New licensing plans in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister Alex Attwood has tabled plans in the Northern Ireland Assembly that aim to radically overhaul driver licensing law. With mention of aiming for zero road casualties, the plans appear muddled and, when it comes to motorcycling, ill-conceived.

The minister’s plans include:

  • Lower provisional licence age of 16-and-a-half for cars
  • The minimum age for attaining a full driving licence will be 17-and-a-half
  • New drivers up to age 24 will not be allowed to carry young passengers (aged 14 to 20, except immediate family members) during their first six months post-test, unless there is a supervising driver over 21 with three years full licence in the passenger seat
  • A mandatory minimum learning period of 12 months for provisional licence holders
  • Post-test period will be two years, not one as is currently the case, but instead of the R plates used now, (restricted speed), there will be N plates (indicating New driver)
  • Removal of the 45mph speed restriction applied to learner and restricted drivers
  • Learner drivers will be allowed to take lessons on motorways when accompanied by a fully qualified, approved driving instructor in a dual-controlled car
  • Compulsory logbooks for learner drivers.

Apart from what Police Officers will not doubt view as an incredibly difficult thing to police, the idea of a newly qualified licence holder being on ‘N’ plates for two years, will disproportionally penalise motorcyclists.

This is because January 2013 sees the introduction of the 3rd European Driving Licence Directive, within which new young riders can only graduate each new category of license after 2 years. They will therefore become perpetual new riders, even though they may have 6 or even 7 years experience.

Similarly, anyone doing Direct Access over the age of 24 will be classed as a new driver and forced to carry N plates, regardless of the fact that they may have been using the road network safely for many years in a car.
It appears to be a case of motorcycling being sidelined again and simply not considered within the larger picture of road use. This shouldn’t be surprising though as the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) in Northern Ireland, which comes under the remit of the Environment Minister, takes some of its lead from the DSA in GB and they are yet to provide a list of what bikes will be acceptable for the new A2 category of licence test which will exist next January.
With MAG back on the ground in Northern Ireland and already sitting on the stakeholder’s group which is working to overhaul rider licencing in the province, clarity will be sought on exactly where motorcyclists fit in these new plans and whether or not riders will be unduly penalised.