Thursday, 10 December 2020
Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment
222. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the measures that will be introduced to ensure that the waiting list for driver tests will be cleared as quickly as possible; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42715/20]
My Department is in constant contact with the Road Safety Authority since the start of the pandemic regarding all of its services, the impact of Covid-19 on those services, and how they can best be maintained in the current circumstances.
As you are aware, car driving tests were first temporarily suspended due to Covid-19 in March 2020. The service resumed, on a gradual basis, in mid-July.
Since resuming operations, there has inevitably been an increased level of demand due to the consequent backlog. Unfortunately, due to social distancing and other public health and hygiene requirements, service capacity has had to be considerably reduced. This means that customers experience longer waiting times than was the case before the service was suspended.
In addition, Level 5 restrictions which took effect for six weeks from 22 October 2020 to the 01 December, meant that driving tests were only available to those involved in essential services, including essential retail work. While I regret the inconvenience caused, public safety must remain of paramount importance.
The Road Safety Authority is currently examining ways of increasing the number of tests within health constraints and is working in close consultation with my Department on this matter. This includes increasing the number of testing staff to help reduce and, over time, eliminate the backlog.
My Department has recently approved the retention by the RSA of 18 temporary driver testers whose contracts were due to expire in October and November, and the RSA has also rehired a further 18 temporary testers whose contracts expired in May. This will help to increase testing capacity. However, I would like to stress, that many of the issues impacting on the delivery of service are concerned with the throughput of centres themselves in light of the restrictions, rather than on the availability of staff.
The RSA are also looking at a number of other measures, including whether the number of tests a driver tester can perform each day can be increased within current health constraints. Due to the additional hygiene and sanitation procedures that are now absolutely necessary, each testing slot now takes a much longer time to complete. As a result, the number of tests a tester can safely conduct per day was reduced from eight to five when the service reopened. Following experience of managing the tests under Covid restrictions, this was increased to six in mid-September. This may be raised to 7, depending on health assurance, but not until January 2021 at the earliest.
The Department has been in discussions with the RSA on how to return to the normal target for the maximum waiting time, which is around ten weeks. It is clear that it will not be possible to arrive at this quickly, given restraints which must be in place due to the pandemic. It is important to recognise that there are no quick fixes and that the continuing build-up of applications as the pandemic goes on means that it will take time to reach a normal waiting time.