Special Report 71: Driver Testing in the Road Safety Authority Press Release

The Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr John Buckley, has today published a report of an examination of the management of Driver Testing in the Road Safety Authority.  The Driver Testing Service was operated by the Department of Transport until September 2006 when responsibility transferred to the Road Safety Authority (RSA) with an oversight role by the Department of Transport. 

Main Findings

Delivery of Tests

The RSA target is to deliver tests to all applicants within ten weeks.  Demand for tests increased significantly between 2005 and 2008.   This, combined with historical backlogs required the delivery of increased numbers of tests.  The RSA increased test delivery between 2006 and 2009 through the use of additional overtime by its own testers and the employment of an external contractor to conduct tests on its behalf.   By the end of 2008, the numbers on the waiting list and waiting times had decreased significantly and was very close to the target of ten weeks.

Contract Management

302,000 tests were carried out under two contracts up to the end of 2008.  Early in the contract a supervision exercise conducted by the RSA to assess the quality of outsourced tests identified potential problems with test outcomes that prompted the RSA to conduct a more widespread review of the contract tests.  In 2,000 tests supervised between October 2007 and the end of 2008 the RSA supervisor and the contract tester disagreed on the test result in 7% of cases. 

A positive feature of the contract arrangement was that it offered the RSA the opportunity to embrace practices and systems operated by the contractor.  This has fed into the design of a new ICT system which should facilitate more efficient administration processes and better management information.

Consistency of Driver Testing

The pattern of test results identified during the examination has implications for test consistency. 

  • A high level of variation was evident in test results of individual centres.  The average pass rates for 2008 ranged from 39% to 60% in RSA centres and between 51% and 77% in centres where tests were administered by contract staff. 
  • There was also considerable variation between results determined by individual testers, with some testers consistently passing or failing more candidates than other testers operating from the same centre.  One third of RSA testers had pass rates that varied from their average centre pass rate by more than 10%.  Almost half of the contractor?s testers had pass rates that diverged by more than 10% from their average centre pass rate.           
  • The examination revealed a high level of variation between the test results of RSA testers and contract testers.  The national average pass rate for RSA testers was 49% compared to 62% for contract testers. 

While it is accepted that variations in test results may arise due to the profile of candidates attending individual centres, validation of pass rates awarded is important to ensure consistency of testing.  The RSA had not carried out such validation procedures.

In recent years, the target level of supervision and training of RSA testers has not been achieved.

Cost of Tests

The driving test fee remained unchanged at ?38 per test from 1992 until April 2009 when it increased to ?75.  The RSA does not monitor the unit cost of tests delivered ? however, this was estimated at ?88 per test for the purpose of the examination.  The difference between revenue recovered from test candidates and the costs incurred (estimated at just under ?24 million in 2008) was made up by the Exchequer. 

Overall Conclusions

The examination concluded that the RSA succeeded in reducing waiting lists and waiting times for driving tests.  However, divergence in pass rates generally, and the extent of variation between the pass levels awarded by individual testers and the average rates for the centres from which they operated, raised concerns in relation to the consistency of testing.  The generation and use of relevant management information that pinpoints divergences in pass rates could help focus a continuous quality improvement drive.

Overall, in any such drive, the challenge is to maintain a service that conducts a professional independent testing of drivers in each individual case, while at the same time pursuing consistency in testing applicants.

Notes for Editors

The Comptroller and Auditor General is an independent constitutional officer with responsibility for the audit of public funds. He reports to Dáil ?reann.

The full text of the report is available on the website of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (go to www.audgen.gov.ie).

For further information about the report, please contact Patricia Sheehan at 01 603 1086 or via email at Patricia_Sheehan@audgen.irlgov.ie