Learner drivers struggle to book tests amid backlog

Driving test system backlog is causing months of delays for learner drivers in the UK

THE CANCELLATION of some 450,000 driving tests as a result of the Covid pandemic has led to massive delays for learner drivers attempting to get on the road – even stretching into 2022.

A system backlog is causing long delays for those trying to book a theory test as well as those waiting to sit the practical test.

Compounding the issue further is a shortage of driving instructors, meaning that even if learners pass their theory tests, they may struggle or face further long delays in getting lessons.

With three lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, theory-testing centres had to close, though when the most severe restrictions were lifted, many smaller venues were unable to reopen due to social distancing. Even larger test centres were forced to operate at significantly reduced capacity leading to a high number of cancelled tests.

In Scotland, where social distancing of two metres was recommended – rather than one metre for England and Wales – the waiting time for a theory test in June was 16 weeks.

Although the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) were working to reduce those waiting times, and restrictions have been lifted, long delays still remain.

Those who have passed their theory tests then have to contend with further significant issues with the provision of driving lessons, as there aren’t enough Approved Driving Instructors (ADIs) to deal with the number of people who need lessons. This is a problem that has been exacerbated by Covid rather than caused by it.

The number of driving instructors has been falling in recent years according to research by the young driver insurance specialist, Marmalade. In 2013, there were 44,569 ADIs in the UK; that’s currently down to fewer than 39,500, a drop of 12%.

As a result of a minor baby boom in 2003-2004, there are more young people coming of driving age than in previous years, a figure that’s set to grow in the years ahead according to birth statistics.

Many instructors retired, likely as a result of the coronavirus crisis, with a fall of 2.34% between 2019 and 2020. Driving schools were forced to shut down for months as a result of lockdowns, which has further worsened the situation for those needing lessons.

There have been reports of instructors turning away new pupils and months-long waiting lists at driving schools.

According to Marmalade’s research, there are currently around thirty learners to every instructor in Britain.

The DVLA has refused to extend provisional licences to account for delays caused by the driving lesson and test backlog, meaning learners have had to take and pass their theory tests again — a process that is already backlogged.

With so many tests cancelled due to the lockdown, were around 1.16 million people waiting for driving tests in April. Although tests have resumed, extremely long waiting times persist.

Anyone trying to book a practical driving test now will struggle to find a slot before 2022.

As the DVSA releases slots 24 weeks in advance, it’s currently booking up to January 2022, though with such high demand, any available slots are rapidly being filled.

According to a DVSA spokesperson, there are still some slots for 2021 available, but the organisation would not say how many.

It is likely that the DVSA will run out of practical driving test slots for 2021 in the coming days or weeks.

Those in dire need of a test slot are trying desperately to find cancellations. One method involves booking a slot at a test centre perhaps hundreds of miles away and hoping that a cancelled slot appears closer to home.

Cancelled slots can be found either by manually searching the official DVSA website or apps such as Testi, designed to help learners find test dates.

This is particularly frustrating for those whose theory tests are about to expire or who need a car to get to work or university.

With the combination of Covid-induced backlogs and increased demand for theory tests, driving lessons and practical driving tests, it appears that learner drivers will continue to face long delays well into 2022.