What a car crash: NCT test system beset by delays of up to SIX months

Is our NCT test system fit for purpose, asks John Dolan
What a car crash: NCT test system beset by delays of up to SIX months

The really bad news on the NCT front is that the backlog is only getting worse. In November, it was estimated there were about 360,000 vehicles waiting to be tested in Ireland.

I ALWAYS think an NCT testing centre waiting room is a bit like the old maternity hospitals, in the days before fellas were allowed into the inner sanctum.

They are full of people pacing up and down anxiously, uttering silent prayers, ‘Please make it good news, please God, I swear I’ll be a good person…’

You crane your neck and peep through windows to try to find any signs of progress - are those people muttering darkly about MY pride and joy?

Finally, you’re put out of your misery. Your car passed. Hurrah! Or it failed. Hot dang!

I was in that position this week, when our family car underwent its NCT.

Thankfully, it passed, but the experience made me wonder about the state of our NCT testing system, as it struggles to cope with huge backlogs from the pandemic, as well as a staffing crisis.

Scandalously, for a system that aims to make our roads safer and our environment cleaner, the NCT is currently beset by long queues. Worse, it is hard to know what our Government is doing to put it right.

The NCT on our family car had been due to expire last September and, last July, the earliest booking we could get was this week.

This meant we spent several months with an out-of-date NCT disc - we just assumed if the guards saw it, they would be aware of the backlog and wouldn’t prosecute - but was that a fair assumption? Who knows?

The new warranty will only last until September - the date the original NCT was due. This doesn’t make sense. Surely the authorities could waive this rule while it copes with the Covid backlog, and extend the warranty to 12 months from the date the car passes the test?

As it stands, hundreds of thousands of motorists will have to put their cars through two tests in an eight or nine month period, only exerting more pressure on the beleaguered NCT system.

Equally, the NCT testing centres shut from Christmas Eve to January 3 - couldn’t they have arranged for the centres to open on some of those days in between to help clear some of the backlog?

This week, when I attempted to register our other car for its NCT, the earliest dates I got back online were June 27 in Little Island and July 4 in Macroom. When prompted, I was told the earliest date at my favoured testing centre, Blarney, would be July 21.

Granted, January is the busiest time for NCT bookings, as this is the month most people buy their vehicles - but this is still a crazy delay for something so important.

A guy on Twitter whose test date is imminent was given the same date of July, and lots of people told him to phone or email the NCT centres and they would be pushed up the queue, in the event of a cancellation.

Some suggested you would get a test date within a month this way. Others admitted to driving for several hours to find a test centre that would accommodate them - imagine failing that test on a minor technicality after all that time and effort!

If this is the case, and there are ways to get around the backlog, why aren’t all motorists told that? This kind of nod and a wink system is no way to run a test that could be the difference between life and death.

On the other hand, a deluge of motorists contacting NCT centres directly and pleading their case is hardly going to help the hard-working personnel, given the staff shortages they face, not to mention the current bout of bugs and sickness around the place.

Many people responding to the tweet were unsure of whether a driver could be prosecuted or not in the current malaise. It seems it’s up to each individual garda to make that call.

The dearth of information in relation to this is shocking, given the NCT is something most of us go through on an annual basis.

There is even some confusion as to whether it is a matter for the Department of Transport or the Road Safety Authority. The last thing you need when facing a problem in this country is to offer it two stools to fall between!

There was a four-month extension to NCT certs granted early in the pandemic, for newer cars only, but that has all long gone by the board.

We do know that Insurance Ireland has stated that its members will be pragmatic and understanding in their approach to the current delays. Cover will continue to be provided where customers, through no fault of their own, are unable to obtain an NCT appointment.

That is helpful, but we need Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan to step in and give us some information while coming up with a solution to tackle these backlogs.

The fact he is also the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, however, might go some way to explaining why he hasn’t acted in this manner.

That is some job description and responsibility - and a man who detests motor vehicles and all they stand for is hardly likely to prioritise them.

Along with the disappearing act by Health Minster Stephen Donnelly this week while the hospital system collapsed around our ears, you do wonder if new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar needs to read the riot act as his government stumbles into a new year.

The really bad news on the NCT front is that the backlog is only getting worse. In November, it was estimated there were about 360,000 vehicles waiting to be tested in Ireland.

Currently, there are around 1.4 million NCT tests every year, and the number of cars on Ireland’s roads stands at around 2.6 million.

Yet the Government has failed to follow advice to open more NCT inspection centres to cope with this demand - a situation which Covid only exacerbated.

Not only do we face longer queues and delays on the national road network these days, we have to grapple with similar delays and queues when it comes to booking an NCT test.

Jams today, jams tomorrow...

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