Why Minister Noel Dempsey is clueless

There’s an article in today’s Sunday Times about tighter controls on provisional driving license holders in Ireland. In the interests of full disclosure I’d like to point out that I am one. Now I can begin my rant with a clear conscience. The Road Safety Authority like to say the driving test is fair and that it contributes to safer roads. Go to the driving test’s website and you’ll see what I mean. I think that this is absolute nonsense with is disproven by empirical evidence. There are over 400,000 provisional license holders on the roads in Ireland. This is a massive portion of the total number of drivers in the country. This number has been swelling over the past few years so, seeing as how these drivers are so unsafe, have the number of serious accidents being increasing? No, they’ve remained relatively static. Yes, a simple look at the figures tells you that the roads have not actually become more unsafe because of the larger number of provisional license holders. So why the need for the draconian legislation where people who’ve been driving for many years safely will need to be accompanied by a holder of a full license, even if the accompanying person got their license not by passing a test but through an amnesty granted the last time we had a serious problem with the number of provisional license holders? Well, the simple truth is that the minister has decided his stance makes him look good, tough, decisive. I think it makes him look out of touch, clueless and unaware of some of the real reasons for accidents on our roads. It’s also a bit sneaky that this has been foisted on an unsuspecting public AFTER his party get reelected. Could that really be a coincidence?
So let’s look at the problems that every road user in the country faces:

  • The roads: Travel around the world and you’ll quickly see that Ireland has some of the worst road surfaces in Europe.Yet the government feels able to charge VRT, compounded on VAT, compounded on Import Duty on every car in Ireland. Why are our road surfaces so fundamentally bad, so uneven, incorrectly cambered, so COMPLETELY UNSAFE?
  • The test itself: How many people are killed because a driver hits a curb during a 3 point turn? How many people are killed because a driver fails to indicate properly going around a roundabout (come to think of it can any driver in Ireland use a roundabout properly?). Why isn’t motorway driving covered? The test is a pile of steaming dog shit which fundamentally doesn’t measure the skills or attitude necessary to drive safely. Much of it feels arbitrary and silly in conception and implementation
  • The unwillingness of drivers to report incidents of extremely bad driving to the Gardai. Overtaking blind into bends is a HUGE problem in this country. It seems there’s no shortage of idiots who do this but they must be getting away with it because they’re still driving

I guess what really pisses me off about this is that I’m a law abiding citizen who feels let down by his government. Leaving aside the fact that I didn’t vote for them and won’t be doing so in a hurry. I’ve applied 4 times to do the test. The first time I failed because of 5 marks against for clutch related minor offenses. In all honesty I didn’t believe and still don’t believe that this made me an unsafe driver. I subsequently discovered I had a problem with my clutch which neither the driving school where I took lessons nor the test examiner spotted. So, basically my first attempt should probably have ended in success.I’d been driving for a year, had no accidents and felt reasonably comfortable behind the wheel.
I was paying around 3500 euro in insurance to drive an old Renault Megane at the time. The second time I applied, the exhaust fell off my old car the night before the test. I could have driven a safer and newer car but for my insurance premium but that’s another rant. I discovered the extent of the problem that morning but the test was too early and I ended up not being able to attempt the test as the instructor dismissed my car as unroadworthy. I was told the waiting list was almost a year so I was devastated with what happened.
The third application was made with a sense of dread. The waiting list in Waterford is insane and it took in excess of a year to get notification of the test. Due to some, common, issue with the postal service the notification arrived while I was in the US. Needless to say I couldn’t get back in time and missed another test. I applied again a few months ago and am still waiting to be tested. I sincerely hope it happens soon yet I am filled with a feeling of dread when I consider the generally hostile and antagonistic way testers behave in the experience of me and my friends. How is it normal to sit beside an unfriendly and apparently sadistic person issuing curt instructions and taking notes when you’re trying to concentrate on driving? Maybe I needed a harsher home life to prepare me for the demeaning experience that is the driving test in Ireland?
Or maybe that’s just the unpleasant red haired bloke in the Waterford test center…
So to summarise I’ve been driving for over 6 years. I have a provisional license. I have not received points for speeding or any other violation. I have had NO accidents yet have driven everything from a Renault Megane to a bulky Nissan Pathinder to a very fast BMW Z4. None, not a scratch. I haven’t made a claim on my insurance nor had a claim made against me. I treat my car like a new born baby. Albeit one that gets left outside in the cold on a regular basis 🙂
I have been pulled over once by the gardai when I got a new car and was having difficulty with the tiptronic gearbox. Long story. I received no points, just a few queries. If I feel like I’m little danger to other road users it’s because I’ve empirically demonstrated that to be the case. Which is more than I can say for the large number of drivers I see without L plate who can’t use a roundabout, overtake going into corners, exceed the speed limit on narrow country roads and generally put themselves and others in harms way yet somehow are deemed safe. Yet for the sake of a sound-bite and a trendy yet ill-conceived initiative I and others like me are the enemy.
An alternative would be to force everybody to go to driving schools and do a number of tests over a period of time designed to determine if they have the correct skills and attitude to drive reasonably and safely. If the Minister feels the test is worth doing, it should be worth doing properly!