Learner drivers struggle to book tests amid backlog

Learner drivers struggle to book tests amid backlog

Instructors over capacity by more than 50%

LEARNER drivers are scrambling to book driving tests amid a backlog of around 420,000 people caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Tests resumed on Thursday morning, 10 days after driving instructors were permitted to return to work for the first time in 2021.

Some students have been waiting to take their test since the first lockdown, with reports of learner drivers having tests postponed up to five times over the last 12 months. More than 450,000 tests have been cancelled during the pandemic, and latest figures estimate there are currently 1.2 million people in the UK waiting to take a driving test.

It is likely that some learners will be forced to wait until February 2022 to take their test, and failing could lead to a wait of more than eight months to retake the exam.

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), which oversees driving tests, told the BBC that it was doing all it can to provide as many tests as possible to help clear the backlog.

“Many instructors are trying to fit their clients into their diaries but there are only so many hours a day … there is potential for unreasonable pressure from pupils and their families”

The agency has created 2,500 extra monthly slots on weekends and bank holidays in an effort to clear the queue, and is recruiting up to 300 new examiners.

The DVSA’s chief driving examiner Mark Winn has also urged learners not to book their test unless they feel completely ready to pass, in order to avoid as many retests as possible.

“We know many learners have waited a long time to take their driving test, so when tests restart in England and Wales on 22 April, we want them to be ready and to pass first time,” he told the BBC. In March 2020, the pass rate across the UK was 46%.

Many test centres made tests available 18 weeks ahead and have reported all slots are now fully booked. One driving instructor said that some students impulsively booked tests without having a tutor assigned to them.

Bill Plant, one of the biggest driving schools in the UK, said that April 12 saw a record number of students rushing to book lessons — even more so than July 6, 2020, when driving lessons resumed after the first coronavirus lockdown.

According to a report by learner driver insurance provider Marmalade, driving instructors across the UK currently have an average of 30.46 students each on their books, meaning that they are over capacity by 56%.

This is not helped by a decline in the number of registered driving instructors across the UK over the last several years. DVSA stats show there were 44,569 instructors registered in the UK in 2013 but this fell 13% to just 38,778 in December 2020.

Lynne Barrie, chair of the Approved Driving Instructors National Joint Council, said: “Learners should be aware that the number of instructors has declined.

“The backlog is leaving many under pressure to fit their clients into their diaries but there are only so many hours a day that an instructor can safely train their clients. I am concerned that there is a potential for unreasonable pressure from pupils and their families.

“Most instructors I have spoken to say they will need to prioritise their clients so that anyone with imminent practical tests can be helped, [after which] they will organise their diaries for clients they were training before the lockdown came, and then any new clients wanting to start to learn to drive.

“A lot have full diaries and are turning people away so finding an instructor with availability could well be challenging currently.”

Featured image from Shutterstock/Michaeljung