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Events, dear boy, events… well yes, look at the Provisional Driving License fiasco… October 26, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.


Well, now there’s no surprise. Clicking over to Politics.ie what does one see but a nascent campaign against the latest attempt by the Government to reform the Driving License situation. In a mass mobilisation that has those of us who have struggled long and hard on numerous political issues weeping into our pints the airwaves have been filled, and now the internet is aflame, with the fury of those who have discovered that the de facto and the de jure are two completely different animals. At least from next week.

No longer will our roads be filled with hundreds of thousands of drivers on Provisional Licenses. A new system of permits is coming in. The madness of first, second and third Provisionals is on its way out. Driving test waiting times of an ‘average’ of 18 weeks will cut through those drivers like the proverbial… well something or another. Our roads will be correspondingly safer.
Except I can’t see any of that working in practice. And for once on a semi-political issue it’s not just me, but a whole heap of people. Because this idea, beautifully crafted by the Minster for Transport Noel Dempsey, burnished to a high reflectivity and all ready for implementation has one major flaw.
It can’t possibly work. The hundreds of thousands don’t have even a notionally capable public transport system to take up their numbers. They number amongst them not merely the boy and girl racers, but also fairly stolid folk of varying years who have – for good or bad – taken advantage of a system that the government (and not just this one) found expedient to retain. And this isn’t just the margins, nor is it the taxi drivers (another group where one sort of expedience was replaced by quite another) who faced public antagonism over decades and therefore were politically speaking fair game. This is actually something close to Middle Ireland, and note how Fine Gael have been quick to capitalise upon the discontent.
Discontent sufficient to see the Minister say that:

…following concerns raised about the short period in which some drivers will have to make new arrangements, the garda authorities will take a ‘common sense’ approach for ‘two or three months’.

Which does not quite jibe with what the Gardai were saying today through a spokesperson:

The spokesman said gardaí would not be using their discretion on a case-by-case basis in relation to provisional drivers and would enforce the law as normal when it comes into effect next week.

How interesting (although to be fair the Garda in charge of Traffic Division was in much more emollient form in the Irish Times today). Still, one has to wonder what exactly were the thoughts around the Cabinet table when this particular policy first saw the light of political day. Did no one stop to think that there might be something of a populist backlash, that the time frame of imposition didn’t come close to matching up the waiting times for tests (full disclosure, I’m currently looking at the guts of 45 weeks for a test in Raheny – by the time I get there perhaps I’ll be in my 43rd year, although I cycle everywhere and where I don’t I take a taxi or train). That the myriad of discontents and furies within the society which don’t get an airing at Election time because people don’t want to rock the boat (i.e. see Fianna Fáil out of office) might leap aboard a bandwagon so perfectly formed for our times. After all, when it comes down to it, is not the prevailing narrative in our society one centered around work and working and so on and so forth?

In the Irish Times there is more:

The Minister also displayed his frustration that the enforcement of the regulations for provisional drivers was detracting from the 126 other measures in the road safety strategy.

“I wish to God the rest of the road safety strategy was getting the same attention from the media. The law will come in on Tuesday. The order is signed . . . the enforcement of the law and how that is going to happen.

Well yes. And no. He’s right, but he’s not displaying any great political instinct if he thinks the aspirational will have a greater impact than the everyday. And in a way that’s what is so disappointing about this whole – and to me somewhat theoretical – argument. There are good strong arguments for change. Something has to be done. But, as the joke goes, I wouldn’t start from here.

The most obvious strategy would be to line up all the ducks in a row. And to phase in the changes in stages, say across 18 months. Long enough to give fair warning, short enough to audit progress. A greater spend on public transport linked very openly to these changes (and something that would be applauded by the coalition partners in the Green Party). Roll out the new buses and rolling stock. Rip up the old Provisional Licenses before the cameras and wave the new Permits cheerily. Ensure all get to testing within – say – three months at most. Noel’s your uncle, and away we go.
There, it’s not that difficult is it?
Which makes me wonder why that wasn’t the strategy adopted. Because surely someone around the table must have thought ‘uh-oh’. And perhaps Noel Dempsey is wondering much the same this evening.


1. Adam - October 26, 2007

The rule changes are badly needed – it’s ridiculous to have 400k people on the road who have taken no test (besides maybe a pop-quiz) and who have not necessarily had any formal training whatsoever.

It’s equally ridiculous, however, to spring this legal change on an unsuspecting population with just a few days of notice especially when there is such a long waiting list for tests (22 weeks on average, and that’s optimistic).

