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Ireland's 'provisional' drivers in shock

By: staff

Date: Monday, 10. December 2007

By most standards, Ireland's system for new drivers has been a bit peculiar. New drivers entering the system got a provisional license, which allowed them to drive with an accompanying licensed driver. If they took a road test and failed it, they could apply for, and get, a second provisional license, and on this, they could drive unaccompanied!

More interesting yet, a provisional driver didn't need to actually take a test and fail it to get a new provisional. A driver who missed a scheduled test could even use the appointment letter to renew. Apparently, many drivers repeated this process a number of times.

Recently, the Irish public were shocked to when it was revealed that as many as 29,000 drivers were on the roads with their 3rd or 4th provisional license, presumably having failed several tests.

Naturally, after a decade or two of this, 'provisional' driving became embedded in lifestyles. In a thriving economy, young drivers matured, got jobs, commuted, raised families, bought houses in the 'burbs (or beyond), and built auto-mobility into their lives based on provisional driver licenses.

Suddenly, all that was to change as of Monday, Oct 29, 2007. Now drivers on a second, or succeeding, provisional license would need a fully licensed driver beside them. Some 420,000 drivers were potentially affected. About 20% of all Irish drivers are driving on provisional licenses, according to Conor Faughnan of AA Roadwatch.

The shock waves caused an outcry, with the specter of thousands thrown out of work, businesses wrecked, families thrown into hardship.

The government was forced to back off on implementation, with a new deadline set for June 30th, 2008. Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey promised to hire new personnel to get rid of the huge backlog of test appointments.

Gay Byrne, chairman of Ireland's Road Safety Authority, parried accusations that there wasn't enough warning and that the change in rules had been ill thought out and placed an unreasonable burden on police to "exercise discretion."

Byrne, a former popular late-night TV talkshow host, and a major proponent of the new rules, argued that Irish police (Gardai) had been given lots of warning. However, the rules put the Gardai in an awkward position and, in essence, placed on their shoulders the burden of negotiating the licensing system through the havoc that would ensue if the new rules were strictly enforced, and if drivers actually obeyed them.

Minister Dempsey was forced to clarify that the new rules would not be automatically enforced and that gardai would use "discretion and common sense, as opposed to automatic prosecution" while provisional drivers struggled to deal with their new status and the road test backlog.

Irish driving standards

>Roads in Ireland are often spectacular, and also very often challenging to drive on. Speeds tend to be high (although there's recently been a clampdown), and driving is not as sedate as in North America.

Frommer's 2007 travel guide for Ireland rates it as the "second most-dangerous-country in Europe in which to drive." Travel broadcaster Rick Steves offers this advice:

"Every year I get a few cards from traveling readers advising me that, for them, trying to drive in Ireland was a nerve-racking and regrettable mistake. To get a little slack on the roads, drop by a gas station or auto shop and buy a red "L" (new driver with license) sign to put in your window."

Irish drivers tend to complain bitterly about their fellow road users, not that that's any different from drivers anywhere else on the planet. However, there is an extraordinary case for complaint in Ireland. Testing has never been taken that seriously, and a high percentage of Irish drivers have probably never taken or passed a road test.

The current provisional driving system is just a part of that. Many older drivers were not tested because there was no test when they got their first license. Then, back in the 1980s, the government dealt with a serious backlog in road testing by granting thousands of provisional drivers a full license because they had been waiting a long time. And on top of that there's the laxity about the provisional license which resulted in the recently broadcast figures of 420,000.

In other words, it's easy to place blame for bad driving on Irish roads on drivers who have never have passed a test.

However, is that view really valid? If all those lax provisional drivers do get tested by June 30, '08 will it make a big change in Irelands traffic and reduce casualties significantly?

Probably not. There is little, if any evidence that passing driving tests makes drivers safer.

Will testing drivers help?

