There has been a call for the Road Safety Authority to lift a ban on driving lessons for essential workers and frontline health service staff during Level 5 restrictions as the queue for driving tests reaches 60,000.

All learner drivers must complete 12 essential driving lessons with a qualified instructor before a driving test can be scheduled, but thousands of motorists are now "marooned" in the system, according to motoring school owners around the country.

Drivers that are midway through the lesson programme are not permitted to sit any further lessons under current restrictions. 

"We have lots of learners with up to ten essential learning lessons already completed and they only need one or two or three more to have their test scheduled yet they cannot do so in the present lockdown," said Mairead Thomspon of the Thompson School of Motoring in Longford.

"On top of this, we already have a huge wait for driving tests and this is also affecting people who work in frontline or essential services. Something has to be done," she added.

Sarah Murphy from Moyne in Co Longford is one of those affected with just two more lessons to take. 

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She said she is keen to get her test because she is relying on her family to drive her around.

"I work in an essential service and I need to get to work every day at a shop," Sarah said.

"I can apply for a test but I cannot have that test scheduled until I have completed the 12 [lessons]. The problem is my driving instructor cannot complete the lessons in the present lockdown because they are not
allowed to do so by the RSA," she added.

The Road Safety Authority said it is in the process of taking on another 40 testers before the end of June but whether or not the essential lessons can restart depends on national Covid-19 guidelines.

A senator in the midlands called on the RSA to try and deal with the queue that is already forming by allowing the theory tests to proceed online.

Fianna Fáil Senator Aidan Davitt urged the Department of Transport to consider the introduction of online remote access theory testing.

"There is no reasonable excuse not to conduct the driver theory test online. Every other facet of Irish life has transcended to Zoom, Teams and other formats," Senator Davitt said.

An online Driver Theory Test service has already been trialled as part of a pilot initiative for specific driver categories. 

"Now is the time to add the capacity and let people get on with the theory tests," Senator Davitt said.

In a statement the Road Safety Authority said it is not possible to provide details of present waiting times as the driving test service is not currently operating as normal.

Under Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions, tests are only available to essential workers and this has skewed waiting times.

"We simply don't know how long this situation will last," a spokesperson said. 

6,590 people have been given a test date and will sit their test in the coming weeks.

There are a further 60,460 people who are waiting for a driving test.