Drivers and aspiring drivers across the country are facing a pile of obstacles as they try to get on the road, stay on the road, and be safe in doing so. Waiting lists for driving tests are up to a 19-week wait — about five months — and the 12 mandatory lessons to get there are steep in price, approximately 50 euros per lesson, totalling between 500 and 600 euros. Waiting times for the National Car Test (NCT) have risen as backlogs caused by Covid-19 are still affecting the system.
Currently, drivers across the country have been taken by surprise as they look to book their NCT, only to find that the next available appointments lie somewhere months in the future. Already in January over 31 centres across the country were facing backlogs exceeding five months. The optimal average waiting time for an NCT, a number that has been achieved and held previously, is 12 days.
The Road Safety Authority (RSA) has acknowledged the backlog and put measures in place to hopefully have the average waiting time return to 12 days by May 2023. This is an encouraging promise and a positive sign that the priorities of the RSA are in the right place, given that NCTs are naturally an absolutely critical device for keeping Irish roads safe, and making sure all cars being driven are fit to be used as such. They explained that the steep backlog is due to a few causes, namely a serious lack of staff and delays running back to the heights of Covid. Identifying the roots of the problem, they have implemented an appreciable recruitment drive, and hired 50 new vehicle inspectors just before the new year to counteract the demand. Technically, if the wait time for an NCT exceeds 28 days, a free test must be offered to the driver. While this would likely be appreciated by patient and inconvenienced drivers in this situation, no free tests have seemingly been offered as of yet.
There has been some confusion over how measures like this are actually meant to work. The priority list, a measure for when a driver requires an NCT sooner than the times available to them, should push a driver’s NCT forward to within the next four weeks. A promising tactic, but one that we have yet to see fully in effect, and yet to fully understand as it seems that this is the case for a significant number of drivers and would require a serious amount of tests to be pushed forward. Another technicality to confuse the situation, even more, is the typical structure of how NCTs operate. NCTs are not valid from the date of the NCT, but from the date that the test was originally due to take place. If your test is delayed, your next test is going to be expected at a much sooner time than seems reasonable. In light of these exceptional circumstances and causes, it seems that general rules like this might need to be looked at for reform.
“With many dependent on their cars to go to work, college, to bring kids to school and so on, there is no question of the impact that having to go without driving for an extended (or even a short) period of time would have for Irish motorists.”
To ease anxiety for those on waiting lists, An Garda Síochána and insurance companies have said that they will try to be understanding in a situation where an NCT is overdue but has been booked. While this provides some comfort, an effort to sympathise is not a promise of no consequence, and the problem of this driving anxiety still stands. With many dependent on their cars to go to work, college, to bring kids to school and so on, there is no question of the impact that having to go without driving for an extended (or even a short) period of time would have for Irish motorists.
This rings true for those in the country even more so, where public transport is likely more scarce and unreliable, if available at all for rural communities. In certain areas, public transport has come on in leaps and bounds. The cut in prices for young people using public transport has been a noticeably beneficial scheme, easing the pressure on young professionals and student pockets. However, this only benefits those who have reliable access to public transport in the first place. Typically, those commuting throughout more rural areas to work, college, and school depend on the use of a private car to make the journey or otherwise must spend money on private bus companies or taxis to get where they need to go. Understandably, this is a major motivator to start driving. However, that is another thing more easily said than done in Ireland.
Waiting lists for driving tests are months in the waiting, and at a steep cost of 85 euros at that. Your test waiting time is dependent on where in the country you live. Aspiring drivers in Cork and Carlow can expect a wait time for a driving test of 7 months, drivers in Cavan and Buncranna should expect a test invitation in 5 months, while drivers in Galway, Mullingar, and Sligo can expect a relatively shorter waiting period of just 3 months. Drivers in Drogheda and Dun Laoghaire can look forward to a lengthy waiting time of a whopping 11 months, and can confidently park any hopes of driving this side of 2024. For those who do not have a choice but to drive, a very frustrating obstacle has been thrown into the mix.
“So, one in two people will fail their test the first time round, the test costing €85 each time — a sure motivator to pass sooner rather than later, and a disappointing and hefty fine to pay to retake your test.”
When beginning your journey of driving in Ireland, you are required to complete quite a few mandatory lessons (12 hours minimum). This, and the reasonably high failure rate of driving tests, is likely indicative of a safer, stricter system that thoroughly vets all potential drivers adequately before releasing them out to Irish roads, absolutely vital in any country. However, the issue is also with a system that is out of the affordability range of many young people in Ireland. The pass rate from county to county ranges between 38.2% and 75.3%, the average pass rate being just over half at 53.2% in 2022. So, one in two people will fail their test the first time round, the test costing €85 each time — a sure motivator to pass sooner rather than later, and a disappointing and hefty fine to pay to retake your test.
Current NCT issues must be looked at to ensure that strategy is put in place should a steep backlog occur again, and some of the NCT rules — such as the next date being based on the previous test date — must be reformed. The RSA is beginning to act, and hopefully their countermeasures will be clarified and widely implemented soon enough to secure their goal of returning the average waiting time to 12 days. Driving lessons and tests should be made more available to young hopeful drivers, and potential government initiatives should be considered to either make driving more affordable to young people in the country, or invest in better travel connections throughout the more rural parts of the country for those who depend on cars the most. This is to ensure that more drivers can be confident in taking to the road safely in Ireland — or even taking to the road at all.