A new report into the Road Safety Authority's operation of driver testing services in Ireland has raised concerns about the divergence in average pass rates between test centres and between individual testers.
The report, by the Comptroller and Auditor General John Buckley, has credited the RSA with reducing waiting lists and waiting times for driving tests but raised concerns "in relation to the consistency of testing".
The RSA was given responsibility for driver testing following its establishment in 2006, overseen by the Department of Transport.
An external contractor was employed between 2006 and 2009 to augment the service delivered by directly employed RSA testers.
Today's report found that the RSA target of delivering tests to all applicants within 10 weeks of application had largely succeeded, with average waiting times down to 8.6 weeks by end 2008.
"The timeliness of the provision of tests has radically improved," the report said.
"Although applications for driving tests doubled between 2005 and 2008, the RSA succeeded in dealing with the surge in applications as well as the historical backlogs."
"However, divergence in pass rates generally, and the extent of variation between the pass levels awarded by individual testers and the average rates for the centres from which they operated, raised concerns in relation to the consistency of testing."
Average pass rates by centre varied from 39% to 60% in relation to RSA test centres and from 51% to 77% for centres operated by external contractors.
There was also considerable variation between results determined by testers – which ranged from average pass rates of 23% to 69% in relation to tests conducted by RSA testers and from 37% to 83% for contract tests.
"Review of individual tester results showed a pattern, where some testers consistently passed or failed significantly more candidates than other testers operating from the same centres," the report said.
"Overall, this pattern of results has implications for the consistency of the tests conducted by the RSA."
The Comptroller and Auditor General urged the RSA to take steps to address the variation in pass rates.
"The RSA could make better use of its existing management information and, by improving its analysis and performance reporting, use that information to identify differences in driver testing results."
"It would be particularly important to compare results across test routes and analyse the pattern of faults observed by individual testers, which could inform any follow up action required including increased supervision and training of individual testers," the report said.
"Overall, in any such drive, the challenge is to maintain a service that conducts a professional independent testing of drivers in each individual case, while at the same time pursuing testing consistency."