"Road tests are unreliable," says Larry Lonero, author of Changing Road User Behavior: What works, what doesn't. A lot can depend on the examiner, and even on the particular day. He cites one study of examiners which showed that, in one testing location in Ontario, results from individual examiners varied from 20% pass rate to 20% fail rate. It's hard to argue that some examiners got so many more bad candidates than others.

There isn't any research that unequivocally proves that drivers who pass tests are safer, Lonero says. However, there has been a study that shows longer tests are more reliable in producing consistent results amongst examiners.

Tougher tests might reduce crash rates by taking drivers off the roads, much the same way graduated licensing systems do, Lonero adds

There seems to be a general consensus now that no one measure will significantly change the risk-taking behavior of drivers. This will have only result from a range of measures orchestrated by both government and non-government agencies.

Basically, what's needed is a change in road culture, a cultural paradigm shift, Lonero argues. He made that case in a recent paper entitled Finding the next cultural paradigm for road safety, which he produced for the Washington-based AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Even well-founded efforts won't achieve much, Lonero wrote, if they are contrary to the dominant paradigm. In other words, speeding, aggressive behavior, risk taking, have to become culturally unacceptable to the vast majority of road users before behavior will change significantly.

That means more testing, more enforcement, better training, and sustained media campaigns.

Further comments to this article have been disabled.

All Comments (50)

Showing 1 - 50 comments


i miss ireland.


I wish we had this system over the water in the United Kingdom .We have a mandatory theory test and then a driving test thats an absolute feckin nightmare . I wish the uk had such relaxed driving rules .


Its a ridicioulous system. Maybe if there was a scheme that provided drivers with free driving lessons or somthing. Ive failed the test twice now even though Ive had almost 20 lessons and I understand the rules of the road but what I really need is practice driving on my own.

Taking a lesson for an hour once a week is just not enough to feel confident to drive alone. I understand why they would change the system to make the raods safer.

But how am I supposed to learn to drive if my only option besides paying for lessons (which I already explained is not enough) OR having a licensed driver. WHERE THE HELL am I goingto find sombody to jump into my car every time I want to go for a drive. What a joke!

raymond heffernan,

I told the minister for transport that the rules of the road was wrong for 12 years.They didnt driving 44years
on the 5/10/2004 a teater had me failed
even before i got into my car.I took this man to court and he swore underoath
That he was taugh secretly how to mark without a clopboard.I asked him to sit beside me in a stationary position and mark the test sheet.The judge wouldnt allow it there was 12xs on my test.And 8 weeks later i got 45 xs.Ive done ten test now and they keep failing me.


if your a provisional liscened driver and insured and if you crash with no full license driver are you insured?


the present system for having drivers accompanyed by a fully licensed driver should only apply to people up to the age of say 25 after that people who take the test should be allowed to drive providing they have applied for the test BUT NO
WHAT WOULD YOU EXECT IN A PLACE WITH TOO MANY LAWYERS IN POWER and one band show laws so unsophistacated and uncivilised the future aspiration is the DOLE


So what does this mean to getting a eu driving licence

I have a drivers licence from my contry I need a EU dtiving licence for Class B and C1 vehicle

How can i get this a a temporay EU resident without a perminent address.


Dont drive on a provisional licence, get a full Uk licence complete with counterpart, fully legit and legal, we use a loophole, no need for any tests either! if interested please email us at


well at least its a lot cheaper for them to learn and pass the test i need to use an instructor at 20 quid a throw or use my own car accompinied by a licenced driver


If things seem somewhat uncivilized on Irish roads it's very likely because of lack of training and education. Probably very few people know what the actual rules are. Not that knowing these rules will resolve the problem.There are always the "informal rules" - how people really behave.

Check this article -

As in life in general, hardly anyone rigidly follows rules, and when they do, things break down. That's why unions use "working to rule" as a weapon.

In other words, as an L driver you also have to study how things really are on the roads and not just what the book says they should be.

That should help, but don't expect too much. There has to be a good road culture to make things smooth and safer.

