How to book theory tests, apply for learner permits and arrange driving lessons – AA Ireland

Learning to Drive

Learning to drive can be a daunting experience for some or smooth sailing for others, nobody’s experience is ever the same.

While I can’t say my own experience of learning to drive has been easy, I can say that I got there in the end. Conking, coasting, parallel parking and three-point-turns – we’ve all been through it.

No need to worry though, AA Ireland will help you through it all. In our new driver’s series, we will talk you through the steps you need to take in order to get you out on the road safely and make this journey (excuse the pun) as easy as possible. So without further ado, here is our guide on theory tests, learner permits and driving lessons.

Theory Tests

Before applying for your learner permit, you must complete and pass the learner driver theory test which you can book online here. This a test of your general road safety knowledge and motoring legislation (such as rules of the road, risk perception, eco-driving, hazard awareness and good driving behaviour).

The test is computer-based and you will have a chance to take a practice session on the day, before starting on the actual test. If you have special needs, then you will need to contact the driver theory service. The theory test applies to anyone applying for a first learner permit in any vehicle category.

So what are the driver theory test categories? Well, there are five separate ones and the cost of the test will depend on which one you choose: motorcycle/moped (A, A1, A2 and AM), car, tractor and work vehicles (B, BE and W), truck (C, CE, C1 and C1E), bus (D, DE, D1 and D1E) and bus and truck (CD).

When you arrive at your test centre, you must show proof of identification. You will be given a specific timeframe and number of questions (selected randomly) depending on the category you have chosen. Once you have completed your test, you will be handed a score report with your results before you leave. If you pass, you are then ready to apply for your learner permit.

Keep in mind that the driver theory test was stopped during the strictest Covid-19 restrictions, so this has led to a very long waiting list – we have more detail about this in our Learning in a Pandemic round-up.

A new pilot scheme is allowing people to take the test online instead of going to the centre. However, if you want go for that option, keep in mind that this currently requires access to a PC running Windows 8 or above, and can’t be done on any other devices (such as your phone or a tablet).

Eyesight and Medical Reports

So after you pass your theory test, what’s next? Well, if you are applying for a learner permit for the first time, then you will need to obtain an eyesight report completed by a registered optometrist or medical practitioner. You must sign the eyesight report form in their presence and it will then need to be presented at the NDLS centre within one month.

There are other cases too where an eyesight report form is required. This includes if you previously wore glasses or lenses but are no longer required to do so or if you are exchanging a licence from another country outside of the EU.

A driving licence eyesight report is not required where a medical report form is provided – unless indicated by your doctor. Both the eyesight and medical forms can be downloaded on the NDLS website here.

Learner Permits

Once you pass your theory test and you have your satisfactory eyesight or medical report, you can then apply online for your learner permit on the National Driver Licence Service (NDLS) website.

But what else do you need in order to apply?

Well, you will need your Public Services Card (PSC), your verified MyGovID, identification, proof of address, proof of residency and the fee of €35. In order to get your PSC and register for a MyGovID, you will need to book a face-to-face registration appointment at a local Intreo Centre or Social Welfare Office – more details about this can be found here. 

When you hold a learner permit, you can apply for your driving test. However, first time holders must have their learner permit for six months and complete essential driver training (EDT) or initial basic training (IBT) before sitting the driving test.

Keep in mind that your learner permit allows you to drive on all public roads, except motorways, for the purpose of learning to drive. All learner permit holders, with the exception of those who hold a learner permit in category A1, A2, A, AM, or W, must be accompanied at all times by an approved driving instructor (ADI) or someone who holds a full, valid driving licence in the same category for more than two years.

If you drive unaccompanied or if you don’t display your L plates, then you are subject to a fine of up to €2,000 and penalty points.

If you are renewing your learner permit, keep in mind that permits that were due to expire during the pandemic have been extended. You won’t be sent a new permit with the new date, but you can calculate it on the NDLS website.

Make sure you know the right date for your permit; you don’t want to find yourself with an expired permit unexpectedly, as driving with an expired permit is an offence and may also affect your insurance cover. It’s best to renew it 3 months before it expires to avoid this.

Bear in mind too that you can add a category to or replace lost, stolen or damaged learner permits online.

Insurance

It’s now time to start thinking about insurance. Keep in mind that when you have driving lessons in your driving instructor’s vehicle, you’re covered on their insurance. But, if you are using your own car or someone else’s to practise in, then it means you will need to purchase insurance. You can either be added to someone else’s policy as a named driver or you can get your own learner driver insurance.

There are many companies out there that offer insurance for learner drivers. Why not let the AA help you find a great deal? You can do so by clicking online here.

Driving Lessons

Now that you have your learner permit and insurance sorted, you can go ahead and look for an RSA approved instructor. You can do so by searching the county you live in on the website. Make sure to check that the instructor teaches the right vehicle category for you, check their pass rates, ask past and present customers for their testimonials and compare lesson prices.

It’s very important that you find the right instructor for you; that you get on well and you are comfortable with their style of teaching.

When you have selected your instructor, you must complete at least 12 EDT lessons, but many people need more than that. As you may already be aware, there is a significant demand for lessons right across the country. Like theory tests, driving lessons were suspended for several months during the Level 5 restrictions and then reopened at first for essential workers only.

So if you’re struggling to book lesson times, try to get in more practice where possible with your sponsor (the fully qualified driver who accompanies you) – it’s better to keep things up, rather than leaving long gaps of no driving between lessons. Never drive unaccompanied – the laws around learner drivers have not changed during the pandemic. As mentioned already, learners must hold a valid permit, display L-plates and be accompanied by a fully qualified driver (not another learner or a novice). 

You can book as many lessons as you need in order to make sure you are well prepared for your driving test. With lessons and lots of practice, you should be well on your way to securing your full licence.

If you feel that you are well prepared, then you can go ahead and book your driving test on the RSA website.

Best of luck!

This article is part of an AA Ireland series on learning to drive. You can also find all our road safety guides hereincluding advice on driving in all weathers, parking laws, and what to do if you encounter animals or other road hazards. For a great deal on AA car insurance online, click here.