Note: This article was written as part of a commercial content partnership between CompleteCar.ie and ISM.
Learning to drive used to be vastly different in Ireland. Not so long ago, it was the motorised equivalent of swimming with sharks - your parents would take you out a few times, you might pay for one or two official lessons just before taking your test, and that was it. A bit of a history lesson: did you know that the first person to pass the driving test in Ireland was taught by ISM (the Irish School of Motoring) in 1961?
If your parents were less than great drivers, or not so good at teaching, then you were going to wander out onto the roads with little experience and not much skill. Thankfully, the rules changed. The Road Safety Authority (RSA) introduced mandatory lessons, following the example set years before by motorbike instruction. The Essential Driver Training (EDT) course was introduced, which insists - by law - that you take a minimum of 12 structured driving lessons from an approved instructor before you sit your test.
There are enormous benefits to this system. OK, so it's true that it's a more expensive setup than the old let-your-dad-teach-you version of learning how to drive, but there are potential savings to be made at the other end. For example, ISM offers huge discounts on car insurance from AXA. The discount of up to €400 almost covers the cost of the 12 lessons.
Even without such specific discounts, it has been estimated that most learner drivers can instantly save between €300 and €600 on their insurance by passing their test.
That's just the money side of things. Of far greater importance is the simple fact that you're learning how to drive from a professional, rather than a family member who - no matter how good and careful a driver they might be - will inevitably be passing on their own bad habits to you.
As the RSA itself says: "The purpose of EDT is to save lives. Getting a driving licence is a privilege, not a right. As a learner driver you are exposed to greater risks when using the roads due to inexperience. Maximising your road safety knowledge and behaviour helps you to develop the skills and confidence needed to share the road safely with others. By completing EDT you will build a strong foundation on which to become a better and safer driver."
So, how do you go about it? The first thing to do is to go to the MyEDT portal (https://ccwdriver.rsa.ie/driver/driverlogin.aspx) provided by the RSA and set up an account. This will allow you to keep track of your EDT lessons, so you know, officially, when you've sat your minimum 12.
Now, please note that's a MINIMUM of 12 lessons. Don't assume that you can dash through the 12 lessons and then you'll be ready to sit your test. You may well be, but even so it's recommended that you get as much time behind the wheel as possible before sitting your test - every drive, accompanied by a suitable full-licence holder of course - gives you valuable extra experience and knowledge. It's also worth considering taking a final 'burst' of extra lessons just before you sit your test, just to get yourself match-fit, so to speak.
Read a bit more about EDT on the ISM website.
The EDT lessons are laid out on a curriculum, and while you don't have to follow that layout strictly, you will have to work through each individual section. The specific lessons are:
1. Car controls and safety checks
2. Correct positioning One
3. Changing direction One
4. Progression management
5. Correct positioning Two (more complex situations)
6. Anticipation and reaction
7. Sharing the road
8. Driving safely through traffic
9. Changing direction Two (more complex situations)
10. Speed management
11. Driving calmly
12. Night driving
There are some restrictions on the course, though. You have to take Lesson 1 first whatever happens. You can take lessons 2 through 8 in any sequence, but you have to have completed those before moving on to lessons 9 to 12.
You can find more details on the EDT programme, and the thinking behind it, from the RSA website.
As well as the online tracking component, the RSA has thankfully stuck to a more traditional paper logbook for your EDT. Your instructor should fill in and stamp the logbook after each lesson, so that you have a paper record of your progress. That's especially useful if you have to change instructors halfway through the process.
You can rush through the EDT process if you like, but the recommendation is to take a lesson about every two weeks, making sure to get plenty of practice in between. It's worth remembering that you won't be allowed to sit your driving test until you've had your first learner's permit for six months anyway, so you may as well use that time productively. Also remember, learning to drive is a personal journey. We all learn differently and arrive at our destination at a different pace. Your Approved Driving Instructor will tailor the driving lessons for you with the aim of making you a safe and competent driver.
If you're nervous about going out in a car with an instructor, the EDT system allows you to nominate a sponsor (most likely a parent or older relative) who can accompany you on lessons, and generally help to steer you through the process. This sponsor must themselves be a fully licenced driver, and have held their licence for at least two years.
It is worth noting that if you're applying for an Irish driver's licence, and coming from a country that does not have an automatic licence transfer agreement, you will have to sit the EDT programme, but you may be eligible for reduced EDT. It's also worth remembering that if you sit your full EDT, but you let your learner's permit lapse for five years, or longer, you'll have to go back to the start of the process, re-apply for a new learner's permit, and re-sit your EDT.
Once you've completed your EDT, and put in the practice hours, it's on to the driving test itself...
Getting on the road: an overview of the process
Getting on the road: Taking - and passing - your driver theory test
Getting on the road: How to apply for your learner permit
> Getting on the road: Your essential driver training
Getting on the road: Taking the driving test
Getting on the road: Now you've passed your test