73,000 young drivers may be illegally back on road

As many as 73,000 disqualified novice drivers could have returned to the road illegally over the past decade, figures reveal today.

A record number of newly qualified drivers – 160,000 – have been banned under the controversial New Drivers Act since its introduction in June 1997.  This law automatically revokes the licences of drivers who run up six penalty points in their first two years on the road, meaning they have to retake their driving test.  Yet official records show that since the law came into force, only about half of those banned have subsequently taken and passed their retest.

MPs fear that many of those who have not done so – about 7,000 a year or 73,506 since the Act was introduced – are now driving illegally without a valid licence. Often they are also without tax, or insurance. Some eight out of ten of those banned under the New Drivers Act are under the age of 24.   The details emerged in answer to a Parliamentary question by Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker.

The findings have so rattled transport ministers that they have launched a review of how the law is working and are set within weeks to seek to plug the glaring loophole with ‘additional measures’ to help novice drivers stay ‘safe and legal’.  Mr Baker said: ‘A disturbingly large number of disqualified drivers don’t take the test. It is highly unlikely they are all not driving. But if they are, they are doing so illegally.  ‘This loophole is driving a coach and horses through the law and must be plugged.

‘There is nothing wrong with the law, but the Government is not following through.

‘The average fine for driving without a licence was £71 in 2006. Given that the cost of taking the test alone in the evening or on a weekend is £67 – and not including lessons, tax, and insurance – the fines are really very low.’

Disqualified drivers cannot be detected by speed cameras and if they are driving properly taxed cars, it is unlikely they will be stopped by increasingly rare traffic patrols.

Two million motorists of all ages are thought to drive illegally and cost honest drivers an extra £30 a year in premiums to cover accidents involving uninsured drivers.  A spokesman for road safety charity Brake said: ‘This is extremely worrying. Action must be taken to plug this loophole.’ The Government’s Driving Standards Agency admits that the law ‘isn’t working as intended’.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: ‘The New Drivers Act is designed to encourage safe and responsible road use by newly qualified drivers while they build their experience. ‘The Government takes the safety issues associated with novice drivers extremely seriously and so has already announced a fundamental overhaul of the current training and testing regime.

‘There is absolutely no excuse for anyone to be driving without a valid licence.   Anyone who does so is knowingly breaking the law and faces tough penalties.’