FIVE thousand driving tests have been cancelled since Christmas as a result of road conditions.

Not a single exam was carried out last Friday as conditions deteriorated further but the Road Safety Authority (RSA) said it was confident the mass cancellations will not lead to another backlog.

Some people have had their tests cancelled and rescheduled up to three times with conditions far too hazardous to allow learner drivers on the road.

"This really started to kick in from 21 December. It's been patchy for us to do tests in various parts of the country," said spokesman Brian Farrell. "Weather conditions are something that we have to deal with every day, but obviously this is pretty unique. We are still confident that we have the wherewithal to deal with this. It's not a major deal."

Some learner drivers were only told about the cancellation when they arrived at the test centre, but the RSA says this is due to the fact examiners are best placed to make the decision locally and on the day of the test.

"When the weather does break and clear up we will be doing overtime and we will be testing in the evening times and at the weekends," said Farrell.

Candidates still awaiting examinations have been asked to keep an eye on and have been assured rescheduling will be free of charge.

Meanwhile, the number of elderly people dying of flu this year is expected to be dramatically reduced by drastic weather conditions that have kept personal contact to a minimum.

However, Age Action Ireland (AAI) has said that it would be a "miracle" if there were no fatalities among the aged population as a result of the freeze.

According to the Health Service Executive (HSE), while there has been an increase in the number of elderly being injured in falls, one positive aspect of the crisis has been a significant decrease in the number of people contracting the flu virus.

"It's one positive aspect of this weather – that there is no contact to pass flu and we are in the height of the flu season," said Noel Mulvihill, HSE assistant national director for older persons. "[The number of flu-related deaths] will probably decrease... We don't have any statistics but it is reduced."

However, there are other serious problems and the HSE and AAI are encouraging communities to check on the elderly, particularly that they have adequate food stocks and that medical prescriptions are up-to-date.

"From an A&E perspective the numbers have increased. In terms of falls and fractures the numbers have soared," said Mulvihill.

AAI has warned that with the prolonged spell of harsh weather, deaths may be inevitable.

"We haven't seen it yet but it will be a miracle if we get out of this without fatalities," said spokesman Eamon Timmins.