Wednesday, 24 March 2021
Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport
National Driver Licensing Service
78. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the measures he will put in place to deal with the backlog within the NDLS nationally in respect of persons left waiting many months for a driving test or licence renewal appointment. [1714/21]
A further extension to the expiry dates of driving licences has been introduced in response to the continued disruption caused by Covid-19 to driver licensing services in Ireland and across the EU.
The extension will apply to different groups of licence holders including those who benefited from extensions in 2020. Further information can be found on the Road Safety Authority (RSA) website.
RSA has also expanded the postal renewal option to those over 70 who renew their licence every three years. Previously only those aged 70 and over who renew their licence on a yearly basis were invited to renew it by post.
The exemption that allows for those aged over 70 to apply for a driving licence without the need to provide a medical report provided they do not have an identified or specified illness has also been extended and will apply until 30 June 2021.
The RSA, through the National Driver Licence Service (NDLS), has expanded the online facility to accommodate all driving licence and learner permit applications to enable accessibility online rather than by calling to an office. A verified MyGovID account, which requires a Public Services Card, is needed to access the online system.
In the driver testing service, due to suspension of driver tests in the first 2020 lockdown, along with the health protocols since resumption of service and the further curtailing of services during subsequent level 5 restrictions, a significant backlog has developed. The need to once again return to level 5 restrictions for reasons of public health will inevitably impact further on delays to driver testing. During the level 5 period, driving tests will be available only to those who are involved in essential services, including essential retail work.
While the service is limited during level 5 restrictions, the RSA is examining ways of increasing the number of tests within health constraints with an eye to resuming wider testing after level 5. This includes increasing the number of testing staff to help reduce and, over time, eliminate the backlog.
Following 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 I previously gave sanction to rehire during 2020.
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.
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. Any decision on this matter will be guided by health protocols.
The Department has been in discussions with the RSA on how to return to the normal target for the maximum waiting time for the driving test, 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.