Young drivers: Costs 'force them off the road'

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Learner plates on a carImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Drivers under the age of 25 accounted for 71% of all driving tests in 2018

The number of driving tests taken by people under 25 has fallen by a third in Northern Ireland in 10 years.

There has been a total decrease of more than 30% in all private car tests, according to figures from the Department for Infrastructure.

Some young people have indicated the cost of car insurance is the biggest barrier to learning to drive.

Almost 50,000 driving tests were taken by young people in 2008; in 2018, this fell to 33,261 private car tests.

Cathy Devlin, 20, is a student at North West Regional College in Londonderry and she hasn't learned to drive.

She has been put off taking her driving test because of the cost of insurance.

Northern Ireland drivers pay more for their car insurance than the UK average, according to price comparison website

Their research suggests Northern Ireland drivers pay an average of £942 for insurance. The average price for the UK is £783.

"It's so expensive for a young person to get on the road," Ms Devlin said.

Image caption,
Moya O Donnell and Cathy Devlin are journalism students at North West Regional College in Derry

"You need lessons and a car to practise in, but the biggest hurdle has to be the cost of insurance."

Moya O'Donnell, 22, moved away from home when she was 18, so she put off learning to drive.

"It has been playing on my mind since I moved back, but I haven't got around to it.

"There are lots of things putting young people off.

"You have decent public transport here, learning to drive is really expensive and the impact on the environment too."

Fall in driving tests taken by young people

The number of driving tests taken by people under the age of 25 fell from almost 50,000 tests in 2008, to 33,261 in 2018.

The figures only refer to the number of tests, not individual drivers. A person could have sat the test more than once.

The majority of driving tests are taken by people under the age of 25 (71% in 2018) but the total number of driving tests has also fallen by 31%.

It only includes private car tests, accounting for more than 80% of all driving tests in Northern Ireland.

The average age of a person taking a private car test is 23.5 years old.

Darren Harkin is 21. He wants to learn to drive but can't afford to while he is studying.

"Cost is the main reason I haven't started learning. If I had more money, I would definitely do it."

Mr Harkin's classmate Niamh McDermott, 17, gets around by using public transport or taking lifts from friends.

"I got driving lessons for my birthday, but they have been sitting on my desk gathering dust," Ms McDermott said.

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Niamh McDermott and Darren Harkin consider cost the biggest barrier to learning to drive

"The cost of learning to drive would put you off anyway, insurance is so expensive."

John O'Donnell has been a driving instructor in Derry for 20 years. Most of his clients are now in their mid-to-late 20s rather than teenagers.

"People used to get a provisional licence as soon as they turned 17 about 10 or 15 years ago," Mr O'Donnell said.

"Now people head off the university or start working first until they can afford the cost of learning and the insurance.

"You are talking £1,500 minimum for insurance, that is considered good value these days."

Image caption,
John O Donnell: "It's not a career anymore, it's essentially a part-time job."

Mr O'Donnell said there are fewer driving instructors working in Derry now than there were a decade ago.

"I know of at least eight instructors who called it a day. There just isn't the same amount of work to go around.

"Ten years ago, I could work seven days a week and I had to turn people away," he said.

"You'd be lucky to get a few appointments to cover five days now."

'Difficult for young people'

The Consumer Council is looking into why drivers in Northern Ireland pay more on average for car insurance.

Scott Kennerley, head of financial services, said consumers here have consistently paid more than drivers in the rest of the UK for the past five years.

"Over the last five years, consumers in Northern Ireland have been paying more and more for their car insurance.

"The market is different to the rest of the UK. We have fewer insurance providers, people tend to use brokers more and drivers are less likely to shop around."

Mr Kennerley added: "Young people are deemed to be more of a risk by insurance companies.

"You can have a situation where the insurance can cost more than the car itself.

"It's very difficult for young people who want to start to drive."