Thursday, 2 July 1992
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mrs. T. Ahearn: The extraordinary failure rate among those who take the driving test is causing much concern and distress to those involved and to their families. It surely must be a matter for examination that up to 47 per cent of those taking the test fail. I got this percentage in reply to a question I tabled to the Minister some months ago from my constituency. The situation is now at crisis point for some who believe now it is next to impossible to pass their driving test.
I stress that it is of the utmost importance to maintain a high standard of driving and thus ensure our roads are travelled by safe and competent drivers. However, it is unacceptable that so many applicants, some of them experienced drivers, are continuing to fail their driving test despite having taken lessons from what I consider to be excellent instructors. In many cases they are being failed for minor technicalities.
We must accept that the majority of applicants are very young people, many of them still in full-time education and  without an income of their own. With the cost of applying for a test at £30 and the need to take driving lessons at approximately £12 per lesson, it can cost a person almost £100 to apply and prepare for the driving test. This is too much to expect from people who have to sit the test three or four times. Worse still, I have come across many cases of people losing out on job opportunities because they had not passed their driving test.
I believe the inspectors are doing their job, but I call for an examination into the guidelines set down for passing the driving test. Many of those who are failing their driving test are continuing to drive on our roads with a provisional licence. In my constituency of South Tipperary a person who has been driving to work every day for the past six years has failed his test on five occasions, each time, I believe, on minor technicalities. That person has never had an accident. It is unfair and unjust that people are being failed in this manner. Some parents have come to me really distressed that they can no longer afford to allow their children to take driving lessons or apply for the test. As I have pointed out, in many cases they cannot apply for jobs that require the person to have a driving licence.
Adequate driving standards must be maintained but a person should not be deemed unfit to drive by reason of minor technicalities. I am anxious that the Minister re-examine the criteria for obtaining a driving licence to ensure that competent and safe drivers are successful but those who are unfit will not pass.
Minister for the Environment (Mr. Smith): I thank Deputy Ahearn for giving me this opportunity to put on record some pertinent facts about driver testing and to dispel some myths which continue to hang around in relation to this service.
I want to point out first that the primary purpose of driver testing is to ensure that those who become licensed to drive can do so safely and with due consideration for other road users. Before a tester can issue a certificate of competency he must be satisfied that the person being tested  has an adequate knowledge of the Rules of the Road and can demonstrate the ability to drive safely and competently in accordance with those rules. If the person does not achieve the requisite standard, the tester has no option but to withhold the certificate of competency.
The rules and regulations governing driver testing, including the various manoeuvres which must be carried out during the course of the test and the skills which must be displayed, are laid down in an EC Directive and are in turn incorporated in the Road Traffic (Licensing of Drivers) Regulations, 1989. The Irish driving test, therefore, is basically the same as the test carried out in all of the other 11 member states of the European Community. The same general criteria apply. The standard of driving test, therefore, is fully commensurate with the test carried out elsewhere in Europe.
Our driver testers receive a full and extensive training before commencing testing and are supervised regularly by very experienced supervisory testers. A primary purpose of this supervision is to maintain an even application of standards throughout the country thus ensuring patterns of passes and failures which are in reasonable balance.
The average pass rate nationwide is 52.5 per cent in 1992 to date. Last year it was 52.1 per cent. Over the years it has not varied much from these figures. The rate may vary somewhat from area to area within the country but, where a significant distortion appears, the test results are examined and analysed to establish underlying causes with a view to bringing the pass-failure rate into closer harmony with the national average. In the circumstances I think Deputy Ahearn will agree that there is nothing alarming about the failure rate for driving tests nor is there any need for an investigation. On the contrary, I would like to put on record my belief that the present driver testing  service is first-class and provides an excellent service to the community.
As regards the person in question, departmental records show that he took four tests over a period of years, the last being on 28 May of this year and his previous tests being in February, June and August of 1987. Three different testers conducted the tests. In this case there is no basis whatsoever for concluding other than that the tests carried out, as I have already indicated, by three different driving testers, were satisfactory. It is, of course, regrettable that persons, as in the present case, will fail the test on a greater than average number of times, but this is a necessary aspect of any driver testing scheme in order to protect the lives and safety of both road users and the drivers in question.
|Last Updated: 22/05/2011 15:59:45||Page of 85|