MoT for motoring rules

A RADICAL shake-up of motoring legislation will see the introduction of an ‘N’ plate for new drivers and young motorists will be banned from carrying peer group passengers for the first six months.

Environment Minister Alex Attwood today proposed radical changes in driver training and new driver safety. The new measures which reflect best practice around the world, are a fundamental shift towards safer driving among young people.

Significantly, the car insurance industry has pledged to review premiums for young drivers if these changes are enacted.

Alex 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. This is the core argument at the heart of the proposals.”

The Minister’s plans include: lower provisional licence age of 16½; a mandatory minimum learning period of 12 months for provisional licence holders; post test period will be two not one year; removal of the 45 mph speed restriction currently applied to learner and restricted drivers; learner drivers will be allowed to take lessons on motorways when accompanied by a fully qualified Approved Driving Instructor in a dual-controlled car; N plates (for ‘New’ drivers) will replace R plates, displayed for two years; and

compulsory logbooks for learner drivers; and in a new initiative, new drivers up to age 24 will 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.

Alex Attwood also said: “Road deaths have recently fallen to their lowest level since records began. But we can do more. Car drivers under twenty five 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.

“So what can we do? 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. This is not about letting 16½ year olds loose on the motorway. Learner drivers could only go on the motorway if accompanied by a fully qualified approved driving instructor in a dual controlled car. And research around the world has shown that a mandatory period of one year for learner drivers increases road safety. At present, someone could attain their provisional licence on their seventeenth birthday and apply for the driving test on the same day. I propose the minimum age for attaining a full driving licence will be 17½.

“Informed by good evidence, I am also proposing that a new young driver will be excluded from carrying passengers aged 14 to 20, unless family members, except where a qualified driver aged 21 or more with a full licence is in the passenger seat. The reason for this is simple. The risk of death and injury where a young driver carries people of his own generation escalates alarmingly when there are one, two or three passengers.”

The Minister concluded: ”We should move towards a vision of zero road deaths. We need to take radical action and bold measures to achieve this, in turn reducing insurance premiums. I believe that we are leading the way and that others will follow. Reforming driver training is just one of a number of road safety initiatives I am driving forward as part of my strategy to eliminate road deaths. The Executive supports my new drink drive legislation. Working with the Transport Minister in Dublin, we will have mutual recognition of penalty points on the island of Ireland by 2014. At all times my proposals are guided by best practice, adopting the best international evidence and doing our best for young drivers.”

Improving new driver safety should also lead to lower insurance premiums as the cost of claims falls in line with the number of deaths and, particularly, the number of long-lasting serious injuries involving young drivers and passengers.

Otto Thoresen, Director General, The Association of British Insurers in welcoming the Minster’s decisive action 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.

“The crash risk of a young driver carrying three passengers nearly triples compared to if they were driving alone, so reducing the number of passengers in cars driven by young people is critical. And by giving young learners a more controlled driving experience before obtaining a full driving licence, they will learn to drive rather than learning to pass the driving test.

“The insurance industry has been calling for these reforms, and politicians in Westminster should consider following Northern Ireland’s lead in making the changes that are needed to ensure that the young drivers of today become the older drivers of tomorrow”.

Subject to Executive Committee agreement, the Department for the Environment intends to have the legislation ready to introduce to the Assembly before the end of this year.


The main elements of the Department of the Environment’s proposed new driver/rider training, testing and post-test regime are: The age at which young people can start to learn to drive or ride (i.e. obtain a provisional licence) will go down from 17 years of age to 16½. However, learners will have to hold their provisional licence for a minimum of 12 months before they can sit their first practical test;

the combined effect of reducing the provisional licence age by 6 months and the introduction of a minimum learning period of 12 months means that the earliest age at which someone will be able to get a full licence will be 17½.

all learners will have to follow a new, structured, ‘Learning to Drive’ syllabus and before they take their first practical test they will have to produce evidence – in the form of compulsory student logbook signed off by their Approved Driving Instructor (ADI) and/or supervising driver – that they have completed it;

the 45mph speed restriction on learner and restricted drivers and riders will be removed bringing Northern Ireland into line with Britain and Ireland and most other European countries. This will facilitate changes to the driving test to include driving on a wider range of roads at up to the posted speed limits;

learner drivers will be allowed to take lessons on motorways when accompanied by an ADI in a dual-controlled car; young new drivers (up to age 24) will not be allowed to carry young passengers (aged 14 to 20, except immediate family members) during their first 6 months post-test. The restriction will not apply if there is a supervising driver (aged 21 years or older and who has held a full driving licence for 3 years) in the front seat and there will be exemptions for emergency services drivers with appropriate training;

the post-test period will last 2 years. The new drive drink legislation will include a 2 year period during which new drivers must adhere to a new, much lower, limit of 20mg/100ml Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit and the ‘New Drivers Order’* already provides for a driver’s licence to be revoked if they receive six or more penalty points during their first two years post-test; the Department will develop remedial courses for ‘New Drivers Order’ offenders in place of licence revocation; and the R plate will be replaced by an N (for ‘New’ driver/rider) plate. It is being replaced to reinforce that the new regime for drivers and riders is not just about restriction but is about reducing risk through better preparation, on-going learning and gaining experience.

Road Traffic (New Drivers) (Northern Ireland) Order 1998

To implement these changes the Department will need to make primary legislation. With Executive approval, it intends to include the necessary provisions in a Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill planned for introduction to the Assembly later this year.

The Department of the Environment is already taking forward plans to legislate to set the drink drive limit for newly qualified drivers (for two year post-test) at 20mg/100mls in place of the current limit for all drivers of 80 mg/100mls and plans to consult on this shortly. The Department will also be taking measures to improve new driver safety that won’t need legislation. It will do this by developing awareness campaigns, improving driver training and/or the use of technology to: influence new drivers about the vehicles they choose to drive including opting for vehicles with the highest safety ratings; encourage provisional licence holders to follow a structured programme of learning combining professional driving lessons and private practice; improve the awareness and effectiveness of the New Drivers Order probationary period; and highlight the risks associated with new drivers driving at night and carrying peer group passengers.