The new learner driver regulations announced this month by Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe have been given a mixed reaction by local driving instructors.
Learners must also display an L plate, and novice drivers must display an N plate. Two points will be due on payment of a fixed charge or four on conviction in court.
However, there have been calls for the Gardai to use their discretion in rural areas where having access to a car may be a neccessity in the absence of public transport or parents having the free time to accompany their children at all times.
David Gleeson of Gleeson’s Driving School, Stradavoher, Thurles, told the Tipperary Star that living in rural Ireland was different to living in a city.
“There is a social aspect to it and there are also the kids who have Saturday jobs and need the car to get to them,” said David, who has 26 years experience as a driving instructor in Tipperary and the UK.
He believes there should have been more publicity before the changes were made and that the change was “sprung on people at the last minute. These drivers are getting a bit of a bad deal.”
However, his main concern was with the size of the new N plate, which, he said, was larger than the L plate and restricted driver vision.
“If you have two young drivers you may have one who is a learner and one who is a novice. That means they have to display both signs on the car and where they are two on the windows they will restrict driver vision,” he said.
“The size of the N plate is ridiculously large. In fact, there should be no need for them to display a sign because they have already passed their test,” said David
“This is not going to be easy for the Gardai and I hope they use their discretion,” he said.
However, Ray Dowd of Thurles Driving School, Willowmere Drive, pointed out that the general law on unaccompanied driving was 40 years old but had just not been that rigorously enforced.
“In my experience there are a lot of people who have done the 12 lessons but I would not be happy to see them in a car on their own,” he said. “In some parts of Europe you must have 30 lessons.”
Mr Dowd said that the RSA was just “trying their best not get kids killed on the roads. The RSA have to be seen to be doing something about this, but the Gardai are too busy.”
He said it might be a better option to restrict the size of car that learner and novice drivers could drive.
“To see young kids behind the wheel of a BMW can be a bit frightening,” said Ray.
Ray, who operates out of Thurles, Templemore and Borrisoleigh, would also like to see more emphasis on training and perhaps see new drivers having to take refresher lessons before they get their full licence and in their first couple of years on the road.
In relation to the size and number of plates that may be required on a car, he said there was always the option of getting magnetic plates and placing them on the bonnet or boot.
The rules have also been criticised by Deputy Mattie McGrath who said he had asked the Minister what, if any, analysis had been carried out by his Department in terms of the social impact of this legislation.
“This is not a matter of one law for the city and another law for the town or the village. It is about being pragmatic enough to realise that the availability of public transport differs significantly between rural and urban settings. The family car or the first car for a person living in rural Ireland is of enormous social value in terms of preventing isolation and encouraging employment in nearby urban centres,” he said.