It is “absolutely ridiculous” that some 30,000 drivers have been driving on Irish roads for years without passing their driving test, Conor Faughnan has said.
New Road Safety Authority (RSA) figures released to The Irish Times show that some people have applied for three or more learner driver permits, having either failed their test or simply not sat one.
Anyone applying for their third learner permit must show proof of having failed a driving test or that they have one booked in the future.
“It’s a ridiculous number,” Mr Faughnan told Newstalk Breakfast.
“In a sense, it’s unfinished business; it’s been identified as a problem for a long time but really not much has been done to address it.
“The situation is, if you are a driver who is determined not to do the driving test, you can get away with it.
“Once you’ve applied for a test, you can renew your learner permit and then not bother doing the test.”
According to the figures, there are around 600 people driving on Irish roads on learner permits first issued before 1994 – and there are no records showing whether they have ever sat a test.
There have long been calls for stricter rules around renewing learner permits; however, reform has stalled amid a huge backlog in people who want to sit their test.
Mr Faughnan said it is “very difficult” for the State to tell people they can’t drive while awaiting their test when there is such a large backlog in the testing service.
People who have been driving with learner permits for decades are perfectly entitled to use the roads - but they have to abide by the same restrictions as someone who has received their learner permit this week.
“They are legal - provided they are accompanied [by someone with a valid driver’s licence],” Mr Faughnan said.
“An unaccompanied learner can face a penalty point sanction and the Gardaí are starting to catch and detect that.
“They also only have half the number of penalty points available to them, compared to a fully licensed driver.
“But they are insured - they are road legal in that sense.
“It’s a little too easy to get away with it - it’s an old loophole with an increasingly small number of people in it.”
So far this year, 136 people have died on Ireland’s road - compared to 113 in the same period in 2022.
“In terms of the road safety crisis, it’s probably not the most serious problem that we have - hence it has been to some degree neglected,” he said.
“But it undermines the reputation of everything we’re trying to achieve, if you write down a rule and then it’s so easy to evade it.”
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Main image: A learner driver adding 'L' plates to his parents car. Picture by: True Images / Alamy Stock Photo