Learner drivers are facing an average wait of 10 weeks for a driving test, according to Road Safety Authority (RSA) figures seen by RTÉ's Morning Ireland.
The RSA has confirmed that eight of its 60 test centres have longer waiting times than 10 weeks, while driving instructors and learner drivers say they are experiencing lengthy waiting times.
There are 33,000 drivers waiting to take their driving test, according to RSA figures. With an average of 3,500 tests being done per week, the RSA says it would take ten weeks to clear those tests.
Despite the figures, driving instructors say some people are experiencing longer waiting times.
"We have people who applied for their tests… one girl is waiting five months," said Kevin Hogan, Managing Director of Ladybird Driving School in Dublin.
"Then there are candidates who are on the cancellation list who could get a test within four, five or six weeks.
"It is really a mixed bag but generally you are looking at least three months plus."
Bruna Borges, one of Mr Hogan's students, has been waiting for a test for months.
"I am on the waiting list," she said. "I accessed the website yesterday to check this and they said maybe I will have the test booked in March.
"This is like six months waiting."
Ms Borges is concerned that with Covid-19 restrictions lifted, she will find it difficult to juggle returning to her workplace office and collecting her son from school.
"I am single parenting and I live far from the city centre. Now that normal life is returning back, I will probably need to go work in the office," she said.
"That will be even harder for me because then I need to manage going to the office and collecting my son from school – all of this without a car.
"I am not sure how I am going to do this."
The RSA has confirmed that waiting times are longer than 10 weeks at some test centres.
"Drogheda test centre has the longest wait time in the country – currently 17 weeks for an invitation to choose an appointment," said Declan Naughton, Director of Driver Testing and Licensing with the RSA.
He said that as Covid-19 rules are relaxed, they will be able to focus on a small number of centres with longer waiting times to provide extra capacity and reduce waiting times.
"Overall, 52 of our 60 centres have a wait time for an invitation of 10 weeks or less," he said.
These are the top five centres with the longest waiting times, according to the RSA:
Drogheda – 18 weeks
Mulhuddart – 16 weeks
Mulhuddart (Carlton Hotel) – 14 weeks
Killester – 14 weeks
Galway – 14 weeks
Road Safety Authority figures show 12,000 of the drivers waiting for tests have scheduled tests over the next five to six weeks. The remaining 21,000 are still waiting for tests to be scheduled.
"Our target is to have an average wait of ten weeks waiting time and we achieved that during the last few weeks," said an RSA statement.
"Projections made early last year had estimated it would be February 2022 before we reached that point."
Mr Naughton said the waiting time at the start of the pandemic was six weeks, but it went to about six months during the worst of the pandemic.
"We are now back to about 10 weeks," he added.
A deeper analysis of the RSA figures shows that as of 21 January, the total number of people looking for driving tests was 104,398.
Of those, 12,764 have test appointments; 27,375 are ineligible for a test for reasons including failures to complete the mandatory number of lessons; 42,846 people were offered appointments but declined them, while 21,413 are waiting for their invitation to do the test.
About 202,000 driver theory tests were carried out in 2021. Some 170,000 of those were carried out in last six months of 2021.
Driving instructors say this will cause pressure on the testing system and cause delays towards the end of this year and in to 2023 because these drivers will be seeking tests.
The RSA says it can manage the numbers of people looking for tests.
"We should be able to manage it because at the moment, driver testers are doing seven tests a week," said Mr Naughton.
"Normally in the post-pandemic they will be able to do eight tests.
"In actual fact, between additional tests and the capacity to do some overtime we could add up to another 2,000 tests a week in to the system."
The Omicron variant of Covid-19 led to driving test cancellations.
"In the first few days back in the new year we had a 20% absence rate this gradually declined down to 10% at the beginning of last week," the RSA said in a statement.
It said 1,228 tests were cancelled first three weeks of January due to Covid-19 symptoms or testers being sick, while 1,531 customers cancelled their test appointment due to Covid-19 or being medically unfit on the day.
NCT appointments were also cancelled due to Covid-19 - 15% of staff were absent, resulting in 4,400 cancellations and 1,700 no shows.
Of 850 NCT staff, 130 were impacted by Covid-19 since November.
"I'm glad to say that all 49 NCT centres around the country are fully operational," aid Mark Synnott, Managing Director of Applus automotive – the company which runs the NCT.
"But, like all organisations, we are experiencing a spike in absenteeism, modestly from mid-November but obviously a significant surge when we returned after the Christmas break.
"We have been running an absenteeism level just under 15%. This means, that last week we lost about 450 workdays across the network.
"It has impacted testing, but I must give credit to our staff who are pulling out all the stops to cover bookings as much as they can.
"So, again using last week as an example, we cancelled about 1,700 bookings, while customers also cancelled about 2,700 with a further 1,700 failing to show up for their appointment.
"Having said that, we would also have taken in about 2,300 extras to facilitate the trade and to make the best use of the appointments that were available."
Mr Synnott said tests can be booked within 28 days if they are needed and there is a waiting list function on the NCT website.
Currently in Ireland there are 80,000 cars with overdue NCT tests. Mr Synnott said this is not a backlog.
"While 80,000 vehicles overdue may seem like a big number, it really is very small when you consider how many vehicles may be sitting on garage forecourts awaiting sale, or are off the road for other reasons.
"Also, please don’t describe this as a backlog, these are vehicle owners who have not tried to get their vehicles tested and are therefore 'overdue’.
"On 1 January, looking back at the two-year test cycle, with 2.5 million vehicles in scope, there were 200,000 vehicles which still had a test due date in 2020/2021, of which 120,000 were booked in for a full test or a retest.
"So about 3% have not made an attempt to be passed."
The current average waiting time for an NCT test is 19 days.
However, Drogheda, Kells, Cahir, Dundalk and Derrybeg have wait times of 22 to 24 days according to Applus, although Drogheda, Kells and Cahir are being refurbished and capacity is reduced as a result.
"We release slots on a continuous basis as we become aware of staff availability," said Mr Synnott.
"For those who need it, we are currently able to provide a test appointment of 28 days if they avail of the 'waiting list’ function on the website."
This week Applus will release 20,000 additional NCT slots for February.