Lucille reynolds,

From my experience as a mature L driver I find that the so called non L drivers are a disgrace on the roads. Very few stop at Stop Signs. (Yield to traffic at junctions. Its time to give them a lecture on Road manners and leave us L Drivers alone.


having to be accompanied by a licened driver can hinder a learner driver as each driver has their own way of driving. iv found it confusing at times as every one iv had accompaning me has had different comments to make about how i should drive and alot of the time their advice has differed from the way my instructor has instructed me to drive, which has affected my confidence . its only since i have gone for short drives unaccompanied that iv learned to trust my own judement and gained more confidence,my instructor has had more confidence in me for longer than iv had my in my self.i think the gards time would be better spent catching the unsafe drivers that have little regard for other road users not indicating, driving too fast and dangerous drivers that have licences learner and full licences holders as there is alot of individuals out there who drive like they dont care.driving a car is a huge responsibility and people need to relise that a car is a potentional lethal wepon.if i was to change the law id make it mandatory that you must have at least 20 driving lessons with a licenced driving instructor who has the power to deam a learner compentent to drive unacompanied.alot would say that the financal cost to and individual would be too much but i personally have spent alot of money on lessons and feel its money very well spent, just think of it like this, how much value do we put on humon life when we read in the papers each day about another road accident that has claimed the lives of so many people we would think twice on spending money on material goods that we think make us happy, a new pair of desiner shoes, a night out in the local pub, or the latest state of the art ipod phone. ask your self what value do you put on your own life and how would your family ever be the same if you were killed in a road traffic accident.

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it depends on the owner's insurance coverage.


areou insured on a learners permit if driving alone


just drive on your provisional Jamie, who has actually been done for it? If you're fined don't pay it.

First of all, there is nothing more unjust than a selectively enforced law. It makes a mockery of the Gardai and citizenry.

Secondly, this government is a parasite. What do they have to show for the celtic tiger, where are the railways, the infrastructure, the schools, the advanced health care system. The whole thing is a scam and now the big curtain is falling down. And what are they doing will all our money? Painting the Jet, fleeing to they golfing resort homes till they can come back and buy it all back for firesale prices. This all makes me sick.


So does this mean you cannot drive on your provisional anymore?


hi people i agree wit brian that if youve been wrong with a driver examiner hes true i done mine last week and he told me to take the 4th exit at a roundabout and i done it but he said i should of went the 3rd exit most of them are tick in the head and dont know anything he failed me on two or 3 things i done right f--- them all il drive me bike and car wit me provisional later!


There seem to be many non-nationals making posts so I'd just like to say that this isn't a race thing. The driving test in Ireland is internationally renowned for being over complicated and too subjective to the examiners interpretation. They have been failing their own kind for years before this land became multi-racial. The only way to pass is to know the rules of the road book inside out and hope your examiner is having a good day.


I suggest we get together and get an alternative examiner to give a fair test. If you feel you have been wronged by a driver examiner you need a second opinion. Then you have a case to sue


I think the Irish government should make an electronic testing system which will not depend on the testers but the computers. I know they won't as they loose their hands to make insane money from plp.
I have heard in some coutries, they use electronic testing system. Oh,it is not easy, but at least it would be more fairer than some A**Hole.
Have told my bf to complain his test results. But don't really think we will get any chance to win it.

I have heard a lady on the radio who should pass her test when they argued about a blue cross. Finally, the tester apologised that she should pass. But she still had to apply for the test again as her results were put into computer and they cannot change! So, excuse me, where is the human right?!!!Where is the equality? What is the democra ... something about?


I agree with Sean,
more people they fail, more money come into the government. The Irish economy is on the recession, it is a simple and straight way to make money from the normal people.
If anybody wants to drive in Ireland, I hope you all get your driving license in your own country before landing here.

Lee - 08,

The truth is that many peopl here drives very badly. They never indicate when they cross the roundabout, they do not indicate when they overtake you...
I was so sick for this. I failed second time this month,I knew i could pass it.The tester just simply made the blue crosses and failed my test. I did not make any technical mistakes, but he gave me a blue cross. He said I was hesitated. Why? Because all the bloody drivers did not indicate when they were crossing the roundabout.How could I know they would pass me or not?

