The Coronavirus pandemic has lead to an influx of new drivers hitting Northern Ireland’s roads. However, many young people are finding themselves prevented from getting their first set of wheels by a number of unexpectedly high expenses.
Driving Lessons and Test
The first step for 17 year old’s seeking the freedom of their own car is driving lessons. According to the DVSA it takes around 45 hours to learn to drive, with an additional 22 hours of practice. With the average hour long driving lesson costing in the region of £28-32 (newdriverni). This means new drivers may have to pay in excess of £1200 just to get ready for the test. Additionally, theory tests in NI cost £23 with the practical test costing £45.50 on a weekday and £62.50 on a weekend or evening.
The next step for would-be drivers is the car itself. The Coronavirus pandemic has had a big impact on the automotive industry, with a global shortage in parts and demand greatly outstripping supply. This has lead to used car prices skyrocketing in Northern Ireland. In some cases used models have sold for more than the list price of the new model. Leading to more expense for young people seeking the independence of their first car.
Callum Glenny, (24) employee at Portadown based car dealership Shellbourne motors, gives further insight into the reasons behind the dramatic price rise for used cars in Northern Ireland. “One of the major economic phenomenon this decade is the increase in retail costs of used automobiles. Production of new final products decreased from 97 million in 2018 to 78 million in 2020.”
“The main causes for this are all linked to events. A global semiconductor shortage really hampered the production of new final products. Combined with Covid leading to factory closures in Europe. Meanwhile the demand for cars has remained stable and even increased post-Covid with consumers predetermining the necessity of the product. The Ukraine crisis has exacerbated the semiconductor problems. Prices in the UK were up 20% in February compared to last year. They’re up 40% in the USA.”
Once the car has been acquired it has to be insured. Young driver insurance is substantially more expensive than that for older drivers. The latest figures, released in 2020 (confused.com) found that in Northern Ireland the average insurance premium is £976, £161 higher than the UK average of £815. Infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon has introduced a bill to the assembly which if passed into law should give consumers savings of up to £50 a year.
A comparison of insurance costs on compare NI for a typical starter car (1.2 litre Vauxhall Corsa) between a mature driver with several years no claims bonus and a 17 year old new driver shows how wide the disparity is.
One unexpected benefit of the first lockdown was a dramatic drop in fuel prices. However, due to post Brexit trading problems and the ongoing crisis in Ukraine those low prices are a distant memory. As shown below fuel prices have grown exponentially in recent months.
The increase in the price of fuel is yet another ingredient that has been added to the cocktail of costs facing new drivers. Many young people are having the income they make from part time jobs eaten away by these costs on top of both inflation and a more general cost of living crisis. The government has attempted to offset some of these negative impacts with substantial increases in the minimum wage for young people.
Heidi Russell (20) is a student at Ulster University Coleraine. Despite passing her test when she was 17 she only recently bought her first car. “I would’ve loved to get a car earlier but the costs really put me off. I really had to save up first. When I did come to buy I specifically looked for cars that would be cheaper to insure.”
“Now I do have the car I definitely notice my student loan and savings going down quicker. There’s a lot of expenses that come with having a car that you don’t think about when you don’t have one. I don’t have a job at the minute as I’m doing an internship so it definitely adds to the financial pressure.”
Heidi’s experience is similar to that of thousands of students who struggle to afford to get on the road and even stay on it when they have purchased a car. Being engaged in full time study restricts their ability to work part-time.
The combination of all these factors means that for more young people than ever before the experience of getting the independence and freedom of your first car has become an expensive dream rather than a rite of passage.