Getting unaccompanied, learner-plate drivers off the road could reduce road accidents, say the authorities. Inexperienced drivers do cause more accidents, say the insurance companies.

Younger drivers are most at risk. Statistics have underlined that case over the past decade because, with more money in the economy, many late teens were able to afford cars and they went out on the road without taking a test. The waiting list for a driving test used to be twelve months but now it is down to less than eight weeks.

For the political parties, this is an unpopular move and a South East TD has come out against it from the Government side. Not all are in agreement, however. Mattie McGrath, Fianna Fail TD for Tipperary South, has warned that learner drivers can’t be thrown onto the ‘scrapheap’ and he also claims that the driving test is fifty years out of date.

Deputy McGrath, when asked on Newstalk radio by Eamon Keane why the law for a provisional driver to be accompanied by a qualified one was so detrimental for rural life, declared: “I know some very intelligent people and some very capable people who have not passed a test with a tester in the car. It’s not because of their driving skills, it’s because they can’t bear being in a confined area with somebody watching them. I’m a very bad passenger in a car because I drive a lot and I always think I’m driving as a passenger. And I can understand how people, in test situations, they feel they’re being watched.

“It’s a ridiculous kind of a test; it should be changed before we bring in these sweeping laws now to ban people into oblivion. People are very angry about this. There are 9,196 people in South Tipperary on L plates and they have to be considered. We can’t just throw them to the scrap heap. The Road Safety Authority has ignored me. They closed a test centre in Cahir because they said it was too easy to pass. I did call in November for the deadline to be extended further but this isn’t good enough” he added.

Deputy McGrath criticized the Road Safety Authority’s approach: “I would say it’s like using a sledgehammer to crack a chestnut. Can I first of all preface my remarks by saying I’m totally in favour of road safety and we have to be serious about road safety but this is too swift an action by the RSA.

“We’re left now with a situation where there’s 1,365 awaiting notification of applying for a driving test. There’s a total of 1,036 who have received notification and will hopefully get the test in July/August. But we’re still left with an awful number of people, over 9,000 on provisional licences in total in South Tipperary, with an eight week waiting list.

“We are now putting the onus back on the Gardai to be lenient but it’s not fair to put them in that situation. I think it has been rushed. Younger drivers have to save to buy their cars, save to get insurance and they’re not the people going out and doing 100mph, doing wheelies and causing accidents. Statistics don’t prove they’re the real problem. Then you have the whole problem of rural isolation. This is going to drive a six-inch nail into rural areas. It’s like closing down rural Ireland”, he said.

The Deputy makes a fair point and, in Waterford, the figures are not too different in terms of waiting lists. Could a new type of test clear, accompanied by a written exam, clear the waiting list more quickly. What is international best practice?