Getting on the road has never been an easy journey for young people. Extortionate insurance costs, long waiting lists to take your test and a low pass rate on the day of the test are all prohibiting factors when embarking on this rite of passage.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has taken things to another level. Some individuals who applied for their theory test in January 2020 are still waiting and unless you are considered an essential worker, many still haven’t secured a slot.
Figures obtained by Irish Country Living from the Road Safety Authority (RSA) outline that as of 16 July, 64,544 people are waiting to receive an invite for a driving test, 9,513 of whom are deemed essential workers.
That’s a total of 221,946 people stuck somewhere in the system
There are an additional 10,747 who have already booked themselves for a test using the MyRoadSafety portal and are scheduled to sit a test in the coming weeks. A further 30,655 have applied for their test but are not currently eligible to take it.
This is because they have not completed all of their Essential Driver Training (EDT) or they have held a learner permit for less than six months. On top of that, a further 116,000 people are waiting to take their theory test.
That’s a total of 221,946 people stuck somewhere in the system.
A long wait
Recently the Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said that the backlog could be resolved within 15 weeks but Jonathan Hehir, managing director at coverinaclick.ie says from this is unrealistic.
Young drivers are paying between €300 and €600 extra in insurance premiums as a result of not having a full license
“From our calculations, based on the 96,000 motorists currently waiting to take their driving test, coupled with the 120,000 awaiting a theory test, and allowing for the average pass rate off 55% – those now starting the process could be waiting for up to 18 months.”
It’s affecting people’s lives and their finances. Jonathan says: “Young drivers are paying between €300 and €600 extra in insurance premiums as a result of not having a full license. Those most affected are those around 19 years old with a learner permit driving a car registered in 2014/2015. They’ve invested in a decent car because they know over time the insurance premium on an older car will get more and more expensive, and sometimes they will find it hard to get that insured. But in the interim, the driving test backlogs are really affecting them.”
Contact your insurance provider
If that sounds like you and you eventually get your test date and pass, the first phone call you should make is to your insurance company. Jonathan says: “From that minute you’ll be charged as a full license holder and you could save up to €600. If you’re paying in monthly instalments, you’ll see a dramatic drop or if you’ve paid in full you’ll get a refund.”
When restrictions lift further, getting your 12 lessons as soon as you pass your theory test is also imperative as you will get a discount after that is done.
We’ve been onto insurance companies about this and now we have four insurers that will offer discounts once you have completed your 12 lessons and are waiting on a test
Insurance companies haven’t done too much for learner driver permits over the past year. In fact, they are benefitting from the driving test delays as they have a lot more learner permit holders on their books who are paying a higher premium.
Jonathan says: “We’ve been onto insurance companies about this and now we have four insurers that will offer discounts once you have completed your 12 lessons and are waiting on a test. So my advice to young drivers is: don’t lose hope, the backlogs will eventually clear and get your lessons done as soon as possible in order to avail of those discounts.”
However, for many young people, even getting lessons isn’t possible at the moment and when it comes to waiting times for lessons, unfortunately, the tsunami hasn’t even hit yet. Brendan Morgan, a driving instructor with the Irish School of Motoring (ISM) says given the nature of the virus, it is a difficult one to manage.
“It’s impossible to social distance in a car so you are relying on masks, airing the car between lessons and sanitising all the touch points – the steering wheel, gear stick, doors handles. And when we were in Level 5 lockdown, driving lessons and driving tests just weren’t possible.
A possible solution is to give a temporary license to driving instructors to become testers to help clear the backlog
“At the moment, we can only give driving lessons to those who are considered essential workers so if someone wants a lesson from me at the moment, I can accommodate them in two or three weeks. When the restrictions lift and everyone can get lessons, that’s when things are going to get very busy.”
Brendan says while he is very conscious of the challenges of conducting driving lessons and tests during a pandemic, there is more that can be done to speed up the waiting lists.
“In the short term, to clear the backlog, we need more testers and more test centres. The RSA have taken on 37 new testers but it’s a bit like sticking a plastic when you need open heart surgery. A possible solution is to give a temporary license to driving instructors to become testers to help clear the backlog.
“In the long term, we need to be more innovative in our thinking. For example, a lot of transition-year students now take a driving programme where they have an opportunity to drive a car which is great.
“What would be even better though is if they could take the driver theory test as part of the module, that would be a really tangible thing to do.”
In regards to what is actually being done to speed up the testing, the RSA commented: “An additional 37 new testers began live testing in June/July on a temporary basis and an extra 10 temporary test centres have been opened. Sanction has recently been received for 40 more temporary testers and the time timeframe for when they will be testing is currently under consideration.
“The possibility of increasing the number of tests being conducted each day, per driver tester, from six to seven is also being examined.”
To date there has not been a confirmed case of COVID-19 linked to the driving test service.
Ava Griffin (19) from Dublin is just one young person affected by the long waiting lists, so much so that it is impacting the progression of her career. She has always wanted to be a paramedic but this is on hold because of the delays. She says, “I did my Leaving Cert in 2020. I knew how important a driving license is to become a paramedic so I applied for my theory test in January (2020). Then of course, the pandemic hit in March, theory tests were put on hold and I have been waiting to be called since.”
Her mother Donna says Ava has been on the waiting list and was infuriated when the theory test applications opened in May.
“The morning they opened, we were not contacted despite being on a waiting list for months. It was only the fact that we know someone in the ISM, they contacted us and we logged on. It was a few hours after the applications opened but they were already booked up for weeks. The nearest date Ava could get was August. That is just the start of the process, she then needs to take all her lessons and she’ll be on another waiting list for months for the actual test.”
While lots of young people want to have their driving license for freedom and to reduce their insurance costs, this delay is actually putting Ava’s life on hold.
“After the Leaving Cert, I did a PLC in Pre-Paramedic Fire and Ambulance in Blackrock Institute of Further Education and I have also done my emergency medical technician (EMT) training. The next step is my training – either with the HSE or I’ll go to UL to do paramedic studies.
“However, you can’t apply for either if you don’t have your C license (vehicles exceeding a mass of 3,500kg, designed and constructed for the carriage of no more than eight passengers in addition to the driver and where maximum mass of the trailer is not greater than 750kg). I would have loved to have started the course this October but it will be next year now because of the delays with the driving test. My understanding is I am not considered an essential worker because I don’t currently have a job in the area.”
The RSA response:
While we understand the frustration experienced by customers, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant delays due to the closure of many road safety services for prolong periods of time and restrictions that have been imposed by Government following their resumption.
We have and continue to increase capacity in both the driving test and driver theory test and will be able to address the backlogs that have developed when the services are allowed to resume fully.
According to the RSA, one in six people fail to show up for their Driver Theory Test.
Given the wait lists and the amount of people that want to get on the road, if you can’t make your appointment, cancel it so someone else can take the slot.