Irish driver licensing law operates within a framework of EU law. It is important to remember that driver licensing law exists to ensure that people licensed to drive on our roads meet high standards of safety. The standards for testing drivers are set at EU level. If you are resident in Ireland you must have a EU licence. The Deputy will be aware of this from his previous position in Government with responsibility for Diaspora matters.
Ireland does not have a driving licence exchange agreement with the United States of America, therefore a USA licence can not be exchanged for an Irish licence. Indeed, as the licensing authorities in the USA are generally the States (as with Canada), any exchange agreement could only be reached with individual States. However due to the mutual recognition for exchange purposes among States, any State's licence must be assessed by the standards of all the States.
Bilateral agreements on licence exchange are reached only when the relevant authorities in each jurisdiction have studied and compared the two licensing regimes, so that each side can be satisfied that they are compatible.
As Ireland does not have an exchange agreement with the USA, there is no recognised standard of testing which people have met. In that regard, it is worth noting that the road safety record of US States are generally not comparable with those of EU Member States.
Individuals with licences issued by States in the USA are required to go through the national driver learning process in order to obtain an Irish driving licence. In recognition of holders of a full but non-exchange licence, such applicants can avail of the shorter Essential Driver Training of 6 lessons instead of the usual 12, and will not have to wait the usual minimum of 6 months before taking a driving test.
There is a distinction between motorists visiting Ireland and those living in Ireland. For non-residents, currently under the Convention on Road Traffic 1949 (Geneva Convention), drivers from Contracting States carrying a valid driver’s licence can drive on each other’s roads for up to a year.
I acknowledge, due to suspension of the driver testing services 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.
The Road Safety Authority 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. Sanction has recently been provided to hire 40 additional temporary driver testers, along with 36 approved for retention or rehire in 2020.