Four month backlog for NI driver theory tests

It has emerged that there is a nearly four month long wait to take a driving theory test in Northern Ireland thanks to the Covid-19 restrictions.

Thursday, 25th March 2021, 4:44 pm
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The Department for Infrastructure which runs the tests, said that in normal times there might be a wait of perhaps four weeks.

The information came to light as a result of a written question from Sinn Fein MLA Cathal Boylan.

The department has indicated that theory tests have to be taken by physically visiting one of six centres – Belfast, Ballymena, Londonderry, Newry, Omagh, and Portadown.

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Mr Boylan understands that the theory tests currently remain suspended until April 1.

In its response to his question, the department said that there are about 6,200 candidates waiting to take a test.

It added that, as things stood on March 16, the earliest appointments in Belfast, Newry and Portadown were July 15.

Ballymena was July 17, Londonderry July 20, and Omagh was worst of all – its first date was July 22, virtually four months away.

Since this only reflects the waiting times as they stood on March 16, it is likely they have grown even worse since then.

In a statement to the News Letter, the Department for Infrastructure said: “Waiting times for driving theory tests have been significantly impacted by the Executive’s decision to introduce restrictions to help tackle the spread of Covid-19 from March 2020 and more recently, from 26 December 2020.

“In normal circumstances, the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) would not expect candidates to wait any longer than four weeks for a standard Category B (private car) theory test appointment.

“However, these are not normal circumstances and the provision of theory tests has been impacted by the pandemic across Great Britain and Ireland.”

The department added that it is working with the company Pearson VUE to put extra testing slots in place.

These slots “will be released for booking once a date for the resumption of tests is confirmed,” it said.

Mr Boylan said: “The Minister has stated that an online theory test is not currently possible because of the technological limits of ensuring test integrity.

“However, in the 26 counties remote online testing has been made available for certain categories of drivers.

“This year has been difficult for learner drivers and we need to be using all means at our disposal to get them better access to such a basic service as a driving test.”

He has written to the minister, Nichola Mallon of the SDLP, encouraging her to adopt remote tests too.

Currently, the only practical tests being run by the government are motorcycle ones.

In January this year, the DVA’s Pat Delaney gave MLAs at Stormont an indication of how serious a setback the coronavirus has been for the agency, saying that normally the number of practical private car tests per month is 3,900, and that they will appoint extra examiners to help cope with the backlog.

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