Long waits for driving tests and NCTs to continue into summer 2024, committee hears

Chronic backlogs see more than 47,000 drivers waiting for test, and 375,000 vehicles needing NCT

Lengthy waiting times for driving tests will not return to normal until the middle of next year, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Chronic backlogs have developed in both the driving test service and the National Car Testing Services (NCTS) due to staff shortages.

There are currently more than 47,000 learner drivers awaiting a driving test and approximately 375,000 vehicles in need of an NCT inspection.

Although efforts are under way to hire temporary driving testers to cut waiting times, the Oireachtas transport committee heard on Wednesday that even if granted permission to proceed with the appointments, waiting times will not return to a standard 10-week average until mid-2024.


The committee was told that increasing the number of testers from 125 to 170 is crucial not just to cut backlogs, but to keep pace with demand.

“The demand for the service at the moment is at unprecedented levels and it’s not slowing down,” said Brendan Walsh, chief operating officer of the Road Safety Authority (RSA), which oversees the driving test.

Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe said the backlog was affecting lives. “So many people are driving in rural Ireland… without a fully licensed accompanying driver because their life has to function; they have to get to college, they have to get to work,” he said.

As NCT centres continue to battle their own backlogs and staff shortages, the RSA remains confident waiting times can be brought back to normal levels by around June. Current average times are 25 days, although often far longer, compared to less than 12 before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mark Synott, country manager of Applus car testing services, conceded the company had given up on its plans to introduce “assistant” employees at test centres to complement the work done by qualified mechanics, in a bid to speed up throughflow.

A Labour Court recommendation to trial the new category of support staff at Dublin centres was overwhelmingly rejected by Siptu last month.

“We are left with, I suppose, a genesis of an idea of what we would like to do and we need to evaluate now whether there is an opportunity to pursue it with the staff again,” Mr Synott said. “We don’t intend to force it in. I think the staff have made their position very, very clear.”

RSA officials said an independent evaluation is under way to see if any motorists unable to secure a timely NCT test at the end of last year were entitled to a free test in line with the customer charter, and therefore a refund on their fee.

Sinn Féin TD Darren O’Rourke queried the ongoing issues at the centres run by Applus, and the RSA’s management of the contractor, to which chief executive Sam Waide said it had “escalated” its concerns to the company’s Spanish headquarters.

On the issue of potential performance-related sanctions, Mr Walsh said pending “service credits” for the company remained the subject of ongoing “robust discussions” and could ultimately be arbitrated by an independent legal adviser.

In response to questions regarding the company’s relations with staff from Fianna Fáil TD James O’Connor, Mr Synott conceded that due to “a very tough year financially” it cancelled the Christmas party and gave employees €10 for lunch. “You wouldn’t go into a filling station and buy a wrap and a bottle of Coke for that,” Mr O’Connor said.

Meanwhile, on the issue of road deaths increasing last year, and hitting a 10-year high in January, Mr Waide told the committee that several contributing factors, but particularly the non-wearing of seat belts among drivers, were evident in 2022.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times