Next week, during the Dáil committee stage hearing of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill, which aims to disqualify first-time drink-driving offenders, the Government will seek to tag on a clause that would make owners liable in law if they allow their vehicle to be driven by an unaccompanied learner-permit driver.
Two outcomes are possible if the new legislation is passed:
Firstly, An Garda Síochána, if it is reinforced, will be able to take the car from the unaccompanied learner driver. Although it is legally required for a learner driver to have a fully qualified driver in the car the owner of the car will be prosecuted alongside the law-breaking unaccompanied driver. If approved by the Attorney General, the owner of the car could receive a fine of €2,000 and six months in prison.
Secondly, how young people access insurance will have to change. At the present time "fronting" is a popular form of insurance whereby parents add their child to an insurance policy in order for them to drive. Young learner drivers and parents use the option as it reduces the amount of the insurance policy as less risk is attached to the main named driver who is fully qualified.
Insurance industry sources believe that parents who front insurance policies for their children are also likely to ignore them driving unaccompanied. Speaking to The Irish Times, a source from a leading insurance company claimed that there are over 60,000 fronting policies nationwide:
Based on our own share of the market, I’d say there are about 60,000 such policies nationally...It is a massive, massive problem . . . It’s a form of insurance fraud. It means that insurers may not pay out for accidental damage to the vehicle and we can theoretically look to recover any damages paid to the other party.
Companies can reject a claim if the driver has an accident outside the terms of their license. If a learner driver is unaccompanied and in a crash the insurance company can refuse to pay which means vehicle owners need to catch up on the implications of the changes, according to Michael Bannon from insurance company Aviva:
People really don’t understand quite how significant an issue it is. From our perspective, we’ve seen a significant rise in the number of drivers who have accidents and are driving unaccompanied...I know of a driver whose €25,000 car was written off and the insurer refused to meet the cost of replacement because the driver was on a learner permit and was unaccompanied...The owner now has a €25,000 bank loan and nothing to show for it.
Ireland is one of few European countries that have lax laws on allowing learner drivers to drive unaccompanied. These legislative changes have been coined the 'Clancy Amendment', as they have in part come about due to a lobbying campaign from a Cork man, Noel Clancy. His daughter and wife were killed in a collision with a neighbour who was a learner driver in December 2015. Between 2014 - 2016 over 71% of fatal crashes involved unaccompanied learner drivers.