THE Liberal Nationals are calling on the state government and VicRoads to clarify the licence testing arrangements that will be put into place during stage three and four restrictions in Victoria.
Before metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire was placed into stage three restrictions, the Nationals say the return to service plan VicRoads had put into place was failing, as none of the pop-up testing centres had been opened, few additional staff had been hired and the purported increase in operating days for regional testing centres had not happened.
Shadow minister for rural roads Roma Britnell held real concerns of more delays to young people getting their licences.
“Young people in rural and regional areas are already limited by the number of testing days available, with many sites only testing one or two days a week in ordinary circumstances,” she said.
“They now face even longer delays.
“For many, a licence is a necessity to get to and from work because of extremely limited public transport options.
“I have had parents contact me who are driving up to 200 kilometres a day to make sure their kids can get to and from work, while they’re waiting to get their licence.
“This places enormous pressure on a family.”
Ms Britnell said Roads Minister Ben Carroll needed to urgently outline what his plans were to ensure rural and regional young people could get their licence as quickly as possible once restrictions were eased.
Gippsland East MLA Tim Bull holds similar concerns, adding it was not right the state government had basically shut up shop and removed the ability for young drivers to sit their learner test, or undertake their probationary licence test.
“We are not asking for any undue risk to be taken here,” Mr Bull said.
“Sitting in an office (to sit your L-plate test) is allowable under the current arrangements and sitting in a car with another person not from your home (eg driving instructor for a probationary test) is also permitted under the current COVID restrictions,” Mr Bull said.
“In addition, there’s no reason computerised hazard testing can’t be delivered online, given the technology exists.
“Our youth need their licences to be able to get to work and also apply for jobs.
“We have cases at the present time where our young adults want to work, but can’t apply for jobs because they cannot get their licence.
“We do not have the public transport options that city folk have, and these things are overlooked when we make state-wide decisions.
“We already have a massive backlog of young adults who need their licences, so not only do we need it re-opened, but we need additional staff to remove the backlog.”
Mr Bull said the move was also adversely affecting several learn to drive businesses in the region.
“At present there is only very limited testing for hardship reasons, but it is not keeping up with demand or going anywhere towards servicing the needs of the community,” he said.
“I have written to the Premier on this matter last week and will hopefully get some positive action from the government.
“While we must remain safe, we should be able to undertake these important measures that do not increase risk but allow us to function in the country.
“I understand decisions are made quickly at this time, but this was first raised months ago, and it is time it was rectified.”
In response, a spokesperson from Mr Carroll’s office said while the situation was not ideal, public health could not be compromised.
“Due to the latest coronavirus restrictions, all light vehicle driver tests and computer-based licence testing across Victoria have again been temporarily suspended,” the spokesperson said.
“We know this suspension will impact many Victorians, especially those whose licence test may have already been postponed due to the stage three restrictions in late March – but this is what needs to be done to protect the health and wellbeing of our staff and customers and slow the spread of coronavirus.”
“VicRoads customer service centres will remain open as an essential service, but we encourage everyone to limit their travel by accessing VicRoads services online or over the phone where possible.”
“Driving lessons or undertaking driving practice is not a permitted activity under stage four restrictions, unless as part of necessary training associated with a job in a permitted industry.
“In regional Victoria, stage three restrictions permit supervised driving practice.”
Licence testing has been suspended in regional Victoria since Thursday, August 6, in line with the reintroduction of stage three restrictions.
VicRoads is communicating with customers with existing licence testing appointments in regional areas to advise of the postponement.
Since licence testing resumed on June 15 before again being suspended, VicRoads completed almost 23,000 tests across Victoria.
As of Monday, it had approved more than 10,000 applications for people experiencing undue hardship.
The hardship testing process will remain in place for stage four and stage three restricted areas to support people who need a licence for essential work purposes and for special family hardship circumstances.
Learner drivers across Victoria may attend driving lessons as part of necessary training associated with their job in a permitted industry, such as learning to drive a heavy truck or bus.
Residents living within regional Victoria living under stage three restrictions may undertake supervised driving practice.
Supervising drivers are full licence holders who may include family members, volunteer mentors and qualified driving instructors.