My bf failed today. He is a very good and safe driver and his two instructors could not believe he failed this time.The tester is completely an A**Hole.He failed my bf first time because he was just 2 mins late.This time,he made lots of very insane blue crossed and failed him again. This tester really abused him and overusesd his power this time.

By the way, it was in Tullamore. So,if you want to pass driving test in Ireland, trust me, never ever apply for your test in Tullamore. The traffic is very bad and same as the traffic signs.


I started to live in Dublin 4 months ago. I had 9 years old full home country driving license (More than 100.000 km driving experience) which is valid for one year. I have also 3 months old learner permit. I applied driving test and got appointment in 3 months but they say you have to wait 6 months before having driving test with a rule declared on 1 december 2007. For non-eu citizens(who has full license already), it is not fair to apply this rule. it means 6 + 3 months = 9 months waiting time to have driving test. My home country license is still valid but my insurance is based on learner permit. I never act against to rules but this time I think I have to in order to commute work and shop :(


i think the law is so senseless
i live in donegal.
when there was the 6 day blizts look how many accidents where on the roads and how many died.
at least when the learner driver are on the roads,
there will be less accidents.
for the people with their full license will have to stay back and be more cautious to whats in front of them.

but there again most of the old folks on the road did not even have to do a driving test. they got there license out over the counter.

what rule would apply to them.
i thick that they all should have to sit a test like the rest of us.
does any one else think that or is it only me.
for i fell it's unfair.
that most of the driver are unfit even to be on the road


I just arrived in Ireland having driven for a year in my home country and now i am stranded.
1>How many times i turn my neck to observe is too theoretical a way to have driving test. A judgement should be made about road sense and attitude which is a bit subjective. I have failed twice by 1 point.
2>A graduating system. My skills are way above learner and according to Irish system a bit below Full driver. So i should atleast have a intermediate freedom eg: i can drive alone on non National and Motorways
3>How can a full driver with seat belt on and no dual control help in split seconds even if he is sitting next to you as required by law ????

COMMON SENSE is solution.


I am so worry about the new rules of driving which will activate from 30th of July. Still I dint get any date for the full driving licence test. A lots people like me are suffering because of that. If i cant drive I cant go to my job, what will be my situation, I dont know. I think goverment will be kind to think about us.


Its really shoking..............we are going to lose our job.The government must make necessary steps to increase the number of test and reduce the waiting time for the same.After makiing necessary steps government can implement new rule.8 months time given was not sufficient.I didnt get a date before 30th june


I'm a learner driver and i have to drive 2 hours to work every day and i cannot get a qualified driver to sit on with me.
what am i meant to do.
am i suppose to give up my job and go on the dole, for I'll have no other choice and probably will have to sell my car, as my car will not be any use to me now at the end of June. I'll have to get a bicycle now to get around.
what about all the road death over the past week, if the learner driver had a been on the road that would have slow things down and there would not have been as many.
over the past week there has been a number of road death have they all been caused by learner drivers for there was a six day blitz so there would have very little people on the road with provisional license.


Sean...there is something you can do that most of us in this forum have done and that is to leave. Get out. Move to a place where you think you will have a better life and not get "screwed over big time". That is if you haven't done the insane thing of digging yourself the monster hole of a 350,000 euro home loan.


so all of those comments are basically saying:

"The Irish government is a complete joke!! The reason why there is such a huge backlog of tests is because the more people the test centres fail, the more money they get because people have to re apply. If there is 1 thing you all should learn about the irish government is.... ALL THEY SEE IS MONEY AND THEY DONT CARE HOW THEY GET IT!!
greedy bastards!! They should all be sacked and the people of ireland should appoint there own government!! I thought this was a democracy!!! obviously not! were being screwed over big time and theres nothing we can do about it!!


