So long, L-plates: you’ve passed the test, what next? AA Ireland

N plate

So you’ve made it through the lessons, the waiting list and now the test itself – congratulations!

Passing the text makes you a qualified driver, but you still have some steps to go and a two-year novice period ahead of you. Don’t treat the test like it’s the end of all learning; you’ll keep coming across new things and amassing more driving experience even after you get your full licence. It’s estimated that it takes over 100,000km driven to be considered an “experienced driver”. You won’t have experienced motorway driving yet, and depending on the time of year you did most of your practice, there may well be some types of weather conditions you haven’t yet driven in either. Every day’s still a school day on the roads.

But passing the test is a momentous occasion. Here are your next steps (when the initial celebrations are done).

Full licence

The first thing you need to do is apply for your full licence – even if you’ve passed your test, you’re still a learner by law until you trade in your certificate of competency for a licence. That means you still need to keep those L-plates up and have an accompanying driver for a tiny bit longer.

You can apply online if you have a verified MyGovID, or if you don’t, you can book an appointment to go to any NDLS office with your certificate of competency, ID and supporting documents (see here to book, and for the list of what is and isn’t accepted). Remember if you go to the office, they’ll take your photo on the spot, so be ready to take one you won’t mind looking at for the next 10 years!

The new licence will come in the post soon after – and that’s when you can finally bin those L-plates.

Remember that your licence is for specific categories of vehicle. The B category license for standard cars allows you to drive vehicles (not motorbikes or tractors) of up to 3,500kg in mass, with a trailer of up to 750kg, and a max of 8 passenger seats. If you sat the test in an automatic vehicle, your licence will only qualify you to drive other automatics, but passing in a manual allows you to drive both. If you want to drive a different type of vehicle down the line or tow a larger trailer, you’ll need to check the back of your licence and the NDLS website to make sure you are licensed to drive it. Other categories of vehicle, including large vans, trucks, buses and motorbikes, have their own tests.

N-plates

As a novice driver, you must display N-plates for the first two years after your first licence is issued. These are the same shape and size as your L-plates, and you have to have them at the front and back of the vehicle. These let other drivers know to give you extra space and patience if needed, as you’re still relatively new to driving and may be doing something for the first time.

With N-plates, you don’t need to be accompanied and there are no restrictions on your use of motorways, but there are some specific rules for novice drivers. During your N-plate period, there is a lower limit for drink-driving offences (just 20mg of alcohol per 100ml blood), it only takes 7 penalty points to be banned (compared to 12 for more experienced drivers) and you cannot act as the accompanying driver for a learner.

Once your two years are up, you don’t need to do anything other than remove the plates – you continue with the same licence and insurance. If you later take a test for a different category of licence, such as a motorbike or truck or van, you don’t need to display N-plates again.

Insurance

Speaking of insurance, you should call your insurance company once your full licence arrives to let them know of your change in status from learner to qualified. If you’re a named driver on someone else’s policy, you’ll need to ask them to do it. If you’re an AA Insurance customer, see here for more information on making this change to your policy.

Motorways

Motorways are the last hurdle in learning to drive, as you cannot drive on them as a learner. You will likely have experience on dual carriageways though, and it is quite similar, but you should give yourself time and space the first time you give it a go.

The main rule of any motorway is keep left. You should drive in the left lane unless you’re overtaking, or moving over to allow traffic joining the route to merge. Essentially, you should never be in the middle or right lane of a motorway if the left lane is empty.

The hard shoulder is a space at the side of the motorway marked with a solid white line. You should never drive in there, and only ever stop there if it’s an emergency, as it’s one of the most dangerous places to be on a motorway. Some stretches of motorway have an auxiliary lane to the left of the main lanes. This links two ramps, and has a different road marking – broken white lines that are closer together. This is to facilitate traffic exiting and entering the motorway, or traffic only travelling one junction, so you don’t need to treat it as the left lane.

The speed limit on most Irish motorways is 120kmph unless otherwise marked, although most of the M50 in Dublin is 100kmph. Remember when you’re driving on a motorway for the first time that traffic in other lanes may get close faster than you’re used to, and it will take you longer to stop. At 120kmph on a dry motorway, your braking distance can be 102m – that means you could travel the length of 10 double-decker buses between hitting the brake and actually coming to a halt. On a wet motorway, that extends to around 169km, or 17 bus-lengths. So keep well back from whoever’s in front.

You can read our full guide to motorway driving here.

This article is part of a series of advice for learner drivers. You can read our overview of how the pandemic has affected learner drivers here and our step-by-step guide to the learning process here.