Learning to drive in Ireland: How to get started

Before you can get into the driver’s seat, there are a few things you need to sort out. Here’s all you need to know about learner permits and insurance to get you started.

What is a learner permit?

It’s a licence that allows you to start learning to drive and later apply for a driving test.

There are different permits for different types of vehicle, so make sure you apply for the right one.

You can get your learner permit once you’ve passed your theory test or up to two years later.

A learner permit isn’t valid in Northern Ireland or any other country outside of Ireland.

How to apply for a learner permit

You can apply through the National Driver Licence Service (NDLS) and either:

All first time learner permit applications are face to face, but if you need to update your existing permit, you can renew online.

You’ll need to take identification documents to your appointment, check here for the full list.

They’ll take your photo and capture your signature electronically at your appointment.

How much does it cost?

It costs €35 for a new learner permit, or to renew your permit - which you can do up to three months before it expires.

Your first and second learner permits last two years while any subsequent ones usually last a year.

Conditions of the learner permit

A learner permit is not the same as a full driving licence and doesn’t allow you to drive alone.

As a learner driver, you must follow the rules of the road and:

  • Be accompanied at all times: by someone who has held a full driving licence in the same vehicle category as your learner permit, for at least two years.
  • Complete essential driver training (EDT): with a Road Safety Authority (RSA) approved driving instructor (ADI). This involves 12 one hour lessons that cover all the basic skills, behaviours and knowledge needed to safely drive a car.
  • Display L plates: on the car you’re driving separate to your ADI lessons. The plate must have a red ‘L’ on a white background, be at least 15cm tall, and displayed clearly on the front and back of the vehicle.

You could face four points plus a fine of up to €2,000 or six months in prison if caught driving unaccompanied with a learner permit.

How to choose an approved driving instructor (ADI)

  • Find an RSA approved instructor or the essential driver training (EDT) won’t be valid
  • Search by the county you live in
  • Check that they teach the right vehicle category for you
  • Compare lesson prices and introductory offers
  • Search for testimonials from past and present customers
  • Check their pass rates
  • Ask friends and family for recommendations

It’s also important that you get on well with your instructor and their style of teaching.

Do you need car insurance?

When you have driving lessons with your driving instructor, you’re covered on their insurance.

Using your own car or someone else’s to practice in, means you’ll need insurance. You can either:

  • Be added to someone else’s insurance policy as a named driver
  • Get your own learner driver car insurance

Both of these options can be expensive, so it’s worth spending some time shopping around for car insurance quotes.

Types of car insurance

If you need your own insurance, you’ll need to find a learner driver policy. The main types are:

  • Third party, fire and theft: Covers third parties involved in an accident, plus damage to your vehicle caused by fire and theft. You won’t be compensated for other damage to your vehicle.
  • Comprehensive: Covers everyone involved in an accident including your car and property. It also covers your car against theft and vandalism.

Comprehensive cover is often more expensive as it offers the highest level of protection but it’s always worth checking.

Who offers learner car insurance?

Most car insurance companies offer cover for learners but the ones who specialise in it may offer better discounts.

If you need to be added to someone else’s policy, it’s hard to negotiate a better deal unless their policy is due for renewal - then, you can shop around.

If you’re a young driver, here’s how to afford young driver car insurance.

Ways to save on your car insurance

It’s difficult to find cheap learner and new driver car insurance, here are some ways you can save:

  • Get temporary cover: when you need some extra practice outside of your main lessons, and get annual cover when you pass your test.
  • Buy/use a car that’s cheaper to insure: More powerful cars with larger engines and older vehicles tend to cost more to insure than more modern cars with smaller engines.
  • Shop around and compare quotes: for learner and named driver policies.
  • Search for learner driver deals: Some insurers that also offer lessons give discounts on their insurance when you buy a bundle.
  • Increase the excess: on your policy as this often brings the cost down. You’ll have to pay more if you have an accident though.
  • Consider your mileage: If your estimated annual mileage is lower, this may bring the cost down. You need to give a realistic figure though or your insurance may not be valid.
  • Consider Black box insurance: which involves a telematics device being fitted in your car to monitor your driving. The safer you drive, the more savings you could earn.

Don’t be tempted to get a cheap policy that doesn’t offer the cover you need.

What happens when you pass?

Congratulations! You’ll get a Certificate of Competency when you pass, which is valid for two years.

You’ll then need to:

  • Apply for your full driving licence: which you’ll need to drive alone. If you don’t apply within two years of getting your Certificate of Competency, you’ll have to take your test again.
  • Switch your L plates for N plates: These are for ‘novice’ or newly qualified drivers and must be displayed for two years.
  • Switch your learner driver car insurance: for a qualified driver policy and be sure to shop around.

Consider adding an experienced named driver to your policy to help keep costs down.

Learner driver FAQs

Can I earn a no claims bonus (NCB) as a named driver while I’m learning to drive?

Some specialist young driver and learner driver insurers can take named driver experience into consideration so check before you buy. This means you might not have to start at zero years no claims bonus when you’ve passed your test.

Why do I have to apply for my learner permit face to face?

The NDLS has added additional security checks, including the number of documents you must take to your appointment to verify your identity. Your photo and signature will also be captured electronically while you’re there.

Why is it so expensive to get car insurance as a new driver?

New drivers are often young and unfortunately, the statistics for young drivers involved in car accidents within two years of passing their driving test are very high. This means that young drivers who also have less experience, are a much higher risk to insurers, and this brings the cost of insurance up.

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