Fórsa has called on the Government to allocate funds to hire up to 125 additional driver testers to deal with an inevitable surge in demand for driving tests on foot of proposed new sanctions on car owners who allow their vehicles to be used by unaccompanied learner drivers. The union says measures in the amended Road Traffic Bill could double demand in the short term, potentially increasing driving test waiting times to as long as 55 weeks.
Once enacted, the legislation will introduce fines of up to €2,000, or six months imprisonment, for motorists who allow their vehicles to be used by unaccompanied learner drivers. The bill will also allow the detention of vehicles illegally driven by learner drivers.
Fórsa says the Government must act now to deal with a sudden and substantial increase in demand. The union wants 25 extra driver testers to be employed on a permanent basis to cover an existing increase in demand for tests. And it has called for provision for another 100 to be hired on temporary contracts if demand surges, as expected, in response to the Road Traffic Bill.
The union says the number of driver-testers has fallen by almost 20% since 2007 and is now incapable of meeting underlying – let alone increased – demand. It says average waiting times have already risen to 14 weeks on foot of the economic recovery. This is four weeks more than the Road Safety Authority’s 10-week target, which was previously being met.
Fórsa official Ashley Connolly criticised as “wholly inadequate” Government plans to recruit just five additional testers from a competition that recently attracted over 4,300 applicants. She said additional recruitment would reduce waiting times and improve road safety at no additional cost to the taxpayer, because the service has been self-funding since 2014.
“Fórsa supports the measures in the Road Traffic Bill because they will improve road safety. But urgent steps are required to prevent a huge backlog of driving tests and a potential trebling of waiting times. Over 4,000 people recently applied when driver-tester jobs were advertised. Why not use that opportunity, and make provision for the recruitment of the number of testers – permanent and temporary – needed to deal with the fall-out of the legislation, as well as ongoing understaffing and the underlying growth in demand for driving tests?” she asked.
Ms Connolly said the union had discussed other ways of reducing waiting times with the Road Safety Authority, and was willing to look at additional productivity measures. “The fastest, safest, and cheapest solution is to make provision to directly hire and train up to 100 additional driver-testers on 2-3 year temporary contracts to deal with the expected surge in demand, and to hire 25 more on a permanent basis to deal with increased underlying demand. The number of driver testers has fallen from 126 in 2007 to only 102 today,” she said.
Fórsa acknowledged that the Road Safety Authority had sought sanction to hire additional testers, but said the response from the Department of Transport and Department of Public Expenditure and Reform was inadequate. The union also says the Government could sanction the temporary re-hire of suitable retirees to help deal with a temporary demand surge.
The Road Safety Authority raises revenue through the €85 price of a driving test, plus revenue raised through the theory test, NCT test and the national driving licence service.
- There were 126 driver testers in 2007, and just 102 at the end of 2016.
- The average waiting time is now 14 weeks.
- In 2007, the average waiting time was almost 19 weeks. That was brought down to below 10 weeks by 2010, but has risen again due to staffing shortages, the economic recovery and rumours of legislative changes.
- Over 80,000 candidates are waiting for tests.
- Customer cancellation and ‘no show’ rates have fallen from 20% to about 12%, with the cooperation of driver testers.
- A job advertisement for driver testers recently attracted over 4,380 applications. But the Department of Transport has only given sanction to recruit six additional testers.