As a result of legislation introduced by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, the driving test for learner drivers is becoming more exacting. The standards expected have increased, which is welcome and Sinn Féin has supported all the legislation the Minister has introduced. It is now necessary, for example, to ensure a fully qualified driver is always in a vehicle and this requirement is being fully enforced, as is right and proper. However, other factors outside the remit of the Department, including the cost of insurance, make learning to drive increasingly difficult. In that context, it is reasonable to expect the Government to go some distance towards ensuring that learner drivers have reasonable access to the driving test and have an opportunity to become fully qualified drivers. Learner drivers are facing inordinate waiting times across the country, particularly in Cork city and surrounding areas. According to the Road Safety Authority's website, the average waiting time for a driving test is 15.6 weeks. This does not tell the full story, however.
The longest wait is 25 weeks, according to the RSA website. What is important to understand is that for those who are in a position to book a cancellation, for example, it is not that difficult to get a test but those cancellations could fall at any time. The reality for anybody working full time is that that option is not available to him or her. One must pick a specific date and that date could be five or six months down the line. Others are in a situation where they need to pass a driving test to be able to qualify for a new position that they have applied for.
In anticipation of this debate, I asked my constituents on social media for examples of how long they had been waiting. I was told that one person had booked a test in January and still had not heard anything. Another was waiting seven months for a test date. One person was waiting since September. A driving instructor told me that a pupil had sat the test yesterday who had applied last November. Another person has been waiting since November and is being told that it could be some time.
For many, the wait is longer than six months. That presents considerable difficulties, particularly for those who are waiting on a job and need a driving licence for that. It is quite unfair, especially for those who have sat the test, may have missed out narrowly and then must wait another six months before they can sit the test again. In the context of us setting higher and higher thresholds for learner drivers, it is only fair that Government would ensure that learner drivers have access to a test reasonably speedily.
One step that should be taken is that a second driving test centre be set up to serve the greater Cork city area. The city test centre covers not only Cork city, which has a population of more than 200,000 when one takes in the surrounding areas, but also east Cork, because there is no test centre there, and a good part of north Cork. This test centre serves a population of between 300,000 and 350,000. That is excessive. There should be a second test centre to serve that area.