Stephen Dunne - More progress needed on driving tests backlog

North Down DUP MLA Stephen Dunne has called for more progress on addressing the backlog of practical Driving Test appointments. The MLA raised the issue in the NI Assembly with the Infrastructure Minister this week and is shocked that given the warnings of this backlog, action is only being taken now to address it.

By Stephen Dunne MLA

North Down

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Mr Dunne said,

“I am shocked that DfI is only recruiting additional staff now. This should have been done this time last year when my colleagues Michelle McIlveen and Keith Buchanan were flagging up the need to plan long-term.

Getting a practical driving test appointment can be a difficult task with significant backlogs still in place for a range of categories including car tests. There are thousands of new drivers who have passed their theory test and still cannot get a suitable driving test appointment at their nearest test centre. Some are even going to Scotland for their test. This is appalling.

I do acknowledge the initial work done by the Department and the DVA to address this issue with the recruitment of additional examiners, new locations for testing and extended test hours during the evenings. However given the extent of this issue and the difficulty which many new drivers are continuing to have, further creative solutions are needed to address and resolve this backlog.

This backlog has an adverse impact on many sectors and for individuals particularly for their employment and there are also issues within industry in relation to getting practical driving tests for other categories of larger vehicles.

All of the measures introduced by the department have helped to bring down the number of people waiting on getting a test. When testing resumed in April for priority groups, there were over 22,000 people with a theory pass who had not booked their practical test. I will continue to press the Minister on the need to make further progress on this important issue.”

The Hansard recording of the question is below:

T1. Mr Dunne asked the Minister for Infrastructure what further affirmative action she will take to address the unacceptable backlog in practical driving tests, which she will be aware of, with many people simply unable to book a test. (AQT 1521/17-22)

Minister Mallon

The Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) has 38 full-time driving examiners and 39 dual role examiners. The dual role examiners conduct both vehicle and driving tests, and they can be utilised across the network of test centres to meet driver testing demand. A further 10 new dual role examiners have been identified for driving examiner training. The first of those examiners is conducting category B private car driving tests. A further tranche, if training is successfully completed, will commence driver testing by mid-July.

In addition, the DVA is progressing an external recruitment competition for 10 full-time driving examiners, whom we expect to start testing by mid-September. The DVA has identified four additional departmental buildings — in Belfast, Coleraine, Cookstown and Omagh — that can be used as temporary test centres if needed and if there is sufficient driving examiner capacity.

The new temporary test centres at Cookstown and Omagh have opened for appointments. This has been communicated to all approved instructors and customers through the normal channels, including nidirect and social media. The DVA is offering driving tests on Sundays for heavy goods vehicles and buses at Belfast, Craigavon and Derry when it is suitable to do so without compromising the integrity of the test. The DVA is offering category B and certificate of professional competence (CPC) module 4 tests in some locations on Sundays, again, when it is suitable to do so without compromising the integrity of the test.

The lighter nights provide the opportunity to increase the number of driving tests that DVA can conduct each day. Each category B driving examiner is conducting between six and nine driving tests per day. Extended opening hours will require the use of overtime to provide the additional capacity, which is being offered to all trained driving examiners on a voluntary basis and in line with Northern Ireland Civil Service terms and conditions.

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