I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 and 5 together.
Responsibility for driver testing was transferred to the Road Safety Authority in September 2006, under the Road Safety Authority Act 2006 (Conferral of Functions) Order 2006. The arrangements for testing, numbers of candidates and licences are therefore a matter for that agency.
The new framework for the reform of the provisional licence system and for the changeover to a learner permit system, introduced by me in October, is the first step in a fundamental reform of arrangements for the formation and licensing of young drivers. This reform is a major element of the new road safety strategy and one which holds out the promise of a significant dividend in terms of reduced deaths and injuries in this most vulnerable category of young drivers.
Following the changes to the driver licensing laws for learner drivers which were introduced in October this year, both I and the RSA have confirmed that all 122,000 applicants on the waiting list at the end of that month will have been tested by early March 2008 and that by the end of June 2008 all applicants for a driving test will be able to get a test on demand, that is, within a ten-week period. This does not mean there will be no waiting list at the end of June 2008.
I have also requested that the RSA ensure that all 120,000 people who were holders of second provisional licences at the time the changes were introduced in October will have been offered a test before the end of June 2008. As we know, from that time, these drivers will be required to be accompanied by a qualified driver, a requirement which applies to all other learner drivers in any event. The national vehicle and driver file, NVDF, section of my Department, based in Shannon, is directly assisting the RSA in this objective.
Since its establishment in September 2006, the RSA has introduced a number of measures to reduce driving test waiting times, including contracting SGS Limited to provide additional driving tests on its behalf. Over the last year or so, the average waiting time for a test has come down by about one third and the RSA continues to drive that waiting time down. Additional testers have been recruited by SGS Ireland, the first cohort of which have commenced training in recent days. A large number of applicants responded to the SGS recruitment campaign and SGS is confident it will find significant numbers suitable for rapid training and deployment. The RSA and SGS will ensure that these additional testers come on stream between now and next March. At that time, the capacity of the testing service in terms of numbers tested per week will have increased by approximately two thirds.
I confirm that the RSA has carefully examined the pattern of application and pass rates, and has taken into account the significant spike in applications which has occurred in recent weeks, but which is tailing off. Having considered all factors, the RSA continues to believe that the undertakings given will be honoured.
As regards the issue of resources, the amount of funding to be made available to the RSA in 2008 amounts to €39.8 million, which includes an additional amount of €11 million to help address the driving test waiting list in 2008.