Northern Ireland introduces new Driving Laws

Over the past year a number of groups have called for the UK’s driving test to be changed so that learners have to spend at least twelve months practicing before they are allowed to take their tests. Furthermore, many believe that it would be better for learner drivers to be taught how to drive at night, on the motorway and in bad weather conditions in order to better prepare them for when they are allowed to drive on their own.

Those that have put these proposals forward have claimed that if learner drivers spent more time practising to drive before being given their licences there would be less accidents on the road, particularly accidents involving young or inexperienced drivers. However, it is not easy to change such regulations and laws, which is why it is surprising to see that Northern Ireland have recently changed their driving laws so drastically.

In fact, this is the first time that the law has been substantially changed since it was established back in 1968, which was pointed out by the Stormont Environment Minister Mark H Durkan. Durkan added: “The Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill I introduce to the Assembly today is challenging but bold. Radical measures are necessary if we are to pursue an ambition of zero road deaths. This new legislation will tackle drivers who shamelessly continue to drink and drive.

“It will provide powers to radically overhaul how we train, test and protect our vulnerable new drivers. It will also reduce the risk to riders of quads on public roads by requiring them to wear helmets. This Bill will provide a new regime that is both fair and proportionate in effectively targeting the harm caused by drink driving. These limits are already accepted as the norm in many countries across Europe and I believe road users here have the right to that same standard of protection from impaired drivers and riders.”

Not only does the new Bill reduce the legal drink-drive limit to 50mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood from 80mg, but it also means that restricted drivers will have a zero alcohol limit. The new Bill also places greater restrictions on learner drivers, as it will soon be mandatory for them to learn to drive for twelve months before taking their test. Furthermore, new drivers up to the age of twenty four will only be allowed one teenage passenger with them in the car at any time for the first six months after they pass their test unless they are immediate family members.

Discussing the new regulations facing learner drivers, Mr Durkan said: “There is strong and consistent evidence that Graduated Driving Licensing is effective in reducing collisions and casualties involving new drivers. It means drivers will be preparing to drive for life rather than pass a test. Statistics show that between 2008 and 2012, young drivers aged between 17 and 24 were responsible for 42% of fatal collisions for which car drivers were responsible. Yet they comprise only 10% of current car licence holders. There is a clear and compelling need to address this and to better prepare our young people for the road ahead.

“I am committed to bringing forward a package of measures that responds to public concerns and will tackle some of the biggest road safety challenges we face today. I will continue to work with key stakeholders, including the insurance industry and approved driving instructors, in making decisions. I am pleased to say that the Association of British Insurers has committed their continued support for a Graduated Driving Licensing regime in Northern Ireland, agreeing that any saving in claims costs will be fed directly back into reduce insurance premiums for drivers. I see this as a historic opportunity to drive forward road safety and I look forward to working with my Assembly colleagues on the passage of this Bill.”

With the promise of reduced car insurance quotes and less accidents involving young drivers, it is not surprising that the Road Traffic Amendment Bill is proving extremely popular in Northern Ireland. After it has been implemented next year, it will be interesting to see the level of reduction in accidents on Northern Ireland’s roads, and whether this will encourage the rest of the UK to revise their driving laws as well.

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