Many peo­ple are find­ing that there is no prac­ti­cal or fi­nan­cial in­cen­tive in learn­ing to drive – and it’s steer­ing them away in the op­po­site di­rec­tion

Many are steer­ing away from the need to learn to drive – for now, writes Jenna Clarke- Mol­loy

The Irish Times Magazine - - CONTENTS -

To many driv­ing a car is one of the more mun­dane oc­cur­rences in their day. Peo­ple drive to the of­fice, col­lect kids from school, visit friends and fam­ily. Some drive as part of their job; it’s fairly run of the mill. The road trip is both a clas­sic hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion and movie genre.

But what of the many Ir­ish peo­ple who can’t – or won’t – drive. Thelma and Louise would have been a very dif­fer­ent film if the tit­u­lar pair had been trav­el­ling by Dublin Bus, and Cameron from Fer­ris Bueller’s Day Off would not have been nearly as ner­vous through­out the film if he had stolen his fa­ther’s Leap Card rather than his Fer­rari. But is driv­ing all it’s cracked up to be? As in­fra­struc­ture and pub­lic trans­port im­proves in Ire­land, many peo­ple leave it later and later to learn how to drive. For many adults liv­ing in ur­ban ar­eas there is no prac­ti­cal or fi­nan­cial in­cen­tive to start driv­ing.

In 2012, there were 2,413,936 full driver’s li­cence hold­ers in Ire­land, in ad­di­tion to 257,334 learner per­mit hold­ers, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­tral Statis­tics Of­fice ( CSO) and the Road Safety Au­thor­ity ( RSA). A fur­ther 575,000 li­cences – full and learner – were is­sued in 2016.

There is a no­tice­able ur­ban/ ru­ral di­vide in the age when peo­ple start to drive. In ru­ral ar­eas driv­ing may be the only method of get­ting from A to B; the ear­lier young peo­ple get a li­cence, the more free­dom they will have. How­ever, in cities, with plen­ti­ful pub­lic trans­port op­tions, young peo­ple don’t need a driv­ing li­cence to main­tain a sem­blance of in­de­pen­dence.

This did not prove to be the case for Ca­tríona Far­rell ( 21) orig­i­nally from Car­low. She never learned how to drive while liv­ing at home, and now lives in Dublin dur­ing the aca­demic year, so doesn’t see the ne­ces­sity to learn­ing.

“I just never got around to it when I was in school, and I live in Dublin full time now, get the Dart to both work and col­lege, and live rel­a­tively close to a few dif­fer­ent su­per­mar­kets, so it’s not a ne­ces­sity. Also I feel I def­i­nitely wouldn’t be able to af­ford to up­keep a car on top of rent­ing in Dublin.”

“I’d imag­ine I will learn at some point, I’d def­i­nitely like to for the in­de­pen­dence of it, but it’ll prob­a­bly be a few years down the line when I’m more fi­nan­cially sta­ble, or not liv­ing some­where with de­cent pub­lic trans­port.”

How­ever, for Kath­leen McNamee ( 21), from Skreen, Co Sligo, not driv­ing is al­ready a huge dis­ad­van­tage. While her fa­ther taught her how to drive in their yard, she has never sat the the­ory test or un­der­gone any lessons.

“It’s very hard to go any­where or see any­one with­out a car. I’ve been re­ally re­liant on cy­cling. So­cially I’m very de­pen­dent on my par­ents or other friends who can drive for lifts to places.”

While she would like to start lessons and get her li­cence, the cost of get­ting the li­cence is too much at the mo­ment. “My par­ents have al­ways re­ally wanted me to drive, but even with me work­ing it’s way too ex­pen­sive for me to jus­tify it.”

The process of get­ting be­hind the wheel in Ire­land to­day is both lengthy and costly. To re­ceive a learner per­mit one must first pass a the­ory test. The test costs ¤ 45, while the of­fi­cial RSA driver the­ory test prac­tise DVD costs ¤ 18, although there are other books and vari­a­tions avail­able.

Driv­ers must then un­dergo com­pul­sory lessons. In 2010 new reg­u­la­tions were in­tro­duced by the RSA stat­ing that all new first- time learner per­mit hold­ers would have to un­der­take a manda­tory 12 hours of ini­tial ba­sic train­ing with an ap­proved driv­ing in­struc­tor.

At an av­er­age of ¤ 30 per les­son ( this ris- es to ¤ 45 in some Dublin schools), 12 lessons will set you back ap­prox­i­mately ¤ 360. Some driv­ing schools in­clude a mock test, oth­ers charge ex­tra for it. The test it­self then costs a fur­ther ¤ 85.

If a driver passes both their the­ory and prac­ti­cal test first time, buys the prac­tise DVD, does the 12 lessons and have their mock test in­cluded, learn­ing to drive would cost them a min­i­mum of ¤ 500 be­fore the cost of buy­ing and main­tain­ing a car, plus tax and in­surance.

This is as­sum­ing a driver will pass their prac­ti­cal test first time; pass rates vary con­sid­er­ably through­out the coun­try. Ac­cord­ing to the RSA, the na­tional av­er­age pass rate was 53.65 per cent in 2016. The high­est pass rate was in En­nis, Co Clare at 73.25 per cent, while the low­est pass rate was in Church­town, Co Dublin, at 42.41 per cent.

Leah Cullen is a driv­ing in­struc­tor based in Rialto, who works all over Dublin. She has been a driv­ing in­struc­tor for 15 years, and has had sev­eral stu­dents learn­ing to drive at a later age, with some in their 70s, although she does not be­lieve that learn­ing to drive at a later age is a new phe­nom­e­non, in Dublin at least.

