TDs to hear more testing staff and mechanics needed to address driving-related backlogs

The Driving Test Service and the National Car Testing (NCT) system have been beset with mounting waiting times and staffing shortages

Driving test backlogs cannot be cut and future demand will not be met unless there is a significant increase in the number of Government sanctioned testing staff, an Oireachtas committee will hear on Wednesday.

The Driving Test Service and the National Car Testing (NCT) system, both under the remit of the Road Safety Authority (RSA), have been beset with mounting waiting times and staffing shortages. In his submission to the Oireachtas Transport Committee, RSA chief executive Sam Waide will say driving test backlogs simply cannot be resolved without extra resources being given.

By the end of January there were 125 permanent and 10 contracted staff available to conduct tests. “This resource level is not enough,” he will tell the committee. “The current staffing level will neither reduce the backlog of driving tests, nor will it meet the projected future demands for the service.”

The RSA in December submitted a request to the Department of Transport for 40 additional temporary resources, with approximately 165 testers required to cut the backlog and deliver its obligatory average wait time of 10 weeks, currently at 19 weeks.


“However, beyond 2023, 2024, the RSA projects that a permanent pool of 170 testers is required, year-in-year-out to meet estimated future demand in the service,” it said.

Although an initial backlog related to Covid-19 restrictions was cleared last year, demand increased due to a combination of factors including a 36 per cent increase in test applications, an increase in learner permits and the reduced workforce.

By the end of last December 47,364 learner drivers were waiting to receive an invitation to book their test.

Regarding that shortfall and similar issues in NCT availability, Mr Waide will acknowledge “customers are not getting the level of service that we want to deliver”.

There are currently 49 NCT centres and plans to open five more in unspecified locations to help ease demand. The average waiting time for a test is 25 days, more than twice the wait before the pandemic. A chronic shortage of mechanics has been blamed for escalating problems.

While the RSA maintains a supervisory and oversight role, the NCT service is contracted out to Applus. It will tell the committee in opening remarks that the service suffered from the impact of the “great resignation”, when 113 vehicle inspectors quit, representing a staff churn rate of 19 per cent.

Efforts were undertaken to plug the holes – later hiring 124 more inspectors and increasing the overall staffing level to 610 – but the company has continued to face problems. “Since Covid struck we have been behind that curve and struggling to catch-up,” the company sets out in its remarks.

As well as the “chronic shortage” of mechanics, the committee will be told many are retiring and others are transferring their skills to non-automotive areas, specifically the semiconductor and pharmaceutical sectors. “We have attempted to recruit directly and through agencies across Europe, but without success.”

There are currently 375,000 vehicles overdue their NCT, some 170,000 more than what would be considered normal at this time of year. The company will also tell the committee that with an ageing car fleet there are increasing numbers of vehicles falling in scope for testing. Last year saw the highest ever volume at 1.53 million.

“We expect the next three months to be challenging, but the situation is expected to improve in Q2 and be back on track for the commencement of Q3.”

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times