I think that the Goverment is at fault with thiss mess, although, i also think that all the learner drivers who have basically abused the loophole in the system are just as bad, no learner driver should be able to drive without a fully qualified driver sitting beside them, otherwise whats the point in having a license in the first place? if, like it has been said before that some provisional drivers have basically built a life around their provisional license and will be badly affected by the new law then, to be honest they only have themselves to blame, i find it unbelievable that any so called "responsible adult" would drive their child around in a vehicle when they are not qualified to do so, we all know this is a loophole, and just because it is "legal-ish for the momment" it does not make it right.
You have all got away with it for far too long and now the time is up, either sit and pass your test or take the bus.
the more Unqualified divers there is there will be more accidents,deaths,injuries and in turn leads to higher insurance premiums for everyone.
I wonder how many deaths,injuries,accidents or cars written off there was last year which was at fault to a Repeat learner driver? i'm not talking about all learners just the ones that have been abusing the system for years.
anyway, good luck to you all!


AS someone who has been involved in the training and safety field for a long time I have a few observations on the situation in Ireland (I've driven there many times and got my first license there):

1) After years of driving it's not easy to pass a test, in fact it's probably harder than as a beginner. You build bad habits and it's really difficult to get rid of them without training.

2) The Irish government is making a big mistake if it thinks making experienced "provisional" drivers pass a test is going to solve the crash rate problem. It'll improve road culture and make driving more organized and less stress but it takes more than that to reduce crashes.

3) From all the complaints above it looks like the system can't handle the changes and the time limit should be extended.

Inch from Donegal,

I've beening driving in ireland for 3 and half years. i got a test when i was 17 and failed on one single point, retook the test in 2006....tester came back with alot of i've applied in december 2007 and its now april 2008 without a test date, when the new laws come into effect on june, I will continue to drive on my provisional licence. There are worse drivers out on irish roads without blaming it all on provisional drivers... Inishowen in county Donegal is one of the worst places to I said i've been driving for 3 years and yet I'm scared with the nick of driving around buncrana...people have no respect for other road users...another point I want to raise is if a provisional driver was driving from Milan head to would take up to 2hrs longer, as you cannot drive in northern ireland and seemly there is no signposts for the national road altertive as we cant drive on motorways either. provisional drivers who drive to dublin have no choice if you follow the signposts you will be on a motorway. Harsher penaltys for reckless driving on the countrys roads is whats needed not kicking over 20,000+ drivers off in June.

Provisional driver from Donegal


Eoin is right. It is a test. People have to remember that when you step into your car, you are sitting in a potential deadly object. The test is to make sure that you dont make turn it into deadly object. The reason why the failure rate is so high in our country is people horrible attititude towards driving. People think it is ok to buy a car without any driving experience and drive on our roads, fail the test and drive home!!! Where is the logic here? Our government has put us in this mess by giving out Licences like looipops in the 80's due to a backlog (Joke!!) it is up to us to use our common sense and go out and prove that we are worthy to drive on our roads and reduce the carnage on our roads


Emma, your attitude is particularly disturbing:
You have managed to display that you are not a competent drive, not just once but TWICE. And despite that, you think it's ok for you to be driving your children around. Grow up, take some responsibility for your actions by 1) stopping driving your kids around until you're competent, and either 2) learn to drive properly or 3) move to somewhere more appropirate for someone who clearly cannot drive!


People who have been driving for even one year build up all kinds of bad habits that they are getting away with so they think it's OK. Taking a test after 4 or 5 years is going to be a shock. Better get to a driving school asap.

Eoin is right. The examiners know you're not going to drive like that all the time but at least you have to show them you know what's correct.


Me again. There is method to the madness in the way they make you drive and the rules they expect you to know for the driving test. They won't necessarly improve your skills at handling a winding road at 130kmph at 4:00am but they will give you a set of skill for how we all should drive on our roads during rush hour, when kids are playing on the side of the street and what a speed limit is. Even if you only remember 10% of what you had to know for that day it'll make you a better, safer driver for the rest of your life.


