Radical changes for Northern Ireland learner drivers
Radical changes to the rules governing learner drivers in Northern Ireland have been announced by Environment Minister Alex Attwood.
Legislation to be introduced by the end of the year will permit a lower provisional licence age of 16½.
It will also remove the 45 mph restriction on learners and newly-qualified drivers.
The move was welcomed by the insurance industry which claims it will lead to lower premiums and safer drivers.
However, the road safety charity Brake has opposed the lowering of the age for provisional licences.
Under the new rules, learner drivers will be allowed to take lessons on motorways when accompanied by a fully qualified driving instructor in a dual-controlled car.
Provisional licence holders will undergo a mandatory minimum learning period of 12 months.
New drivers up to the age of 24 will not be allowed to carry young passengers, except immediate family, for six months after passing the driving test.
The R-plate currently displayed by newly-qualified drivers restricted to 45 mph will be replaced by an N (for new drivers) plate which must be displayed for two years.
The environment minister said he was also working with the Irish transport minister on plans which would mean "mutual recognition of penalty points on the island of Ireland by 2014".
Alex Attwood said the proposals would "create the most radical change in the driver-training regime for a generation" and would challenge public thinking.
"But the objective of better road safety with the ambition of zero road deaths on one hand and reduced driver premiums on the other makes a bold and informed approach, the right approach," he said.
"This is the core argument at the heart of the proposals.
"The risk of death and injury where a young driver carries people of his own generation escalates alarmingly when there are one, two or three passengers."
The Association of British Insurers in London has pledged to review insurance premiums when the new legislation is enacted.
Director general Otto Thoresen welcomed the new measures and said Westminster should follow the Northern Ireland Assembly's example.
"These measures should benefit young drivers on the road and in their pocket: by helping to make them safer drivers and reducing their crash risk, they will benefit from lower motor insurance premiums," he said.
"The insurance industry been calling for these reforms, and politicians in Westminster should consider following Northern Ireland's lead in making the changes that are needed to ensure that the young drivers of today become the older drivers of tomorrow".
Gerry Lee of the road safety charity Brake said the age at which young drivers can apply for provisional licences should not be lowered.
"Unfortunately it's quite clear that the younger the driver, the greater the risk of a crash," he said.
"Many of the minister's proposals are very useful, but on this he has got it very much wrong.
"There is a deadly combination at work here.
"You've got a young person - usually a young male - overestimating his ability to avoid hazards, combined with his inexperience, which in our view results in a hugely disproportionate risk of road accidents, of which many are sadly fatal."