I thank the Acting Chairman. I am very grateful for the opportunity to come here today and clear up any misapprehensions which may have resulted from a debate last week. I have been asked to make a statement on the current driving test waiting times, following the Commencement matter discussed in the House on Wednesday, 18 October, which was taken on my behalf by the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Griffin. I understand that Senator Victor Boyhan has queried the waiting times provided by the Road Safety Authority, RSA, in its letter of 21 September, which were different from those provided and outlined to the House last Wednesday, and that he has requested that the waiting times be verified. I am happy to advise that I have since requested this verification from the authority and can inform the Senator that the authority stands over the information provided.
I would like to take this opportunity to clarify, for those who are confused, that the waiting times are averaged over the course of the year. A figure for the average waiting time and the longest waiting time at any one centre is liable to change over time. The date on which those times are viewed is very important and differs weekly. The figures provided by the Road Safety Authority were correct on each of the dates in question. Waiting times can fluctuate due to the availability of driver testers at a particular centre and the number of applications for tests from one month to the next. As was mentioned in the reply to the Commencement matter raised last Wednesday, the driver testing service has seen an increase of almost 20% in the levels of driving test applications over the past four years. This, coupled with the retirements of driver tester staff, has meant that the waiting times for customers for driving tests have, unfortunately, increased.
The Road Safety Authority’s objective is to have a national average waiting time of no longer than ten weeks. However, the current national average waiting time for a driving test is 14 weeks. The authority is working on measures to improve the wait time for the test. These measures include the recruitment of additional driver testers, the delivery of 120 extra overtime tests per driver tester, initiatives to reduce the number of applicant no-shows at the driving test, initiatives to reduce the number of non-conducted driving tests, and a new driving test booking system. I would also like to point out that the authority is committed to working with any applicants who require an urgent appointment. A priority list system is in place whereby cancelled test appointments are made available for such applicants. More than 1,000 tests are cancelled by driving test applicants weekly and these slots are subsequently offered to applicants who require urgent test appointments.
The authority continues to monitor capacity against demand and deploys driver testers to best meet the demand across all test centres. I fully accept that current waiting times remain too high, but I am assured that the measures the authority has put in place will have the desired effect of reducing waiting times to the public. I can advise that my Department has also asked the RSA to examine the long-term staffing needs of the driver testing service to ensure that it can plan in the long term for revision of tester numbers based on demand for tests and to better manage succession planning for driver testers who may retire.