Subscriber OnlyTransport

RSA received €500,000 from driving test no-shows in 2023

Safety group criticises system that allows drivers obtain successive learner permits without sitting test

The Road Safety Authority (RSA) took in more than €500,000 from no-show driving test applicants last year amid criticism the system continues to allow drivers secure multiple successive learner permits simply by not showing up.

Current regulations allow drivers to renew learner permits by making an appointment for a test but Parc, the road safety advocacy group which sought the data, has continued to express concern that many never sit the tests.

This year, moves toward reform have been promised by the Department of Transport, the Minister of State with responsibility for road transport, Jack Chambers, and the RSA, but Parc has expressed its doubts, citing years of procrastination.

First and second learner permits are valid for two years, after which the time frame is reduced to one year unless proof is provided that a test has been taken and failed in which case the validity is extended to two years.


Anyone applying for a third or subsequent permit must include confirmation of a failed driving test within the last two years or proof of an application to sit a driving test.

There is, however, no legal requirement for a learner driver to actually sit a driving test and it can be renewed based on a test booking alone.

While it is an offence for a learner permit holder to drive unaccompanied, it emerged late last year that as many as 30,000 people on their third or subsequent learner permit have never sat a driving test and in some cases may have been driving for almost 30 years without a full licence.

In 2023 there were 6,441 no-shows, 3 per cent of scheduled tests, or a monthly average of 537. Refunds are not available to no-show candidates.

Based on the lowest €85 non-refundable fee, 2023 no-shows amounted to more than €547,000 in fees. An RSA spokesman said where a learner did not show up, the tester was “still scheduled to work during that time and is still entitled to remuneration, so the RSA does not make any money [profit] from the booking fee”.

Nevertheless, the no-shows come amid controversial delays in driving test wait times. The Department of Transport has said the focus must be on reducing backlogs before reforming the issue of multiple learner permits.

Last month, Mr Chambers said the service had been under “significant pressure to meet unprecedented demand”, up 28 per cent on 2021.

Mr Chambers has candidly addressed the issue of long-time learner drivers not sitting tests despite multiple licence renewals, in some cases for “well over a decade”, describing the loophole as “unacceptable” and undermining the purpose of the learner permit system.

He has set a two-pronged approach – slash wait times by mid-2024 before progressing legislation that would finally compel learner drivers to sit a test.

This approach, however, falls far short of campaigner expectations. Parc, which has agitated on the issue for years, said it should be included in the current Road Traffic Bill and not delayed.

“It beggars belief that the RSA has known about this for over 10 years,” said its founder Susan Gray, who believes putting it out to fresh legislation in the second half of the year is insufficient.

“Nothing less [than its inclusion in current legislation] will show that the Minister is genuine about this. We have seen this before; we have heard it all.”

A 2013 provision in the RSA’s Road Safety Strategy sought to end the practice of repeat learner permits without the need to sit a test.

A spokesman said it was committed to addressing the issue and a working group would be assembled in early 2024 “to scope out and define the technological, legislative and resources required”.

The Department of Transport similarly flagged its commitment, saying an “approach to address this has been proposed” and will proceed when the driver testing backlog is resolved.

Mr Chambers is understood to have opted for a more focused approach to current legislation, specifically on penalty points, speed limit reductions and mandatory drug testing at the scene of serious collisions, in order to expedite the Bill.

The RSA pointed out that last year’s no-show rate, which includes all vehicle types, would not be considered high at 3 per cent and compares with 24,456 in 2019, or 11 per cent, following changes to the booking system.

“It is not possible to say whether or not those who failed to show for their test were multiple learner permit holders,” a spokesman added.

  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here
Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast