TWENTY-nine new staff have been hired at a National Car Test (NCT) call centre to help deal with a chronic backlog in testing cars.

Two new test centres, one in Dublin and another in Donegal, have also been opened as motorists complain of waits of several months for an appointment.

More than a million people had already called the NCT hotline by the end of June, according to the Road Safety Authority (RSA).

It said by 30 June this year, one million people had called about scheduling a test compared to 777,541 this time last year.

The RSA conceded that there had been "unprecedented demand" this year and it had created enormous pressure on the NCT.

The decision to administer penalty points when motorists do not display a valid roadworthiness certificate is thought to be the main factor.

However, the economic downturn has also played a part, with the number of old cars on the road increasing as new car sales dwindle significantly.

The RSA said it was coping with demand and that the general waiting period for a test was between two and four weeks.

However, a number of motorists contacted the Sunday Tribune to say they had been forced to wait longer than six weeks.

One driver said: "I was stopped by the gardaí for not having a valid NCT cert and I told them I was still on a waiting list for the test.

"They actually let me away with it on condition I bring it in within the next month and said it seemed to be happening to everyone."

A statement from the RSA said: "While it is good news for road safety that more cars are having their roadworthiness test earlier, the unprecedented demand this year has put additional pressure on the NCT."

The RSA said demand for tests was always highest in the early part of the year as the majority of people buy their cars in January, February and March.

To deal with the backlog, motorists are also being allowed to make appointments several months in advance rather than joining a waiting list.

The statement said: "It should be noted that lead times vary from day to day. Every week, NCT releases test slots for customers who wish to make advance bookings up to around three months ahead.

"However, the bulk of slots (approximately two thirds) are made available between two and four weeks in advance with a proportion of those retained for urgent bookings at two week's lead time."