Friday, March 03, 2023

Seán McCárthaigh

The number of learner drivers who fail to show up for their appointed driving test has fallen dramatically over the past two years, according to the Road Safety Authority.

New figures published by the RSA show a total of 4,131 applicants for the driving test were classified as “no shows” last year compared to 24,456 in 2019 and 8,925 in 2020.

According to the RSA, the no-show rate has dropped from 11 per cent in 2019 to 2 per cent over each of the last two years.

In the past, the level of learner drivers who fail to attend their appointed driving test was regarded as a contributory factor in adding to a backlog in numbers waiting to take the test.

Change in booking process

In response to a parliamentary question by Social Democrats TD, Catherine Murphy, the RSA said there had been a significant decrease in the volume of learner drivers failing to show up for the test following a change in the booking process and system in late 2020.

An RSA official said the change allowed learner drivers to pick and book their own time slot for the driving test online.

The RSA pointed out that the law currently provides that individuals cannot renew a third or subsequent learner permit without having sat a driving test in the previous two years or having a driving test arranged.

However, they said it did not have records to show the number of learner permits renewed each year to drivers who failed to show up for their driving test.

Applicants are allowed to reschedule their driving test for free up to two times once it is done at least 10 days before the appointed time without losing the €85 test fee.

The reduction in the number of “no shows” means the amount in fees retained by the RSA has fallen from over €2 million in 2019 to just over €350,000 last year.

Ms Murphy said the drop in the number of no shows for tests from a simple change in the application process was to be welcomed.

“While the issue has now been addressed the focus should now really turn to eliminating backlogs in getting a test appointment itself as well as the ongoing wait times for the NCT,” said the Kildare North TD.

RSA chief executive, Sam Wade, told the Oireachtas Transport Committee last month that there were over 47,300 learner drivers waiting for an appointment to sit a driving test at the end of 2022 with an average wait time of 19 weeks.

It is currently providing an average of 4,000 tests per week compared to 3,000 last October.

However, he said current staffing levels were not sufficient to reduce the backlog or meet projected future demand for tests.

Mr Wade said the RSA had sought approval from the Department of Transport in December to hire 40 additional temporary driving testers.

However, the RSA acknowledged that clearing the backlog of motorists waiting to take the driving test was unlikely to occur until mid-2024.

The RSA has a target waiting time of 10 weeks for applicants to sit the test. The current average waiting time is 21 weeks.

In the Dáil this week, the junior transport minister, Jack Chambers, said the waiting times were linked to a 28 per cent increase in the number of applicants compared to 2021.

“Contributing factors include an increase in learner permits in circulation, increased capacity in the driver theory test and an increase in approved driving instructors’ capacity to deliver lessons to learner drivers,” said Mr Chambers.

He added: “All these factors have experienced a surge in demand.”

Mr Chambers said the Department of Transport was evaluating the RSA’s demand for additional resources after it had already approved an increase in the permanent driver tester headcount from 100 to 130 last year.

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