Attwood may permit driving at age 16

Image caption, Environment Minister Alex Attwood is considering radical changes to rules governing learner drivers

Radical changes are being considered to the rules governing learner drivers, Environment Minister Alex Attwood has said.

Mr Attwood said people should be able to learn to drive on motorways.

He is to consider allowing them to travel at 70mph on the motorway once they had passed their test, instead of the current 45mph limit.

The minister said he would also consider allowing people to obtain a licence earlier than 17.

However, he said learners would not be allowed to take their test for a period, possibly up to a year, after receiving the licence.

"I believe that we have an opportunity to have the most radical reconfiguration of driver testing," he said.

He said the changes could reduce insurance costs and improve road safety and driver capacity.

Mr Attwood was responding to questions on his statement on a recent meeting of the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC).

Lower alcohol levels

The minister also said he hoped to bring in legislation to introduce lower blood alcohol concentration levels for drivers in Northern Ireland by the autumn.

The Irish Republic brought in new lower drink-drive limits last October.

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy, who also attended the NSMC meeting on transport, said proposals to provide an hourly cross-border rail service would require funding that was not available within current budgets.

Danny Kennedy said times were "challenging" for Translink and he would possibly have to ask Finance Minister Sammy Wilson "for some additional relief".

In response to a question from Independent David McNarry, Mr Kennedy said Translink had so far avoided compulsory redundancies.

The minister did, however, note that the Enterprise service, which travels between Belfast and Dublin, had significantly improved its reliability and punctuality over recent months.

Mr Kennedy said further short-term improvements to the service were due for completion in 2012.

These would include reducing fuel consumption and equipping trains with wi-fi.