Wednesday, 24 February 2021
Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport
83. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the status of the roll-out by the Road Safety Authority of online driver theory tests (details supplied); when the system will go live; the details of the backlog for driver theory tests by county in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9408/21]
Waiting list details are held by the Road Safety Authority. I have therefore referred this part of the Question to the Authority for direct reply. I would ask the Deputy to contact my office if a response has not been received within ten days.
The Driver Theory Test (DTT) has not been classified as an essential service by Government and consequently it has had to be suspended in light of Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions. All Driver Theory Tests will remain suspended for the duration of level 5 restrictions. The Driver Theory Test will not be conducted for essential workers while we remain in level 5.
While I fully appreciate the inconvenience this poses to learners, I am sure you will agree with me that the limiting of the spread of the virus and the safeguarding of public health must take first priority here.
The Road Safety Authority has advised my office that it is engaging with its service provider to maximise capacity to offer tests while adhering to occupational and public health requirements for when services are resumed. In this regard, they would, for example, be opening on additional days at some centres and extended hours also provided to allow additional capacity for appointments.
While this is an operational matter for the Authority, I understand the Driver Theory Test service has recently launched a pilot phase of a new initiative, which offers a Remote Testing service for specific categories of Theory Test (C, D, CD, BMT, TMT, ADI, CPCB, CPCT). Following a review of the pilot phase, I understand the RSA expect the initiative to be extended for car and motorcycles.
The RSA are keen to progress and extend the service to all categories of Driver Theory Test, however scaling up operations to facilitate higher numbers will take time to achieve.
I would like to make the Deputy aware that the operation of the tests is handled by the RSA. As many of the suggestions raised are operational matters, I have also referred the question to the Authority for direct reply. If a reply has not been received within 10 working days, the Deputy should contact my office.
The Department has been in discussions with the RSA on how to return to the normal target for the maximum waiting time for the Driver Testing Service. 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.
I am happy to comment on the matters raised, where it is appropriate to do so.
1. Stop all “check tests
Under provisions set out in S.I. No. 203/2009 - Road Traffic (Driving Instructor Licensing) (No. 2) Regulations 2009 the Road Safety Authority (RSA) is legally required to carry out a check test of an Approved Driving Instructor every two years at the very minimum. This test takes the form of an observation by an RSA examiner of a lesson given by the instructor to a learner driver and is considered an essential element in the regulation and continuous professional development of driving instructors.
Driving is a complex and multi-faceted skill and instructors shoulder a considerable responsibility in teaching their students to behave safely and responsibly on the roads at all times. It is for this reason that it is imperative that the RSA have a means of ensuring that all instructors maintain the highest of teaching standards in the years after they have completed their initial qualification. It is important that we do not allow the current pandemic to unnecessarily undermine the very significant progress we have made in reducing the impact of road collisions on public health and health services.
I further understand that the RSA, since resuming check tests in September, has drawn upon a provision in the 2009 regulation permitting the conducting of a test with the examiner playing the role of the learner driver rather than the learner driver themselves. This provision will serve to limit the number of people present in the vehicle for the duration of the check test from three to two and thus reduce the public health risk accordingly.
4. ADIs to use the facilities at test centres.
Operational arrangements at test centres, including the availability of waiting and washing facilities, are a matter for the Road Safety Authority. I understand that the Authority decided to temporarily close public toilet and waiting facilities in the interests of public safety and as part of its overall Covid-19 resumption of service protocols and in line with health and safety risk assessment procedures which had to be adopted as part of the RSA's resumption plans. It took account of guidance issued by the Health and Safety Authority and the return to work safely protocol agreed by the Labour and Employer Economic Forum, LEEF.
In response to a formal request from Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton to review these arrangements, the Authority wrote to the Department in November outlining the absolute necessity of retaining these safety measures. While the Authority recognises that this may be inconvenient for partners, family members and indeed driving instructors who accompany learner drivers to their tests, the fact remains that the more people who enter a building, the greater the risk of Covid spreading. The safety of staff and the public in general must remain the Road Safety Authority's number one priority at this time.
6. Increase the number of testers
Following from discussions with the RSA, my Department has approved the hiring of a further 40 temporary testers for 22 months, and the process of recruitment is now underway. However it will take some time for people to be selected and trained. These new hires will be in addition to the 36 temporary testers who were re-hired over the course of 2020, whose contracts expired during last year.
These measures 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.
Items 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, and 10 are operational matters for the RSA and have been referred to the RSA for direct reply.