Belfast Telegraph

Motorway driving lessons considered

Learner drivers will be able to take to the roads at a younger age and can be taught on motorways under proposals formally tabled by Environment Minister Alex Attwood.

The 45mph speed limit would be scrapped, while the 17 age limit at which young people can get behind the wheel will be dropped to 16-and-a-half years.

The commonly seen R plate would also disappear under Mr Attwood's plan, to be replaced by an N plate, denoting "new driver", that would be displayed for two years.

Mr Attwood's reforms will require primary legislation and, pending approval by the Stormont Executive, could be introduced at the Assembly later this year.

The minister first outlined his proposals earlier this month but now hopes the final package he has tabled will transform how drivers learn safety skills, thereby cutting road accidents and eventually reducing insurance premiums.

Mr Attwood said: "These proposals would create the most radical change in the driver training regime for a generation. I know that the proposals will challenge our thinking. But the objective of better road safety with the ambition of zero road deaths on one hand and reduced driver premiums on the other makes a bold and informed approach the right approach."

Under the plans, new drivers up to age 24 will also not be allowed to carry young passengers (aged 14 to 20, except immediate family members) during their first six months post-test, unless there is a supervising driver over 21 with three years' full licence in the passenger seat.

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.

"We can help make young people better fit to drive on motorways when they have a driving licence rather than facing the daunting task of driving on one after they receive their licence."

Otto Thoresen, director general of the Association of British Insurers, said: "This is good news for all young drivers and their parents in Northern Ireland. Minister Alex Attwood is to be congratulated for proposing long overdue reform to Northern Ireland's driver training system."

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