Learner drivers struggle to book tests amid backlog

DVSA dismisses petition to allow driving instructors to pass students

Road safety charity takes same stance

THE DRIVER and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has told Driving.co.uk that allowing driving instructors to pass learners  — as demanded in a petition gaining momentum online — would “not be lawful or appropriate”.

A spokesperson for the government agency said that changing the current law, which allows only examiners who have been approved by the Secretary of State for Transport to conduct driving tests, would pose issues.

“The DVSA is committed to helping everyone have a lifetime of safe driving,” they said.

“The Road Traffic Act 1988 only allows a full driving licence to be issued if the person has passed the test of competence to drive.

“Furthermore, regulations also require driving test examiners to meet certain criteria and pass an initial qualification and examination before being authorised by the Secretary of State to conduct practical driving tests.

“Whilst driving instructors are very well trained to teach learners to drive, it would not be lawful or appropriate for them to conduct tests on their pupils.”

What does the driving instructor petition say?

The petition argues that instructors should be granted the power to pass learner drivers if they feel that they are “safe to drive”.  It alleges the change in procedure is required due to the “failure of the government” to allow students to book a test with an examiner.

It has more than 41,000 signatures at the time of writing (January 19, 10am). More than 10,000 people have signed the petition in the last 24 hours alone.

The government responds to any petition that gains more than 10,000 signatures, and will consider debating the issue in parliament if it is signed more than 100,000 times. The deadline for the petition to receive enough signatures is March 9.

The popularity of the petition comes just a week after some instructors from AA Driving School told Driving.co.uk they were facing “anxiety and debt” over franchise payments due to coronavirus.

The petition has predictably caused debate online, with many saying that implementing such a system would have an adverse effect on road safety. Various Twitter users have called the proposal “stupid” and “terrible”, with several learner drivers chiming in to say that they disagreed with the idea.

Some said that a more practical solution to the problem would be for the DVSA to extend the validity of people’s theory certificates, to make sure they do not expire before people can rebook their practical tests. Theory certificates are valid for two years.

Road safety charity opposes learner driver petition

The road safety group IAM Smart (formerly known as the Institute of Advanced Motorists) also set out its opposition to the proposals made in the petition, while saying that it was sympathetic to learner drivers who are unable to book tests.

Neil Grieg, the charity’s policy and research director, said: “We strongly believe that the independent test at the end of the process of learning to drive is the best way to deliver safe and capable new drivers onto our roads.

“It is vital that road safety is not compromised as we emerge from this health crisis”

“There is currently no quality controlled way of taking feedback from an ADI (approved driving instructor) and assessing it to see if a learner is fit to pass the practical test. We have a great deal of sympathy for those learners currently in limbo but until the pandemic is over it looks like they will just have to wait.

“Once testing does return it is important that the DVSA works through the backlog of practical tests as quickly as possible.

“Gaining a driving licence is a huge life milestone in anyone’s life which opens up many opportunities, but it is vital that road safety is not compromised as we emerge from this health crisis.”

Driving tests suspended for third time in 12 months

Driving tests have been suspended during all three coronavirus lockdowns, with some students reported to have had their test delayed as many as five times. Following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement of a third lockdown on January 4, driving instructors were once again told they could not give lessons to students.

Due to the backlog caused by the postponement of tests during the first lockdown, students struggled to book tests upon the reopening of the Driving Vehicle and Standards Agency’s (DVSA) online system on August 21. The booking system crashed due to unprecedented traffic on the website, and when it reopened five days later students found themselves in virtual queues of up to 255,000 people.

A similar backlog is almost guaranteed when the current suspension of practical driving tests is lifted. A review of the current lockdown is expected on Wednesday (January 20), but it is not expected to end until March 31. The government has said that it hopes to ease restrictions over the course of March, but it is unclear if the resumption of driving tests will be included.

An instructor told Driving.co.uk that learner drivers should focus on theory and learning to answer the “show me, tell me” questions asked during practical exams so that they can be as prepared as possible when reaching test. The DVSA has also previously asked people only to book tests if they believe they are ready to pass.

Featured image from Shutterstock/Michaeljung