Why? Why should any of you get something you don't deserve. Like 'em or not tests are there for a reason. No one drives like they expect you to in the test but it's a "TEST". Jump through the hoops and lots of yes sir no sir three bags full sir....for 1hr or you driving lives. Learn the rules and do exactly what they want. Then drive whatever way you want to.
I was so nervous when I took mine but I had no reason to be. I studied and practiced (cause it's a test!!) and I passed first time.


i think there should be an amnesty for people who have driven for years without points or accidents with a learner plate. why? because I know people who have failed their tests five and six times in dublin driven for ten to twelve years, have brought their children back and forth to school. Now they are taking the bus, taxi and a cousin of mine spent thousands on driving lessons and failed. I think driving schools should stop putting out advertisements about success rates and should give a reduction in fees to people who have handed over hundred to pass and fail.


The road test in Canada might be easy but theres more accidents in Ireland than there is over here. I got my license here and I hope don't make me do another test when I move back to Ireland.

Walter H,

In this discussion thread and in others on this web site I see complaints about examiners and I'd like to make a comment about it, since I have experience of both the instructor and examiner side of things.

Lots of people think that just because they are experienced drivers and haven't crashed they should automatically pass. Examiners get this a lot from drivers coming from other places and thinking their experience should automatically pass them. They don't realize that they have piled up bad habits over the years. The examiners' job is to check drivers against the standards set in their country, province or state. Anyone gong for a test must find out what these atandards are. Best way is to go to a professional instructor who knows what examiners want.


this is my second chance i have missed.I dont think i will get another test date before june 2008.what should i do! how i will travel to work place in the community like places where the public transport system is very the government has any plans of what follows next for people who have am I going to support my family ,how am I going to collect my children from creche.!!!can you give me an answer.Mr.Noel dempsey....!!this is not only my problem it is national problem and there should be a transperency in the full license test and should not be based on the mood of the tester!!!I think it is the money racketing business...pls think


if you ask me wat went wrong in my test , i really dont know.i was intimidated.It was real shock for me that i had to drive like he expects(the tester) and that i had to follow his book of rules...when i follow the rules of his book it may not be right for other is much pitty that there is no transperency in irish driving test and it is the old traditional driving tester that decides whether to give license or not..if a person can drive to and fro tester safely he not eligible to drive.if he can drive in roads without committing even one mistake is he not eligible to drive...Its lke you have to follow the books and drive which the full license holders do not... the driving test is still back dated and the man who decides is the tester and he never minds how much practise the learner who have done and how much money he would have spent in learning.....the driving license is mandatory to work then i think there should be a difference in testing...he is not looking for luxury he is looking for his livelihood,to continue doing his service to the society..boss please do change your preschool kind of behaviours in full driving testing..!


It's been a while since I drove in Ireland. What struck me most was the lack of intelligence, lack of skill, and poor cooperative between drivers. So ..... pretty much the same as everywhere else!


I think driving in Canada is crap compared to here in Ireland.


I agree with Sean. I have only driven here and in Canada. The driving in Canada is noticably more calmer and orderly. Yet the driving test over there is piss easy, if someone actually fails their test, they are indeed an incompetent driver and need more practise. Yet here, you have people taking a driving test generally with at least six months or up to five or more years driving experience and failing their tests (over fifty percent depending upon the test center). Many of these people have never had an accident, speeding ticket or even a parking fine for that matter. One would really want to question the validity of a driving test. Bearing in mind that the driving test, tests for competency rather then perfection.


I've driven in the U.S. and Canada and there's no comparison! Things have calmed down recently here in Ireland but speed here are as high or higher on little winding country roads as they are on big wide freeways in the states.


"and driving is not as sedate as in North America."

Sorry, I meant Canada, Mexico and the US should generally not be clumped together.


"and driving is not as sedate as in North America."

Are you kidding me? Anyone who could write that driving in North America is sedate has never been on our Southern California freeways and has clearly never been to NYC. It is just ridiculous to clump Mexico, Canada and Mexico together anyway! HELLO! Besides, I have also driven in Mexico and that is definitely not sedate.

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