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Motorists who broke the law by driving on learner permits without being accompanied by a driver with a full licence have received penalty points 59,000 times since 2008. 
Minister for Agriculture Barry Cowen, who made an abject apology to the Dáil last night for a drink-driving penalty and for driving on a provisional licence, was never sanctioned for driving unaccompanied. 
The Fianna Fáil TD for Laois–Offaly would have incurred two penalty points every time he drove unaccompanied were he stopped and checked at a Garda checkpoint. 
If he was not displaying “L” plates the Minister would have incurred another two points, or four points in total, per journey. Twelve points are required for a driving ban. 
Mr Cowen was caught drink driving after the All-Ireland final in 2016 and incurred penalty points and a three-month driving ban, rather than a conviction, as his blood alcohol limit was on the lower end of the scale. 
He was driving on a provisional licence, or learner permit, at the time as he had not passed a driving test and received a full licence. It is an offence for provisional licence, or learner permit, holders to drive if they are not accompanied by a person who has had a full licence for at least two years. 
Mr Cowen said on the day he was caught drink driving he was accompanied by an experienced driver with a full licence. However, he added he had at times driven unaccompanied. 
Learner permits 
Although he has escaped sanction for that offence, other drivers have been penalised 59,037 times since it became a penalty-point offence during Christmas week in 2014. 
As a learner permit holder, Mr Cowen was also legally obliged to display an “L” plate. Furthermore, when he passed his driver test, as he has done since drink driving in 2016, he was obliged under law to display an “N” novice plate for two years. 
It was unclear if he had complied with those legal requirements, both of which became penalty point offences in late 2014. 
Since then penalty points have been imposed 34,130 times for failure to display an “L” plate and 4,659 times for failure to display an “N” plate. 
The laws around so-called provisional drivers’ licences have been tightened several times in the Republic over the past 15 years. 
Indeed, there is now no such thing as a provisional licence, which were replaced with learner permits. From October 2007, new drivers were issued with learner permits rather than provisional licences though provisional licences already on issue could still be used. 
That move was designed to make it clear new drivers were expected to take lessons and pass a driving test quickly and that learner permits were only intended for a short period of learning. 
Until 2008 if drivers were on their second or subsequent provisional licence they were permitted to drive alone without the need to be accompanied by a full licence holder. 
From July 1st, 2008, any driver on a learner permit or provisional licence faced a fine of up to €1,000 if detected driving unaccompanied. In December 2014, that became punishable by an €80 fine and two penalty points, though the sanction increases if the fine is not paid within 28 days. 
From the same date learner permit drivers who failed to display “L” learner plates were liable for two penalty points. Those drivers who had just passed their test were required to display “N” novice plates, for two years, and faced two penalty points if they did not do so. 
Finally, from December 22nd, 2018, it became an offence for the owner for a vehicle own to allow their car be driven by an unaccompanied learner driver. Garda that change to the Road Traffic Amendment Act 2018, known as the Clancy Amendment, gardaí were also given the power to seize any vehicle on the spot being driven by an unaccompanied learner driver. 
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