Published Tuesday, 29 May 2012
The minister’s aim is to improve road safety and reduce premiums. (© Pacemaker)
Alex Attwood wants to bring the age down from 17 to 16-and-a-half - and enforce a new, mandatory 12 month learning period for provisional licence holders.
It means the earliest age at which someone will be able to hold a full licence in Northern Ireland will now be 17-and-a-half.
The post-test period would also be increased to two years instead of one. During that period, newly-qualified drivers would display N plates, for 'new drivers', in place of R plates.
New drivers up to age 24 would not be allowed to carry passengers aged 14 to 24 - except immediate family members - during the first six months, unless they have supervision.
Meanwhile learners would be allowed to take lessons on motorways when accompanied by an instructor, and the current 45 mph speed restriction for them would be removed.
Mr Attwood said the car insurance industry has pledged to review premiums for young drivers if these changes are enacted.
"These proposals would create the most radical change in the driver training regime for a generation," the SDLP minister explained.
"I know that the proposals will challenge our 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. This is the core argument at the heart of the proposals."
Mr Attwood said the latest statistics show road deaths are now at their lowest level since records began.
He continued: "Car drivers under 25 are responsible for 44% of road fatalities but hold only 11% of full car licences.
"We should move towards a vision of zero road deaths. We need to take radical action and bold measures to achieve this, in turn reducing insurance premiums.
"I believe that we are leading the way and that others will follow."
Otto Thoresen from the Association of British Insurers, welcomed the move as "good news for young drivers and their parents" in NI.
He said: "The crash risk of a young driver carrying three passengers nearly triples compared to if they were driving alone, so reducing the number of passengers in cars driven by young people is critical.
"And by giving young learners a more controlled driving experience before obtaining a full driving licence, they will learn to drive rather than learning to pass the driving test.
"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."
The changes are expected to come into effect by the end of the year.