Driving instructors are carrying out temperature tests and implementing strict sanitation measures on their own 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 has been brought forward to the third phase of the government’s plan to reopen the country, which was previously scheduled for the fifth phase. Driving tests are scheduled to begin on July 20.
According to Wexford’s grandmother, Lil Murphy, who taught driving lessons for 14 years, instructors are essentially returning to work with no real guidance on what to do to stay safe.
The driving testers had obtained their protocols from their employer, the Department of Transport, she said, but the driving instructors had received no such guidance from anyone.
“As it stands, I could get into someone’s car and they might have only wiped it down with baby wipes. And vice versa. I saw two groups of instructors in cars without masks,” she said.
She postponed her return to work with one of her main considerations being the well-being of immunocompromised family members.
“There are 2,000 instructors in Ireland. You could have 20,000 people getting in and out of cars every day. The risk for me is too high.
On a practical level, she noted that driving instructors couldn’t have plexiglass screens because they needed access to the controls from a safety perspective. 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 discussions. But I won’t be back until things are cleared up. We need guidelines and protocols.
“The whole area has been neglected. 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’s working for the state. What if you get in a car and the only place you’ve been is that car with an instructor and you catch Covid?
“We have no professional indemnity against the Covid. How about taking a deal? No lawyer has ever turned down a case. In the meantime, my reputation has disappeared.
Cronan Doyle of Doyle Driving School in Carrigaline, Co Cork returned to work last week after putting his own safety measures in place.
“We haven’t received any indication… we are basically considered independent traders.
“The only guidance we received to date was the return to work safety protocol issued by the HSE and the government.
“I built my own security protocols around that. The difficulty we have is social distancing. We can’t maintain two meters. There is no direction.
“You can’t put a screen in the car for the safety concern of not being able to reach the steering wheel. Second, you’ll need to get permission from the car manufacturer about airbags. A screen is a non-runner for us There is a visibility problem with the screen.
He wears a mask and requires the person taking a driving lesson to wear one as well. “The car is thoroughly cleaned once or even twice a week. I have a cover for the seats that can be washed and scrubbed with disinfectant. I clean and disinfect all high-touch areas between each class.
“The student does not get in the car with me without me taking his temperature. They do not enter the car unless they are disinfected by hand.
“I have asked students to bring a mask, but if they don’t I will provide one for a fee. Any debriefing of students I do outside the car.
“I don’t have anyone in my family with underlying issues. People who do it can’t do it again.
He is slowly getting back to work and taking fewer lessons to account for the extra time needed to clean the car.
Meanwhile, Aidan Jordan, a driving instructor from Leixlip, Co Kildare, has also put in place his own safety measures.
“The RSA referred us to the HSE and the HSA [Health and Safety Authority] As it concerns [safety protocols]. We have no guidelines.
“We are a high risk profession and we are trying to mitigate this with security measures. It’s an industry where you can’t do your job unless you’re nearby.
“In reality, you add about 10 minutes of work between each customer to make sure the car is clean.
“After about 20 minutes of the lesson, I’ll try to do things like get the driver out of the car and ask a few questions about the rules of the road. Anything I can do to make it safer.
On a positive note for the industry, he predicts that more people will decide to drive rather than risk contracting Covid on public transport.
The Unite union, which represents driving instructors across Ireland, has warned that instructors and learners could be at risk unless stringent safety protocols are developed that take into account industry-specific conditions.
The union has written to Transport Minister Eamon Ryan to highlight the instructors’ concerns, pointing out that they were not consulted before being included in Phase 3 of the reopening roadmap.
They call on the Minister to facilitate engagement among all stakeholders to develop sector-specific security protocols.
An RSA spokesperson said that as driving instructors are independent traders and independent businesses, they “do not tell them how to conduct their business”.
“But we’ve shared everything we do with ADI [Advance Driving Instructors] and we had a communication two weeks ago and we had another one yesterday. We shared everything with them. All the steps we are taking to bring back the practical driving test.