To top the ridiculous nature of the whole thing off, it’s bizarre to decide to bring in the new rules but basically say they won’t be properly enforced for an undefined period of time.

The approach should have been to announce the rule changes now and say they’ll be brought in by, say March 2008. At the same time work would be undertaken to bring the test waiting lists below 2 months by then. At that stage the laws would be brought in and enforced properly from day 1 – if you’re a “learner permit’ holder in March 2008 you’d have no excuse at that stage; plenty of notice and a reasonably short waiting list so that you have no reason to be driving on your own with your ‘L’ plates.

Instead everything is backwards and a rule is being made that from the outset will not be enforced, just like the last ones on unaccompanied provisional holders.

While I’ve not read the entire RSA road safety strategy 2007-2012 I do hope there’s plenty of focus on proper rule enforcement in general – having a licence does not make one a good driver by any stretch.

Also, while as Minister for Transport Dempsey has plenty of say in implementation and timing I’m not sure how much credit he can take for what are logical but badly implemented changes to the rules – the RSA are the ones that put them forward and the Government just agreed.

From what I can see Dempsey just agreed to bring them in now before test waiting lists were dealt with, before public transport could deal with any sudden large influx of custom and before the Garda Traffic Corp was properly established to focus purely on compliance and because of this has since told the public not to pay too much attention to the changes anyway, at least not for now.


2. WorldbyStorm - October 26, 2007

Completely agree Adam. If anything Dempsey has made things worse rather than better. It actually makes the law look less credible than ever which is quite a trick, isn’t it…


3. Pidge - October 26, 2007

And, oddly, Politics.ie has gone off the deep end. It’s been going through a bad patch since the election – lowering standards isn’t the way to go.


4. WorldbyStorm - October 26, 2007

Indeed, but I think it tells us something interesting about the depth of feeling on this issue.


5. Eagle - October 26, 2007

Do you think it’s possible Dempsey rashly decided to launch this at short notice to deflect attention from the Shannon issue? I just can’t imagine a FF minister or govt being this out of touch.


6. Eagle - October 26, 2007

I knew the minute I heard this morning that there were going to be some people who would be livid, some who would be totally confused and others would be downright panicking. This is an everyday, bread and butter issue. I’m kind of surprised at some of the comments above, but maybe it depends on where you live.

I live in a near-enough suburb, but I’ve lived more remotely and I know that lots of people who live in this area and where I lived previously head out each morning to work driving on their provisional license. And, now, with what seems like no thought whatsoever all these people have been told they can’t legally find their way to work on Tuesday morning.

And, although it seems illogical, this is far more important an issue than the state of health system because deep down most people at least acknowledge that there’s no easy answer to those issues. That’s not the case here. This is so simple, the right answer so obvious, that it really illustrates incompetence in a way that the bigger political issues cannot.


7. WorldbyStorm - October 26, 2007

I completely agree Eagle. It’s a tangible issue that affects not hundreds or thousands of people, but hundreds of thousands, and not just those who drive but those who are driven by them. And the reality is that this is the fault of governments. End of story. All of them over recent decades. The sort of default culture they allowed to exist on this issue was something that – right or wrong – people accepted as the way things were. All colluded. For the govt to rewrite the book with four days notice is simply stupid politics…

Re your point about Dempsey. That thought hadn’t struck me, but it makes a sort of sense. On the 9 o’clock News he looked very shook. Surely he must have seen this coming.


8. sonofstan - October 26, 2007

In a way, the situation around the lax interpretation of the laws governing driving up till now is analogous to the creation of the conditions for cheap credit and lax supervision in the housing market – by allowing people access to cheap finance and with the slackening in the idea that the amount you borrow must have some rational relationship to what you earn, the govt. is let off the hook with the provision of social housing or the regulation of the rental market. Similarly, by letting more or less anyone who can afford a car to drive – subject to passing a laughably easy theory test – you make it possible for people to live in the houses they’ve mortgaged their future up to retirement and still get to work without having to provide expensive things like public transport links.


9. Garibaldy - October 26, 2007

An Irish solution to an Irish problem I think it’s called.


10. Eagle - October 26, 2007

Yeah, WBS, this is the sort of FF issue that they get right. It would usually be one of the other parties that would insist on the letter of the law or some ideological crusade. This is is really an odd one as far as I see it.


11. Pidge - October 26, 2007

Is it true that the four day lead in thing is now gone? I can’t seem to get a straight answer anywhere.

And oh, kudos on the cheesy pic. 🙂


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