Fast-track route from theory to driving test recommended

Oireachtas Committee hears calls for measures to deal with pent up demand for lessons

A fast-track route to the driving test has been recommended as part of the solution to lengthy waiting times.

The Approved Driving Instructors’ branch of the Unite Trade Union has proposed those candidates that are deemed suitable to take the test before completion of the mandatory 12 lessons, should be allowed to do so.

The proposal, which was outlined to the Oireachtas Committee on Transport on Thursday, is to be formally submitted to Government by the committee in coming weeks.

The committee heard the numbers on driving test waiting lists had reached 98,414 while about 50,000 people were waiting for a theory test. Driving testers believe that when the Covid lockdown is eased enough to allow lessons and testing to resume, there will be a pent-up demand for about one million hours of lessons. Given a failure rate of about 46 percent the numbers of candidates “in the system” could quickly hit 300,000, the committee was told.

Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley asked the representative of the driving instructors what could be done about the backlog in the service, and whether those who were known to be “fit to take a test” in advance of having completed the mandatory course of 12 lessons, could be fast-tracked.

He asked if “an approved driving instructor who has a good idea of someone’s skill level, could propose that person for a driving test” in advance of completion of the 12 mandatory lessons.

In response, chairman of Unite’s Approved Driving Instructors branch Dominic Brophy said such a move was being suggested by driving instructors.

He said the Approved Driving Instructors branch has also proposed that motorcycle lessons be resumed as they did not involve physical proximity.

Committee chairman Kieran O’Donnell asked Mr Brophy to submit a written dossier on the proposals, which he said the committee could then formally submit to the Department of Transport. He said the issue was affecting front line workers and jobs. “I have met many young people who have started new jobs – in some cases essential workers” who needed their licences, he said.

TD Cathal Crowe told the committee that students hoping to enrol in a course for paramedics at the University of Limerick needed to accept a place on the course, if offered, by August. But he said the course also required candidates to have a driving licence as it involved ambulance work. He said “by August those offers will be in place and they [the candidates] will have to decide whether to accept those offers”.

Mr Crowe said even if candidates were given a theory test in April or May there was “a legal requirement in Ireland that you have to wait six months after getting your theory test before doing your full on test”.

He said the earliest it would be possible to take a driving test for these applicants would be October. These were “frontline essential workers-in-waiting” he said and he asked if the driving instructors union had a view on the problem. “We will see the knock-on effect in four years’ time when there will be a huge shortage of paramedics and that will have an impact on the system,” he said.

Darragh Dunne, branch secretary with Unite said he himself had been giving driving lessons to a prospective pupil on the paramedic course and it was “heartbreaking” when he was forced to stop giving the lessons, due to Covid rules.

“We hope that an allowance would be made for essential workers to fulfil their lessons and complete their theory test and learning permit,” Mr Dunne said.