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Over 35,000 drivers currently driving on their fourth or subsequent learner permit

It emerged in recent days that Minister Barry Cowen drove on a learner’s permit when he was caught drink driving in 2016.

Image: Shutterstock/fanjianhua

LATEST FIGURES FROM the Road Safety Authority reveal more than 35,000 people who are driving on their fourth or subsequent learner’s permit, promoting criticism that the legislation around learner permits is too lenient. 

The figures up to March 2020 show the number of drivers on a fourth or subsequent learner permit stands at 35,520. 

Of those, some 6,542 people are on their eleventh or subsequent permit while 1,825 are on their tenth permit, 2,494 are on their ninth permit, and 3,113 are on their eighth permit.

The issue of learner permits has been top of the political debate in recent days after it was revealed that Agricultural Minister Barry Cowen received a three-month ban from driving after he was caught drink-driving on a learner’s permit in 2016. 

In a statement to the Dáil last night, Cowen described it as a “stupid, stupid mistake” and added that “it is a source of deep regret. My actions have reflected poorly on the work of elected representatives and on my part.”

Steps have been taken in recent years to reform road traffic laws and reduce the freedom for driver’s on learner permits. 

In 2018, the Clancy Amendment was introduced in the Road Traffic Act making it illegal for learner drivers to drive unaccompanied, and giving gardaí permission to seize their vehicle. 

It also made it an offence for the owner of a vehicle to knowingly allow a learner driver to drive their vehicle unaccompanied. 

The law was introduced following a campaign from Noel Clancy and road safety group PARC after his wife and daughter were killed in a collision involving a learner driver. 

Susan Gray – who founded PARC in 2006 after her husband Stephen died in a road traffic collision involving an unaccompanied learner driver in 2004 – told RTÉ’s Prime Time last night that the Minister was ignoring the “elephant in the room” and said Cowen has not answered any of her group’s outstanding questions. 

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In a phone call yesterday morning with Cowen, Gray said the Minister told her he would answer “as many [questions] he could” during his Dáil statement but that questions remain. 

“It just beggars belief that that man has ignored the huge elephant in the room here. He was driving on a learner permit for years and years. He’s admitted he drove unaccompanied, no L Plates,” said Gray.

Gray said she “just can’t believe” that her group’s questions around Cowen’s driver’s licence were not answered by the Minister. 

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