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Learners could face higher insurance costs over growing waiting lists for driving tests, RSA report says

The Road Safety Authority also warned of “reputational risk” for themselves and the Department of Transport over the long waiting lists.

Image: Shutterstock/shutterupeire

GROWING WAITING LISTS for driving tests represented a “direct road safety risk” and would undermine efforts to tackle drivers who rely on multiple learner permits to stay on the road.

The Road Safety Authority also warned of “reputational risk” for themselves and the Department of Transport and a credibility hit to their road safety efforts because of the delays.

They also warned of a social cost with learner drivers facing higher insurance premiums and limits on the journeys they were able to take without a qualified driver.

It said the cost was particularly high for those living in rural areas where alternative transport links were weaker than in cities.

The risks were detailed in a driver testing capacity plan prepared by the Road Safety Authority in November as it attempted to tackle a backlog in tests.

Modelling by the RSA warned that waiting times for tests could rise above a year without a significant increase in testing staff.

One scenario said that if nothing was done, the waiting list could grow to 174,675 or 68 weeks by the end of next year.

However, with forty new testers and overtime, this could be brought down to 81,027 or 31 weeks.

Subsequently, the government approved the hiring of forty extra testers, but the testing regime was again hit by the post-Christmas lockdown with only essential workers allowed to be tested.

The report also detailed the massive impact that Covid-19 restrictions were having with the number of tests able to be carried out each day by a tester down from 8 to 6.

It said each test, with new sanitation controls, was now taking 65 minutes, where previously it could be done in 50 minutes.

The system was also being hit with last-minute cancellations where a candidate had been told to self-isolate or restrict their movements.

It was a similar situation for driving testers, according to the report.

“Where this happens, the driver tester needs to stop work immediately and it is not possible to predict the duration of their absence,” said the report.

Also mooted in the report were other options to tackle the backlog including the introduction of mobile testing where a tester would go to the candidate.

It said that while it would be helpful in providing a “flexible and agile” service, it might not help with tackling immediate backlogs.

External service delivery was also put forward where a contractor would be hired to deliver extra tests.

However, this was likely to be costly, would take time to ramp up, and also presented a “real risk” of industrial relations implications.

Another option considered was increasing the earning potential of driving testers by allowing them to do additional tests.

However, the report said: “If the RSA were to move to an output-based model, there could be significant IR [industrial relations] issues to be handled and it is unlikely that these could be resolved within a timeframe that would assist with the current backlog.”

A new communications plan would also be needed to “stay in front of the story” by providing updates on the testing backlog and what was being done.

The report said there were significant risks associated with longer wait times.

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It said: “Without a reasonable expectation of a driving test it will lead to inexperienced unsafe drivers being on our roads for an extended period of time.”

Learner and novice drivers – especially younger people – over-estimated their ability to drive in complex and risky situations.

It also said a concerted campaign to tackle drivers who keep moving from learner permit to learner permit would take a hit.

“This unacceptable behaviour will continue,” said the report.

It said the RSA’s reputation would also be affected by excessive delays. “Inability to deliver the service in a timely fashion will diminish the credibility of the RSA in its role as a public advocate on road safety matters.”

A spokesman said latest figures showed there were 98,414 applications on hand with 5,760 people having an appointment in the coming weeks and 62,024 awaiting a test.

“The remaining 30,720 are ineligible for a test,” he said. “Those who are ineligible are generally customers who haven’t completed mandatory lessons.”

He added: “The RSA is making good progress in recruiting an additional 40 driver testers … and our expectation is that they will be available to conduct tests by the end of June 2021.

“This will add much needed capacity to the service. However, this will not be enough to get waiting times down to the service level commitment of an average of 10 weeks.”

About the author:

Ken Foxe  / Journalist lecturer and freelance reporter

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