Driving lesson

Driving test system backlog leads to months of delays for learner drivers in the UK

THE CANCELLATION of some 450,000 test drives as a result of the Covid pandemic has resulted in massive delays for learner drivers trying to hit the road – even into 2022.

A system backlog causes long delays for those trying to book a theory test as well as those waiting to take the practical test.

The problem is further compounded by the shortage of driving instructors, which means that even if learners pass their theory tests, they may struggle or face longer delays to take lessons.

With three closures in 2020 and 2021, theory test centers had to close, but when the toughest restrictions were lifted, many smaller venues were unable to reopen due to social distancing. Even larger test centers have been forced to operate at significantly reduced capacity, resulting in a high number of canceled tests.

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

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

Those who have passed their theory tests then face other significant problems with the provision of driving lessons, as there are not enough Certified Driving Instructors (ADIs) to cope 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 declining in recent years according to research by young driver insurance specialist Marmalade. In 2013 there were 44,569 ADIs in the UK; it is currently less than 39,500, a decrease of 12%.

Due to a minor baby boom in 2003-2004, young people of driving age are more numerous than in previous years, a figure that is expected to increase in the years to come according to birth statistics.

Many instructors have retired, likely due to the coronavirus crisis, with a 2.34% drop between 2019 and 2020. Driving schools have been forced to close for months due to the closures, which has further aggravated the situation for those who needed lessons.

There have been reports of instructors refusing new students and months-long waiting lists at driving schools.

According to research by Marmalade, there are currently around 30 learners for every instructor in Britain.

The DVLA refused to extend provisional licenses to account for delays caused by the driving lesson and the backlog of tests, meaning learners had to retake and pass their theory tests – a process already on hold.

With so many tests canceled due to the lockdown, around 1.16million people were waiting for driving tests in April. Although testing has resumed, extremely long wait 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 is currently booking until January 2022, although with such demand all available slots are quickly filled.

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

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

Those desperate for a testing slot are desperately trying to find cancellations. One method is to book a slot at a test center perhaps hundreds of miles away and hope that a canceled slot appears closer to you.

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

It’s especially frustrating for those whose theory tests are about to expire or who need a car to get to work or college.

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