“One ma­jor im­ped­i­ment is the cost, par- tic­u­larly in­surance. When you’re learn­ing to drive you’re look­ing at ¤ 2,000 min­i­mum, and that’s with shop­ping around. And you can’t off­set that by get­ting a cheaper car, be­cause then the in­surance goes up again.”

This is not just the case for younger driv­ers either.

“I’ve had a cou­ple of stu­dents in their 30s and they’ve started their lessons and paid up front for the 12, and I say, ‘ things would be run­ning smoother if you were in­sured on a car, a friend’s or some­one in your fam­ily’s’, but it can be so ex­pen­sive. Some get a quote of ¤ 700 for three months on one per­son’s car, but it’s free on some­one else’s, so it’s dif­fi­cult to know.

“I’ve had some peo­ple that have had a f ew l es­sons and t hen rang me t o say ‘ ac­tu­ally, scrap the rest of them be­cause it’s too ex­pen­sive’.”

Cayci Ken­del­lan ( 31), orig­i­nally from Black­rock, Co Dublin, and now liv­ing in Rath­mines, has never learned to drive.

“I’ve done my the­ory test six times, I’ve passed it six times, I’ve got­ten pro­vi­sion­als and I’ve let them ex­pire. I don’t have a cur­rent pro­vi­sional be­cause I let my last one ex­pire again, so I need to start from scratch and sit the the­ory again. I’ve a fair idea be­cause I’ve sat it so many times.

“When I was 17 and all my friends were learn­ing, I never re­ally had that huge want to do it, and be­cause ev­ery­one around me drove it wasn’t a big deal, there was al­ways some­one driv­ing.

“Be­cause at the time I was liv­ing in Black­rock, every­thing was al­ways so ac­ces­si­ble. There were al­ways buses and Darts; it wasn’t as if I was out in the mid­dle of nowhere and had to drive to get places. It’s al­ways some­thing I’ve planned to do, and I still plan to do, but the years just went on and it never hap­pened.”

The time com­mit­ment and costs in­volved in get­ting a full li­cence have been a de­ter­rent for Ken­del­lan.

“It’s such a big process, you have to do the the­ory, get that in or­der to get your pro­vi­sional, then do the 12 hours, so it’s a real com­mit­ment. In­surance and all the other costs are huge too. Peo­ple say to me, ‘ how do you not drive?’ and I say, ‘ I don’t know what it’s like, so I don’t miss it’.”

Ra­dio pre­sen­ter and co­me­dian Mario Rosen­stock ( 47), cur­rently tour­ing his new show In Your Face, has also never learned to drive.

“One of my pet hates in life is queu­ing. And driv­ing is ba­si­cally queu­ing, mov­ing and queu­ing. You don’t even get some­thing at the end of it. If you’re queu­ing at an ATM, which I don’t like either, at least you get your money at the end. But driv­ing, you’re queu­ing to get to the place that you’re go­ing to wind up any­way.”

Over the last num­ber of years Rosen­stock has taken to get­ting taxis ev­ery­where. “I have sub­se­quently been told by my ac­coun­tant that it is ac­tu­ally cheaper for me to get taxis ev­ery­where than it is for me to own a car. Even down to the shops to get milk. Be­cause cars now with tax, very high in­surance, de­pre­ci­a­tion, very high petrol [ costs] ... it’s cheaper.”

In fact, only on one oc­ca­sion has not driv­ing ever proven to be an is­sue for Rosen- stock. “I was act­ing in Glen­roe, I was play­ing a doc­tor, and in my open­ing scene I thought I was Ire­land’s ver­sion of Hugh Grant, a dash­ing, mildly mid­dle- class doc­tor, and they said that my first scene was to drive in, swoosh out of the car and in­vite this girl on a date.

“And I said, ‘ I don’t drive.’ And they said it didn’t mat­ter, just drive in slowly, and I said, ‘ no, you don’t un­der­stand, I don’t drive.’ And they said, ‘ you can’t even do that?’ and I said ‘ no, I don’t drive at all.’

“So it even­tu­ally emerged that they had to put the RTÉ stunt driver co- or­di­na­tor into the pas­sen­ger seat be­side me, he leaned down on my lap, and had his hand on the wheel, and his legs over my legs push­ing the ped­als. So that by the time I got out of the car do­ing my suave, so­phis­ti­cated doc­tor thing, I was get­ting out of the car where a man’s head had just been buried in my crotch.”

De­spite the ben­e­fits he sees from not driv­ing, Rosen­stock be­lieves that he will even­tu­ally learn to drive, and will buy the car of his dreams.

“I have a dream that I will learn to drive and I will buy an old 1970s sil­ver Mercedes con­vert­ible. The same kind of model as Bobby Ew­ing used to drive in Dal­las, and I will drive around with one hand on the wheel, the other on the car, with the roof down, and I will ba­si­cally win at the end of the day, say­ing ‘ I’ve done it, I’ve learned to drive’.”

if‘ I‘ It wasn’t as was out in the mid­dle of nowhere and had to drive. It’s al­ways some­thing I’ve planned to do, and I still plan to, but the years just went on and it never hap­pened

10

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DARA MAC DÓNAILL

Clock­wise from above: Ra­dio pre­sen­ter and co­me­dian Mario Rosen­stock uses the Luas and taxis as he can­not drive; stu­dent Kath­leen McNamee finds it too ex­pen­sive to jus­tify; driv­ing in­struc­tor Leah Cullen.

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