Everything you need to know before learning to drive

If you are learning to drive, you’ll no doubt be keen to get some extra practice with family and friends. However, before you get going, there are rules and regulations that both you and the person supervising you must follow.

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The Theory Test

Before you can apply for a Learner Permit, you have to pass your theory test. The test results last up to two years, so you can take your time before applying for the driving test. If you are applying now to take the theory test you must have a valid Public Services Card; if you haven’t got one you won’t be able to take the test.

The test examines your knowledge of the rules of the road including, hazard awareness, risk perception and good driving behaviour. You must answer 40 multiple choice questions, and get 35 of them right. Once you have successfully passed the test, you will be issued with a Test Pass Certificate.

Young woman working on computer

The Learner Permit

You can apply for a Learner Permit as long as you are resident in Ireland for at least 185 days out of every year, or you normally live in Ireland, but are away studying and return on a regular basis. You need to be 17 years old, unless you want a scooter licence, which you can get at 16. You can take your theory test for up to two years before you start driving as long as you are 15 or over.

The Learner Permit is normally valid for two years at a time. You can reapply for a new licence three times, but on the fourth occasion, you must show that you have taken a test or tests and failed them, in which case you’ll get another two-year permit. Or, that you have a test booked in the near future, which will mean you’ll get a permit renewal of one year. You must apply for your Learner Permit in person at a National Driver Licence Service (NDLA) Centre. This is a protection against fraud, to make sure that you are the only person who can apply for a licence in your name.

All you need to do is go along to a National Driver Licence Service centre with the appropriate documentation. You’ll have an interview with a Customer Service Agent who will also take your digital photograph and signature. The licence will be sent to you in the post within five to eight working days of your application.

The documentation you need is:

  • Application Form 201
  • Driver Theory Test Pass Certificate (no more than two years old)
  • PPSN Documents
  • D502 Eyesight Report (no more than one month old)
  • Evidence of address
  • Photographic ID (this is done at the NDLS Centre)
  • Residency Entitlement Evidence
  • Fee

Some applicants will also be asked to present:

  • NDLS Medical Form
  • Evidence of CPC


As a learner driver, you must display the red L plate sign on the front and back of the vehicle you are driving. Once you have passed your test, you then use the N for Novice plates for a period of two years.

Learner driver L plate


Once you have your permit, you can drive accompanied by a person who holds a full licence in the same category as yourself, and has held the licence for two years or longer. You will also have to take 12 one-hour lessons for mandatory Essential Driver Training (EDT) with an approved driving instructor (ADI).

You are not allowed to pick up paying passengers - as a taxi does - but you can have non-paying passengers in the car, such as friends or family, as long as you are accompanied by a supervisor with the correct licence. One place you can’t drive with a Learner Permit, though, is on a motorway.

Although you’re just a learner driver, if you fail to display your L plates or you drive unaccompanied, you can be fined and given penalty points. This will put your licence at risk, and it may affect your car insurance.

Your Test

If you are on a Learner Permit and you are learning to drive a car, you must have had your permit for at least six months before you take your test, and you must have passed your EDT.

The Car

Whatever car you are driving, make sure it’s insured with an up-to-date tax disc, and that the car is roadworthy with a valid National Car Test (NCT) certificate displayed on the windscreen if it is more than four years old.

Young woman driving a car


If you are using a friend’s car or one belonging to your parents to practice in, they must inform their insurance company. Most insurance companies will add a learner driver to a policy for an additional payment.

If you want to build up your no claims bonus before you have passed your test, the best thing to do is to take out your own car insurance. If you insure a car in your name, you’ll need to do this anyway. Once you’ve passed your test, or even before you’ve passed, you may well be eligible for a discount for our car insurance for young drivers because of the policy you had while learning.

Many insurance companies will offer you telematics insurance, which is a great way to get affordable insurance. Telematics recording, via an app, allows the insurer to track your driving patterns. For example, it will record the way you take corners, how you brake and whether or not you drive too fast.

The information is relayed to your insurance company, and if you are a good driver, the insurance company will reward you with discounts throughout the year or when you renew. You’ll be able to see how you are doing from your app. That way, if you are making any mistakes, you can quickly correct them.

Try to get 20 hours extra driving in before your test, and be nice to that person who accompanies you. It might seem as if they’re doing nothing but pointing out your mistakes, but you’ll thank them when you hear the magic words: ‘you’ve passed!’

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