Driving tests resumed in Enniskillen Test Centre at the beginning of the month but adapting to the demands of the Covid-19 pandemic could lead to a major backlog, it has been claimed.

This follows the cancellation and postponement of driving tests across Northern Ireland as a result of the coronavirus on March 20. Priority for driving tests has been given to those deemed to be critical’workers.

There have been some key changes for those taking the tests most notably that all driving test candidates must bring and wear a face mask unless they are medically exempt from wearing and all driving test examiners must also wear one.

The DVA confirmed that those who refuse to wear a face mask and did not give a reason as to why they are not wearing a mask whilst booking their test will have their test cancelled. Examiners must also wash their hands before and after every test.

The meet and greet will be conducted outside the test centre as opposed to inside and the driving examiner must be satisfied the vehicle has been recently cleaned before the driving test can begin. Before entering the car, the examiner may choose to fit a disposable seat cover to their seat if they wish and to use an anti-viral wipe in the car. Pupils will also have to bring their own pen to the test.

One of the first young people to pass their driving test post-Covid-19 was 17-year old Eimear Keenan from Kinawley. She successfully passed her test on September 8 (Tuesday).

Miss Keenan began taking her driving lessons last December and had originally booked to sit her practical test on March 23.

Driving tests were postponed across Northern Ireland on March 20 meaning Eimear missed out on sitting her test by only a few days.

“I was disappointed but not shocked when the test was cancelled” she said.

Miss Keenan received a full refund from the DVA when her test was postponed and was informed that her theory test along with others in the same situation would have its expiry date extended by a year.

Miss Keenan received notification of a test place becoming available in Enniskillen on September 4 (Friday) and accepted it so she could sit her test on Tuesday. She said that some of her friends in school have had to decline dates given to them by the DVA as they were “too soon”.

She added: “Some of the girls hadn’t had any driving lessons since the end of lockdown and didn’t want to start them again because we didn’t know when we’d get test dates.”

When asked about having to wear a mask whilst taking her driving test, Miss Keenan said: “Well, it’s not very comfortable to wear a mask when you’re driving but we’ve been wearing them during lessons so I’ve kind of got used to it. You’re feeling very stressed about the test before you even put the mask on and I was worried about it being too warm in the car.

“I have to wear the mask really tight as the mask has to be tight because you can’t have it slipping down your face as you won’t be able to adjust it while doing the test because you’d be worried about touching it or taking your hands off the wheel.”

Eimear said “I was a bit more nervous because covid is in the back of your head when you’re doing it but also I was more worried about booking for a retest if I didn’t get because we don’t know when that could be with the backlog.”

Conor McCann, Chairman of the Fermanagh Driving Instructors Association estimates there could be a backlog of at least 400 driving tests in Enniskillen due to the cut down in the number of tests performed a week. He told this newspaper: “There were two days of testing last week in Enniskillen that was just key workers and there were nine tests conducted over two days. It’s no fault of the team in Enniskillen that they are limited, the issue is at the top from the Department of Infrastructure. The issue for driving tests, instructors, and examiners is that it is still just guidelines, there are no rules .”

As the department has not issued any guidance as to when the backlog will be eased, driving instructors like Mr. McCann cannot take on any new pupils to prepare them for their driving test and they have no indication of when some of their current pupils will be sitting driving tests.