I wish to share my time with Deputy Naughten. I appreciate the Chair giving me the opportunity to raise this issue and welcome the Minister of State to the House.
For young drivers, particularly provisional drivers, the cost of maintaining a car has become prohibitive. The primary reason for this is the excessive insurance premiums with which young drivers are burdened. Provisional drivers are also faced with restrictions in having to be accompanied while driving and being prohibited from using motorways.
This morning Macra na Feirme launched a set of proposals to deal with this problem. I was privileged to attend the launch and congratulate Macra na Feirme on its initiative. The proposals are aimed at ensuring provisional drivers receive more training before using the roads and that they take more responsibility while doing so. In return, Macra proposes the removal of the requirement of accompanying drivers and the ban on provisional drivers using motorways.
It is clear that the current insurance situation for young drivers is unsustainable. Premiums are unaffordable for most young drivers and rates continue to increase. In a survey carried out in preparation of the Macra na Feirme proposal almost all the main insurance companies refused to quote young male drivers. The lowest quote available for a 21 year old male driver on a provisional licence was in excess of £3,200. This was £200 higher than one month earlier. The situation for female drivers was better, but the rates were still very high.
Provisional drivers have been castigated in recent times. Their existence has been put forward as a major contributor to the current high accident and subsequent claim rate. While it is not a good policy to have a large number of unqualified drivers on our roads, it has to be remembered that the reason for the large increase in the number of provisional drivers is the excessive waiting list for driving tests. At one point waiting lists of one year were common. There are still long delays in some counties and the average waiting time is 14 weeks. Provisional drivers have been seriously disadvantaged because of this. They have put up with punitive insurance premiums and other restrictions such as not being allowed to drive on motorways and having to be accompanied by qualified drivers. Provisional drivers, and young drivers in general, are paying exorbitant rates for car insurance. Under the law, if a person wants to drive, he or she must be insured. It is not acceptable that the Government can then stand back and allow the free market to be the sole determinant of what the customer pays for the product. This is particularly unacceptable when there is such high price discrimination. The situation for provisional and all drivers is now intolerable. In a survey carried out by Macra na Feirme none of the five major companies would quote a price to any inexperienced driver under 25 years.
The new penalty points system should be more severe on provisional drivers. There should be a much lower threshold for provisional drivers, particularly in relation to speeding offences. Any provisional driver caught speeding twice should be banned. For many drivers speeding is simply a bad habit. It is important that drivers are conscious of speeding from the day they start driving. A proper focus on speed detection rather than looking for L plates on motorways and monitoring the farcical rules of being accompanied would be a more effective way of ensuring provisional drivers are not a risk on our roads.
The current insurance rates are excessive and the Government should impose controls on the amounts insurance companies can quote for third party cover.
I pay tribute to the work done by Deputy Naughten in this area. He has produced an excellent set of proposals and I ask the Minister to examine them carefully. He proposes the introduction of a novice driver's log book and the establishment of a statutory register of driving instructors and has considered compulsory lessons. Above all, he calls for a reduction in the waiting times for tests and the appointment of additional driving testers who would be recruited on a permanent and contractual basis.