27,500 Learner drivers in limbo as tests remained suspended due to Covid-19

More than 27,500 learner drivers have been left in limbo by the prolonged cancellation of driving tests.
27,500 Learner drivers in limbo as tests remained suspended due to Covid-19

More than 27,500 learner drivers have been left in limbo by the prolonged cancellation of driving tests.

Tests were cancelled on March 13 due to the restrictions brought in to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Transport Minister Shane Ross warned that driving tests would not be returning in the short term, with NCT tests also not set to return until "fairly late in the day".

The situation has left thousands of people "in limbo" as learner drivers are not permitted to drive unaccompanied.

With social distancing measures in place on public transport, and some privately-run services curtailed, many of these people do not have access to alternative transport, according to Cork East TD Seán Sherlock. He said the government needs to clearly communicate a plan for the 27,684 applications awaiting a driving test.

"Over 17,000 of these applicants are under the age of 35 and spread across the country may not have access to public transport," Mr Sherlock said.

"As the Government seeks to re-open the economy, these drivers are left in limbo as they cannot drive unaccompanied but may not have family members who can safely travel with them if they require their car for transport to and from work.

"These drivers need to use their cars for travel to and from their place of work and we need to see some measures to relieve pressure and give some latitude with the weeks remaining for testing still quite high pre-Covid.

"We have no clarity from the Minister for Transport on when driving testing centres will reopen again as it would be virtually impossible to conduct a driving test under social distancing. What we do have is over 27,000 applicants left in the dark after obtaining a learner permit and completing Essential Driver Training.

"While emergency services drivers have rightly been given urgent testing there is a whole swathe of essential workers potentially in this applicant category who require their cars for work."

Before the cancellation of tests, wait times for a test varied between three and six weeks, depending on the test centre.

Kerry councillor Jackie Healy-Rae criticised the Government's response as "not good enough", and said many "young nurses" and other workers are "being forced to break the law" by driving unaccompanied.

He suggested adopting motorcycle test protocols for all driving tests. For a motorcycle test, the tester is on a separate vehicle and communicates through a headset with the person completing their test.

Separately, Mattie McGrath TD has said the backlog caused by the total absence of testing could see many people forced to wait until 2021 before they can sit their test.

He said many "essential and frontline workers" have been affected by this.

At the end of 2019, there were 233,025 learner permits in use in Ireland.

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