a provisional licence might be granted at 16-and-a-half and that the person would then have to wait for up to a year before they could do their full test,” Mr Attwood said.
“At the moment you can get your provisional licence at 17 and when you’re 17-and-one-day you can pass your test. Under the new proposal there will be a lead-in time from when you get your provisional licence to when you can sit your test.
“Evidence suggests that if you have a longer period of when you get your provisional licence to when you’re allowed to sit your test, then there’s more likelihood that you’re going to have a broader driving experience and therefore be a better driver on the far side of qualification.”
Mr Attwood also 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 didn’t seem “sensible”, adding that he was inclined to allow learners and restricted drivers to drive at a speed limit of 70mph rather than 45mph.
The minister also 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 currently in operation in the south.
You can take your driving theory test once your provisional licence becomes valid. Normally, for car drivers, the earliest date your provisional licence can become valid is your 17th birthday.
However, you can apply for the licence up to three months before your 17th birthday. So, if you apply for your provisional licence before you are 17 years of age, you will still have to wait until your 17th birthday before you can book your driving test.