Authority defends driving test system


CONTRACTORS HIRED to clear a backlog of driving-test applications did not go easier on their candidates than full-time testers, the Road Safety Authority (RSA) said yesterday.

The comment followed a report by Comptroller and Auditor General John Buckley raising concerns about variations between the pass rates of drivers assessed by RSA testers and those of external contractors.

The report found the national average pass rate for RSA testers in 2008 was 49 per cent compared to 62 per cent for contractors, who conducted some 57 per cent of the 470,000 driving tests in the State that year.

It said pass rates ranged from 39 per cent to 60 per cent at RSA centres and between 51 per cent and 77 per cent at centres where tests were administered by external contractor SGS Ireland.

The lowest pass rates were at RSA test centres in Finglas and Tallaght in Dublin, which both had a 39 per cent pass rate. Contractor pass rates were lowest, at 51 per cent, in Tullamore, Co Offaly, and Tralee, Co Kerry.

The highest average pass rate at an RSA centre was 60 per cent in Clifden, Co Galway. Contractors in Nenagh, Co Tipperary passed 77 per cent of candidates.

A spokesman for the RSA said contractors were not encouraged to pass candidates to clear the backlog.

“The preparedness of candidates will always be an issue and the length of time waited and calibre of candidate feed into the difference too,” he said.

For example, some 59 per cent of 7,500 candidates tested by contractors in Finglas passed their test, while only 39 per cent of 9,500 candidates at the Finglas RSA centre were successful.

The RSA spokesman said such a discrepancy could be put down to the fact that candidates sent to the contractor for testing had more experience and preparation time and had not failed an earlier test. He said the RSA testers also carried out motorcycle, lorry, coach and work vehicle tests, while contractors focused solely on cars.

Mr Buckley’s report also said a review of individual testers found a pattern “where some testers consistently passed or failed significantly more candidates than other testers” at the same centre.

He said there was “a considerable variation” between results determined by individual testers – which ranged from average pass rates of 23 per cent to 69 per cent in tests conducted by the RSA and from 37 per cent to 83 per cent for contract tests.

“Overall, this pattern of results has implications for the consistency of the tests conducted by the RSA,” the report states.

Mr Buckley said the waiting time was now very close to the RSA’s target of 10 weeks at all centres.

In 2006, average waiting times were as high as 69 weeks

He also said the RSA had made considerable strides in modernising the driving test system.

The report states that the exchequer had to significantly subsidise driving tests in 2008.

It cost €42 million to stage 470,000 tests that year, an average of €88, but only €18.2 million was generated in associated revenue. The driving test fee has since been increased from €38 to €75.

Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey said the report raised “important issues in relation to contracts for outsourcing services, costing systems, demand forecasting and tester productivity and consistency.

He said the RSA had “radically” reduced waiting times.

2008 Pass rates

Road Safety Authority tests

Tallaght 39%

Finglas 39%

Kilkenny 41%

Carlow 41%

Cavan 42%

Waterford 50%

Tralee 58%

Newcastle West 59%

Buncrana 59%

Clifden 60%

Contractor tests:

Tullamore 51%

Tralee 51%

Drogheda 54%

Waterford 55%

Kilkenny 60%

Ballina 67%

Doughuisce, Galway 68%

Carlow 71%

Enniscorthy 72%

Nenagh 77%