Customers with theory test pass certificates due to expire will be given priority access to the booking system by the Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA) when practical driving tests are able to resume.
Confirmation came from Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon.
She said: “Practical driving tests have been disrupted due to the Executive regulations introduced to help stop the spread of Covid-19.
“I recognise these are challenging times for us all and I appreciate the frustrations felt by learner drivers unable to take their practical driving tests at this time. My priority during this crisis continues to be to keep customers and staff safe while minimising disruption.
“In July 2020 I asked my officials to amend the Driving Licence Regulations to extend the validity of theory test pass certificates, which expire between 1 March 2020 and 31 October 2020 by eight months and the validity of off-road motorcycle test pass certificates.
“To help further mitigate the impact on customers due to the cessation of practical driving tests as a result of Covid restrictions, I have brought forward further legislation to extend the validity of theory test pass certificates.
“Those customers who had already benefited from the initial eight month extension to certificates were granted a further four month extension, bringing their total extension up to 12 months.
“In addition those customers whose theory test certificates expire between 1 November 2020 and 30 June 2021, and who had not already benefited from an extension, had their validity period extended by eight months.
“However, I am aware that the extension period of some customers’ theory test pass certificates is coming to an end with some due to expire in the coming months.
“Whilst not all of these customers will want to sit their practical driving test, as is normally the case, I have instructed my officials to prioritise bookings for driving tests based on the expiry dates of theory test pass certificates when driving tests are able to resume at the end of this current period of restrictions.
“Given the numbers of learner drivers which have been impacted, it is right that priority is given to those who have been waiting for the longest time.”
When driving tests are able to resume it is planned that the booking service will open in three phases. Phases 1 and 2 will prioritise groups of customers, for a limited period, based on the expiry dates of their theory test pass certificates before the booking service is opened for all customers in Phase 3.
Approximately 21,000 customers hold a private car theory test pass certificate and have not yet booked a practical driving test.
There are approximately 9,500 customers in Phases 1 and 2, whose theory tests will expire by 31 October 2021 and 31 March 2022 respectively and the DVA will contact these customers directly to advise them when they can access the booking system.
The DVA plans to release additional slots in May, June and July to provide the capacity required.
A further update will be provided when customers will be able to book a test and the timing of the release of each phase will be kept under review as the Covid situation progresses.
Those customers whose tests were cancelled due to Covid restrictions have already been contacted by the DVA and have had the opportunity to reschedule their appointments. The DVA has already created additional test slots for February, March and April for those customers.
The DVA continues to increase its capacity by recruiting additional examiners and will be offering evening appointments as we move into spring and the brighter nights. The DVA will continue to offer driving tests on a Saturday and driving tests for Heavy Goods Vehicles on Sundays where it is suitable to do so without compromising the integrity of the test.
The DVA will also use overtime to rota off-shift dual role driving examiners to provide further capacity.