Environment Minister Alex Attwood has announced radical changes to the regulations that govern learner drivers in Northern Ireland. Laws will be introduced by the end of this year to allow young motorists to get a provisional licence at the lower age of 16-and-a-half. The changes will also get rid of the 45mph restriction on them, as well as newly-qualified motorists.
The insurance industry has welcomed the move, claiming premiums will be lowered and drivers will become safer as a result. However, Brake, the road safety charity, has opposed lowering the qualified age for a provisional licence. The new rules would allow learner drivers to take lessons on motorways when there’s a fully qualified driving instructor in a dual-controlled vehicle.
On top of this, those holding a provisional licence will have to undergo a 12-month learning period. New motorists up to the age of 24 won’t be permitted to carry young passengers – for the exception of immediate family – for six months after they pass the driving test. The current R plate displayed by newly-qualified motorists who are restricted to 45mph will be replaced with a N-plate that has to be displayed for two years.
Attwood says he’s also working with the Irish transport minister to introduce plans that will mean the mutual recognition of penalty points on the island of Ireland in the next two years. The proposals will create the most radical change for rules governing learner drivers for a generation and will challenge how the public thinks. However, they are aiming to improve road safety with the goal of zero road deaths on one hand and lower driver insurance premiums on the other, making for an informed and bold approach. The risk of injury and death in the case of a young motorist carrying people of his own generation alarmingly increases when there are one, two or three passengers, he added.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI), when the new legislation is adopted, has vowed to review insurance premiums. Director general Otto Thoresen has welcomed the new measures and says Westminster should follow the example of the Northern Ireland Assembly. These measures should benefit young motorists on the road and financially by helping them be more safe and reducing the risk of them having a crash. This will lower motor insurance premiums. The insurance industry has called for these reforms, and Westminster politicians should consider following the lead in making needed changes to ensure the young motorists of today become the older motorists of tomorrow, he added.
However, Brake’s Gerry Lee says the age at which young motorists can apply for provisional licences shouldn’t be lowered. Unfortunately, it’s clear that the risk of a crash increases the younger the driver is. Many of the proposals from Attwood are very useful, but he’s got it wrong about this this. There’s a deadly combination here – a young motorists overestimating his ability to avoid hazards and his inexperience. In their view, this will lead to a widely disproportionate risk of road accidents, he added, and it’s sad that many of them will be fatal.
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