N and L Plates for Beginner Drivers: Everything You Need to Know

Published on 21 October 2020

Learning how to drive and getting a driving licence is often an important milestone in the lives of many young people as it gives them greater independence and freedom of movement. However, having a driving licence doesn’t automatically make you an expert driver. 

To feel comfortable on the roads, you need to drive an average of around 100,000 kilometres, so while you’re acquiring the necessary experience, you’ll have to put a sign on your car indicating that you’re a learner or a novice driver.

What is the Purpose of the N and L Plates?

N and L plates in Ireland, as part of the Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) system, contribute to the “purpose of reducing the number of collisions, deaths and injuries among learner and novice drivers”, according to the Highway Safety Authority. This group, especially young drivers between 17 to 24 years old, is particularly vulnerable on the road as they're more likely to get into an accident due to inexperience.

An investigation in the UK revealed that 1 out of 5 novice drivers have been involved in a crash in the first six months after passing their driving test, according to the Road Safety Authority. N and L plates are designed to protect inexperienced drivers until they gain the confidence and skills they need to keep them safe behind the wheel.

In fact, these plates are a signal to all other drivers. What they actually do is warn others that the person behind the wheel is inexperienced and may make mistakes or not follow the traffic rules to the letter. They’re a signal that encourages other drivers to give them space and increase the safety distance to avoid accidents. They also remind other drivers to be patient and not generate stressful situations that may affect their driving.

The Main Differences Between N and L Plates

In Ireland, to obtain a driving licence, you have to complete four phases: pass the driver theory test, get a learner permit, practice driving and then finally pass the driving test.

When you pass the driver theory test, you can apply for a learner permit from the NDLS. With this document you can drive on all public roads, except for motorways. However, the learner permit isn’t a full driving licence, and there are certain rules you must follow.

Above all, you must only get behind the wheel while in the company of an experienced driver who has a full driving licence. They must have held their licence for two consecutive years in the same category you wish to get your licence in.

In addition, during the entire learning period, you will have to display L plates on the car you’re driving. These plates indicate that you’re learning how to drive, and you’ll have to use them until you pass your driving test. Since you can’t pass the driving test until a learning period of at least six months has gone by, this will be the minimum amount of time that you’ll have to display the L plates on the car.

In the past, you could remove the plates once you passed the driving test, but the law changed on August 1st, 2014. From that moment on, everyone who receives a full driving licence is required to exchange the L plates for plates with the letter 'N' on the vehicle, which indicate that they’re a novice driver. These new plates must be kept on for a period of two years.

It’s worth clarifying that the novice period only applies once; that is, if you have a driving licence for one vehicle category and, after a period of two years, you have the right to drive a vehicle in another category, such as buses or trucks, you don’t go back to being a novice driver in that new category.

What do the N and L Plates Look Like and Where Should you Place Them?

In Ireland, the N and L plates are placed vertically and must be clearly visible at the front and rear of the vehicle. If you’re driving a motorcycle, you must wear a fluorescent yellow vest on which the plates can be clearly distinguished. One must go on the front of the vest and another on the back.

However, you should know that not just any sticker or adhesive can be used ─ these plates must meet a series of requirements. First of all, the letter 'N' or 'L' must be red on a white background. In addition, it must be at least 15 cm tall with a border of at least 2 cm, so that it is clearly visible to other drivers.

Penalties for not Displaying the N and L Plates

In Ireland, not having the N and L plates is considered a traffic violation. If you pay the fine within the first 28 days, it will be €60.00. If you exceed that period, the fine increases to €90.00. If you accept the violation, it will result in two penalty points being added to your driving licence, but if you appeal the violation and lose, then four points will be added. Keep in mind that when you're a novice driver, having seven points added leads to your driving licence being taken away, meaning you’ll have to retake the theory test.


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