Driving instructors face a backlog of up to one million lessons as the number of people on the waiting list for lessons continues to rise, a committee from the Oireachtas has learned.
Here, calls have been made to allow all essential workers and those who need a license for professional purposes to continue their driving lessons and pass the driving test.
The transport committee was told that essential workers, including doctors, nurses and trainee paramedics, were unable to pass the driving tests due to ongoing restrictions.
There is a huge backlog for theory tests and driving tests, with around 98,414 learners waiting for a driving test and 54,000 people waiting for a knowledge test.
The Road Safety Authority (RSA) said there will be 40 more testers in June to help clear the backlog. The authority said it hopes to receive clearance for 40 more over the summer. This would represent a 58% increase in the workforce of driving testers.
Dominic Brophy, union branch president Unite ADI (Approved Driving Instructors), said the backlog is a huge issue that needs to be addressed.
Darragh Dunne, branch secretary, told the committee: “When you talk about 90,000 people waiting for a driving test and if we say they require an average of 10 lessons per candidate, we are approaching a million. lessons in the system.
“We’ve made a lot of proposals to RSA regarding staggered test times, so a test comes out at 10am and the next candidate can come do the paperwork and they leave at 10:10 am and the next test can be at 10:20 am. a m.”
Mr Brophy said “smart use” of the planning system would help clear the backlog during Level 5 restrictions.
He also criticized restrictions on driving instructors using RSA facilities while students take driving tests.
“Providing a safe place for people to wait is a simple courtesy, people are left wandering around industrial areas while their test candidate or their son or daughter is out for a test,” Brophy added.
“It’s not a sure thing. There is no possibility to wash your hands or to take shelter from the elements.
Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe said that students who enroll in the paramedic course at the University of Limerick must have a driver’s license.
“Even if they took a knowledge test in April or May, the law requires you to wait six months after your knowledge test before you can get your full license,” Crowe said. He added that some students will therefore not be able to take the course offer in August.
“We will see the ripple effect in four years when there is a huge shortage of paramedics and that will impact the system,” he said.
Mr Dunne said it was “heartbreaking” when he was forced to stop giving driving lessons to a trainee paramedic.
“We hope that an allowance will be given to essential workers to take their courses and complete their knowledge test and apprenticeship permit,” added Dunne.
The Unite ADI Union branch was created last August and has around 1,000 registered licensed driving instructors.
“We are exceeding our expectations (for membership) and we expect that number to increase after Covid,” added Mr Brophy.