The Road Safety Authority (RSA) has defended a lack of availability for its online theory test, saying that the system as it stands is only a pilot project.
Learner drivers waiting to take their test, who have been delayed in doing so by Covid restrictions, were hopeful that they would be able to at least pass their theory test online as a way of speeding up the process. They have been stymied, however, by a system that simply won’t let them book a slot.
The RSA said the lack of availability is because the current rollout of the system is a “pilot online driver theory test service to include cars and motorbikes on a limited basis”.
John Paul Guiheen, the RSA’s executive officer for communications, said: “The RSA has been working to deliver an online service. The new offering is online, with some 4,000 online theory tests available for all categories of vehicles per month. This is being rolled out on a pilot basis and tests are available on a first come, first served basis. A new online service will become more widely available later in the year and, assuming the pilot phase is successful, many more customers will be able to opt to do the test online.”
The RSA said that, so far, only booking dates for June 2021 have been released, and that dates for July and August would be released soon.
“Driver theory tests, through the network of test centres around the country, have not been available to customers due to Government restrictions under public health advice to minimise the impact of Covid-19,” said Guiheen.
“In light of the significant backlog of customers awaiting tests, the RSA will increase capacity in physical testing centres. This will see the number of tests in centres increase from an average of approximately 15,000 tests per month (pre-Covid) and will build up to 50,000 per month once the service is permitted to reopen.
“While the online pilot service will not immediately address the significant backlog of customers waiting for a driver theory test, it has been expanded to allow people sit a theory test remotely for all vehicle categories. During the pilot phase, remote online testing will be available initially on a limited basis. Extra capacity will be added later in the year to allow more customers to sit their theory test remotely.”
It is estimated that about 180,000 people are currently waiting for a driving test, including many key workers. The RSA’s online booking system has been trying to speed things up for those key workers, with people logging into the booking system being asked to explain their working status, in an attempt to boost those most in need further up the queue.
The backlog has been further complicated by many of those ready to sit the test not being able to notch up their mandatory 12 professional lessons, while the rollout of the online theory test has been further held up by the fact that, for the moment, it’s only compatible with those working on PC-type computers running the Windows 8 operating system; it won’t work with an Apple product, although the RSA says that should be fixed when the broader rollout happens later in the year.
It’s not just a matter of getting mobile that’s at stake for people. Hard cash is the issue too, with many learner drivers paying over-inflated insurance premiums until they get their full licence.
Jonathan Hehir, managing director at Coverinaclick.ie, said: “The worsening driving test delays are costing many drivers between €300 and €600 extra in insurance premiums, and, without some intervention, the waiting time looks likely to get longer over the next few months.”