Belfast Telegraph

Young Northern Ireland drivers may be allowed only one passenger at night and have to show R plates for 2 years

By Gareth Cross

Drivers in Northern Ireland under the age of 24 could be limited to one passenger at night under new proposals from the Department of Infrastructure.

Young drivers will be limited to one passenger between the hours of 11pm and 6am for the first six months after they pass their test in an attempt to reduce the number of accidents involving drivers in that age group.

The proposal is part of Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) which will establish a revised training and testing regime for car drivers and motorcyclists.

The Road Traffic (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 provides the powers to introduce the package of measures to bring forward GDL in Northern Ireland.

However it is understood the introduction of any legislation could be impacted by the lack of a Minister at Stormont.

Other proposals being considered include a six month mandatory learning period for car and light van drivers, removal of the 45mph restriction so lessons can take place on the motorway and the extension of driving restrictions for 24 months instead of the current 12 after passing the test.

This will include a requirement to display a distinguishing mark (plate) on the vehicle for two years after receiving a full licence.

Under the proposals drivers under the age of 24 will be restricted from carrying more than one passenger who is aged 14 to 20 for the first six months post-test. This restriction will only apply between the hours of 11pm and 6am.

This restriction will not apply if a supervising driver, a driver aged 21 years or over and holding a full driving licence for three or more years, is seated in the front passenger seat of the vehicle.

Exemptions are in place for immediate family members, which includes: spouse or civil partner, brother/sister, half-brother/sister, or a child of the family.

Exemptions also exist for the carriage of a passenger for whom the driver is entitled to claim a carer’s allowance and vehicles being used for emergency services, or in the training for such use.

At the launch of the consultation which ran from November last year to January Peter May, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Infrastructure outlined the reasons for the proposed changes.

"I am troubled by the unacceptably high number of new, particularly young, drivers/riders involved in collisions on our roads each year. I aim to do all that is within my power to reduce the number of people affected by encouraging safer driving," he said.

"Each year tragedy hits families in our communities as men, women and children are killed or seriously injured on our roads. Statistics shows that over 95% of road deaths are due to human error. That means the majority are preventable.

"The main causes of death and serious injury on our roads are consistently shown to be inattention or attention diverted, speeding, drink or drug driving/riding. Statistics also show that failure to wear a seatbelt increases the likelihood of being killed in a collision.

"If we are to address this issue, it is clear that we must improve how we train and test drivers/riders to ensure that they are competent and safe when they start to drive unaccompanied.

"This consultation looks at some of the elements required to bring forward a new learning, testing and post-test regime in Northern Ireland for new drivers/riders."

A Department for Infrastructure spokesman said: “The statutory framework for GDL is contained in the Road Traffic (Amendment) Act 2016 and as such has already received Ministerial and Assembly approval. 

“It is anticipated that GDL will become operational in 2019/20.

“To meet this date the Department must progress a significant package of subordinate legislation to ensure that the detailed requirements for GDL are provided for.

“There will be an information campaign designed to inform prospective learners, their families and the training industry of the changes and give everyone a substantial period to prepare for the change to GDL.  There will also be a six month transitional period from the launch of GDL."

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