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DUP Strangford MLA and Chair of the Assembly’s Infrastructure Committee Michelle McIlveen has warned the Minister that without a proactive plan to meet soaring demand for appointments thousands of young people across Northern Ireland will be waiting well into 2021 to secure their practical driving test.

Commenting after chairing an extraordinary meeting of the Committee on Thursday, Ms McIlveen said:

“Having already made huge personal sacrifices as part of the local response to Covid-19 it is wrong that people living in Northern Ireland continue to face an indefinite delay to take their driving test and get on the road.

To date the Minister has been in denial about the scale of the problem and the solutions ultimately required to get the growing backlog in tests under control. From her evidence this morning that position appears unchanged.

Official DfI statistics for the three-months prior to the onset of Covid-19 highlight that 12,330 driving practical tests were conducted. In contrast between 1 April and 30 June zero tests were carried out.

In reality the number of learners waiting continues to grow at pace every day. On the basis of total tests completed in previous years we can conservatively assume that for every week that normal services are suspended an additional 1,000 tests are added to the backlog. The final total will not be known until general booking reopens at start of November. However, it will almost certainly run into tens of thousands of customers.

The Minister says she is keen to set the record straight and present the facts. These are the facts.

I am pleased that officials are now exploring several options. This includes proposals to recruit more examiners and expand appointments into the evenings and weekends. Despite this the Minister has still expressed caution about how viable these are. It is time for Minister Mallon to commit to a course of action rather than sit on her hands. Averting crisis point requires proactive decisions and most of all a can-do attitude.”

Mid Ulster DUP MLA Keith Buchanan also attended the special meeting. He added:

“Behind every delayed driving test is an individual desperately seeking to be able to travel for work, education or pleasure. Many young people have invested heavily in a car, paid tax and insurance, yet are unable to get on the roads. In many case family members are having to bear the cost of this disruption. Meanwhile even some key workers in sectors like telecommunication have been prevented from getting a test because of the DVA’s narrow interpretation of who qualifies.

It is vital that DfI work around the clock to get to grips with each of these issues as quickly as possible.

An increase in testing capacity moving forward will be essential. Minister Mallon admits that there are between 36 and 40 examiners in Northern Ireland who, under current risk assessments, can only conduct five rather than the normal six practical tests per day. Yet she gives no clear or certain insight into how she intends to make up that 15% shortfall in pre-Covid capacity - let alone expand it to meet the unprecedented backlog in customers.

Learning from experience in England, where booking systems collapsed under strain of demand when it eventually reopened, it is also imperative that DfI and DVA mitigate against a further avoidable obstacle for young drivers who have already waited so long to see progress.”