Thursday, 16 September 2021

Questions (75)

Darren O'Rourke


75. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Transport if he will provide an update on his efforts to clear the driving test backlog including the plan to hire additional driving testers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44094/21]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Transport)

Due to the suspension of driver testing services during the initial pandemic response, along with the health protocols required since the resumption of services, they are operating well below normal capacity and a significant backlog has developed. Covid-19 has had a profound effect on the delivery of these services, which must comply with occupational and public health guidelines. Fewer daily tests can now be conducted due to social distancing and priority is given to essential workers and then to those who have had tests cancelled due to Covid.

In line with the gradual reopening of services this summer, driving tests for all those who are eligible to take the test and have been waiting longest have now recommenced. Critical front-line workers continue to be the priority for the driver testing services. The latest figures available to Sunday, 12 September, show, in spite of the Covid challenges, 101,870 tests have been offered and the Road Safety Authority, RSA, has delivered 92,672 driving tests in 2021. It is highly significant that no Covid case has been attributed to the driving test.

My Department is liaising with the RSA on an ongoing basis to meet the growing demand for tests. The RSA has a complement of 100 permanent driver testers. An additional 40 temporary driver testers have been authorised, along with 36 approved for retention or rehire in 2020. These testers have been recruited and trained and commenced live testing in July. In addition, sanction was granted at the end of June to add a further 40 testers to the cohort. When trained and in place, this will increase the number of testers to 216. The RSA is looking to increase the number of tests from six to seven per tester, per day, from the end of this month, as well as extending operating hours and expanding facilities at existing centres or opening new centres.

There is an average of 3,254 tests conducted per week and the number of tests scheduled is increasing on a gradual basis. However, it has be noted that approximately 5% of all tests scheduled are not conducted or are abandoned on the day for a number of reasons, such as the driver not having NCT certification or adequate insurance. In addition, it is disappointing to note that a number of people do not turn up on the day of their scheduled test.

I thank the Minister of State for the update. We appreciate the challenges but there is a significant backlog of tests. Some 105,000 is the latest figure I have in terms of numbers waiting for a test and at different stages of preparedness, in fairness. That is more than a year's backlog, based on last year. From what the Minister of State is saying, we hope to increase the number of tests that can be conducted. I hope it does not take that long. Can the Minister of State outline the timeline for the additional recruitment of the additional 40 extra testers? The RSA asked for those last October and we are one year on. When will they be recruited and how quickly will we see the backlog being addressed?

The previous 40 have been recruited and they are now fully trained and started live testing in July. I know the question was not on theory tests but there is really positive work happening in that space. In June, we had a backlog of 129,431 theory tests. That is down to 71,227 and there are free slots available for the driver theory test. Some 9,000 to 10,000 tests per week are happening. That is in a very good space, for which I commend the RSA. From 12 September, some 67,684 people were waiting to receive an invitation for a driver test, while 10,094 had received a test date. A further 28,631 people have applied for their test but are not eligible to take it. With a possibility of 4,881 tests per week, it should be possible to clear the backlog in 14 weeks, allowing for those 40 testers and the seven tests, per tester, per day.

The backlogs and waiting times will reduce further when those additional 40 testers are sanctioned but hopefully by December that 14-week delay will be dealt with.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. One of the proposals that has been raised by driving instructors and others is that we would avail of the resource of driving instructors, either to assess people they deem ready for tests or possibly give them the responsibility of testing. Have any of those types of hybrid models been considered, or does the Minister of State not see them as necessary at this stage given the plans she has outlined? There is huge frustration for the 105,000 people who are waiting. Has the Minister of State given any consideration to using driving instructors to increase the efficiency of the testing process, whether that be in getting people test-ready sooner or assessing the tests themselves?

I add my voice to those of the driving instructors. There should be some interaction to see if we can use a hybrid model and create a system that will allow for people to be test-ready. It would basically be a streamlining of the situation. I had submitted a later question about the theory test. In fairness to the Minister of State, she has answered a fair number of questions or given information about that. We are talking about December for dealing with the driving test backlog. That is on the record and I appreciate that. Obviously all will be done to make up for any lags. The Minister of State does not see any major difficulties relating to theory tests into the future. If there is any element of backlog, what sort of timeline are we talking about for clearing it?

For the theory test, and I will make reference to the driving test as well, there are one in five no-shows. It is very important to say that. Almost 30% of those who sit their theory test fail it so they will be reapplying for that and there are free slots available for the theory test. There is a huge amount of work there. The target was to have 50,000 theory tests per month so that is well on target and the RSA is working well in relation to that.

Regarding the driving test backlog, there will be, and is, pent-up demand. There are people who did not apply for a driving test as they did not consider themselves essential workers. The driver testing failure rate is about 44%. The Deputy's point about getting drivers test-ready is valid. There are a number of people who have applied for the driving test who do not feel they are ready. We have all been there in the past. People apply for it hoping they will be ready and when it comes to it they are not. There will be pent-up demand. The truer figure for that backlog is about 46,500 people currently waiting. With the extra 40 testers, and seven tests per tester per day, we should see that backlog reducing by December.