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Last Updated: Monday, 31 July 2006, 08:17 GMT 09:17 UK
Safety measures 'put drivers in danger'
By Mark Worthington
BBC Newsline

A BBC Newsline investigation has found that the measures designed to protect novice drivers in Northern Ireland could be putting motorists at risk.

Learner drivers in Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, are not allowed to exceed 45mph.

BBC cameras captured cars with R plates (circled) overtaking on motorways
BBC cameras captured cars with R plates (circled) overtaking on motorways

Those who have passed their test have to display 'R' plates, and must keep to that speed limit.

But the BBC has found that the majority travel much faster, without any training for driving at increased speeds.

BBC cameras at two of the major routes out of Belfast captured one speeding 'R' plate driver every two minutes.

The director of ABBA Driving School, Chris Gray, is one of many instructors who feel the law is preventing them from teaching vital skills.

"When they pass their driving test, a lot of them will go faster," he said.

"They have never experienced those speeds, they don't know the complexities involved, and that makes them potentially dangerous."

Many of the new drivers interviewed said they often broke the speed restriction.

Most felt that it was dangerous to travel slowly on major roads.

Stephen Melville of the Road Safety Council wants the system reviewed
Stephen Melville of the Road Safety Council wants the system reviewed

"You're very likely to cause an accident on the motorway going at 45 miles per hour," said one teenage girl.

"It's very difficult to sit at 45mph when everyone else is going a lot faster."

Stephen Melville from the Road Safety Council said the whole system should be reviewed.

"We could do a lot better," he said.

"We have a system in place that is unique in these islands. It helps us to identify novice drivers.

"The problems lie with the speed issue and night driving. We need to go back and review the situation."

The Department of the Environment said the 'R' plate scheme has always been supported by road safety organisations, but that it is committed to reviewing the scheme.

Until that happens, novice drivers in Northern Ireland will continue to pass their tests with no experience of driving at increased speeds.

Watch the full report by Mark Worthington

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