Driving instructors claim lack of guidance on safe return

Sector now ‘overlooked’ as driving lessons brought foward in reopening plan

Lil Murphy, driving instructor from Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, says driving testers got their protocols from the Department of Transport, but driving instructors have received no  guidance. Photograph: Patrick Browne

Lil Murphy, driving instructor from Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, says driving testers got their protocols from the Department of Transport, but driving instructors have received no guidance. Photograph: Patrick Browne

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Driving instructors are conducting temperature testing and implementing stringent sanitation measures of their own volition to prevent the spread of Covid-19 amid what they claim is a complete lack of official guidance on the matter.

The resumption of driving lessons was brought forward to phase three of the Government’s plan for reopening the country, having previously been earmarked for the fifth phase. It is anticipated that driving tests will begin on July 20th.

According to Wexford grandmother Lil Murphy, who has taught driving lessons for 14 years, instructors are basically going back to work without any real guidance on what measures to take to keep safe.

The driving testers had got their protocols from their employer the Department of Transport, she said, but driving instructors had no such guidance from anyone.

“As it stands I could get into someone’s car and they may only have wiped it down with baby wipes. And vice versa. I have seen two sets of instructors in cars without masks,” she said.

She has postponed her return to work with one of her main considerations being the welfare of immuno-compromised family members.

“There are 2,000 instructors in Ireland. You could have 20,000 people in and out of cars everyday. The risk of that to me is too high.”

On a practical level, she noted driving instructors could not have Perspex screens because they need to have access to controls from a safety point of view. She said proper guidance was urgently needed for driving instructors.

“I love every minute of my job and it’s a dream job for me. I have great chats. But I am not going back until things have been clarified. We need guidelines and protocols.

“The whole sector has been overlooked. Shane Ross said driving tests would be in the fifth phase. Out of nowhere we were in phase three.

“If a tester gets into a car, he or she works for the State. What happens if you get into a car and the only place you have been is that car with an instructor and you catch Covid?

“We have no professional indemnity against Covid. What if you take a case? No solicitor ever refused a case. In the meantime my reputation is gone.”

Safety measures

Cronan Doyle of Doyle Driving School in Carrigaline, Co Cork returned to work last week having put his own safety measures in place.

“We got no guidance ... we are basically seen as sole traders.

“The only guidelines we have received to date was the Return to Work Safety Protocol issued by the HSE and the Government.

“I built my own safety protocols around that. The difficulty we have is social distancing. We cannot maintain two metres. There is no guidance whatsoever.

“You can’t put a screen in the car for the safety concern of not being able to reach the steering wheel. Second of all you would have to get clearance from the manufacturer of the car about airbags. A screen is a non-runner for us. There is an issue with visibility with the screen.”

He wears a mask and requires the person taking a driving lesson to wear one too. “The car is thoroughly cleaned once if not twice a week. I have a cover for the seats that can be washed and rubbed down with disinfectant. I clean and disinfect all the high-touch areas in between each lesson.

“The student doesn’t get into the car with me unless I have taken their temperature. They don’t get into the car unless they are hand sanitised.

“I have asked students to bring a mask but if they don’t I will supply one at a cost. Any debriefing of the students I am doing outside the car.

“I don’t have anybody in my family with underlying issues. People who do can’t start back.”

He is easing himself back to work and is taking fewer lessons to factor in the additional time needed for cleaning the car.

Meanwhile, Aidan Jordan, a driving instructor from Leixlip, Co Kildare, has also put his own safety measures in place.

“The RSA referred us to the HSE and the HSA [Health and Safety Authority] regarding [safety protocols]. We haven’t got any guidelines.

“We are a high-risk profession and we are trying to mitigate that with safety precautions. It is an industry where you can’t do your job without being in close proximity.

“Realistically, you are adding about 10 minutes work in between every customer to ensure the car is clean.

“After about 20 minutes of a lesson I am going to try to do things like have the driver step out of the car and do a few questions on the rules of the road. Anything I can do to make it more safe.”

On a positive note for the industry, he anticipates that more people will decide to drive rather than risk contracting Covid on public transport.

Union concerns

Trade union Unite, which represents driving instructors throughout Ireland, has warned that both instructors and learners could be at risk unless rigorous safety protocols are developed which take account of conditions specific to the sector.

The union has written to Transport Minister Eamon Ryan highlighting instructors’ concerns, pointing out that they were not consulted prior to being included in phase 3 of the reopening roadmap.

They are asking the Minister to facilitate engagement between all stakeholders in order to develop sector-specific safety protocols.

A spokesman for the RSA said as driving instructors were sole traders and independent businesses, they “don’t tell them how to conduct their business”.

“But we shared everything we are doing with ADIs [Advance Driving Instructors] and we had a communication going out two weeks ago and we had another going out yesterday. We have shared with them everything. All the steps we are taking to bring the practical driving test back.”

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