Public services card no longer needed for driving theory test

‘Significant’ cost implications from Road Safety Authority’s dropping of requirement

The public services card will no longer be compulsory for those taking a driver theory test.

The public services card will no longer be compulsory for those taking a driver theory test.

 

The Road Safety Authority has dropped a requirement first announced last year that applicants for the driver theory test would have to produce a public services card to satisfy identification requirements.

The change in the policy, announced on the driver theory test website, follows controversy over the increasing compulsory use of the card for people seeking State services and the authority has said it will have “significant” cost implications.

It also follows a row-back by Minister for Transport Shane Ross in March when he told the RSA the card would no longer be mandatory for obtaining driving licences.

In 2017, the authority announced the production of a public services card for obtaining a driving licence would become compulsory from this year and that it would also become compulsory for a driver theory test. Changes to the RSA’s application procedures were implemented to enforce that requirement.

RSA chief executive Moyagh Murdock wrote to the secretary general of the Department of Transport in February expressing her surprise at the proposed reversal of the policy by the minister, given the authority had been implementing what it believed was government policy.

Mr Ross’s change of heart followed advice from the Attorney General, records released under the Freedom of Information Act show.

The compulsory production of the card had remained a requirement in recent months for those doing the driver theory test, while the position on its use for those obtaining or renewing a driving licence changed to make it an optional form of identification.

Implications

Information on the RSA site was changed to say that bringing a public services to a driving licence appointment would “simplify your application process”.

Ms Murdock told the department’s secretary general Graham Doyle in February the minister’s decision to “change course” would have “significant implications”.

These included that 36 RSA front offices would have to continue operating beyond February 2019, because the use of the public services card would have allowed online applications. A re-tendering process would be necessary for that service and the cost of the operation would be about €7.5m per annum.

The authority had also invested about €2 million in IT and communications and would have to write some of that off, she said.

Ms Murdock also said the authority would have to prepare a public communications campaign reversing advice already issued. The authority spent about €40,000 on a major advertising campaign to inform people of the public services card requirement before it was reversed.

In a note to Mr Ross seeking his approval to amend the Road Traffic (Licensing of Drivers) Regulations on March 22nd, his officials said consideration had previously been given to making the card mandatory for all applicants for a driving licence.

“Following consideration of legal issues, and of practical implications for the public, the Minister decided that the PSC should be optional rather than mandatory.”

Criticised

Over three million public services cards have been issued since they were first rolled out in pilot project in 2011. The card project, and its associated government databases of personal information, has been criticised by civil rights groups and privacy campaigners as amounting to the introduction of a national identity card without public debate and without proper primary legislation underpinning it.

The Government insists, however, the card is not and was never intended to be a national ID card.

A member of the public recently approached the privacy rights group Digital Rights Ireland in relation to his passport application after the Department of Foreign Affairs refused to process it because he did not have a public services card.

On the advice of the advocacy group, he engaged a solicitor who wrote to the Passport Office on his behalf. His application was subsequently processed without the public services card.

The department told him his application had been considered and found to be adequate.

DRI said if the department had not issued the passport to the man, he would have been able to sue for damages under the terms of the General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018 and under other legislation.