Passing your driving test is a tedious and expensive process, never more so than right now. Before the pandemic, you’d drop classes, book your theory and then practice and – it’s all going well – pass both and be on the road.
This is no longer the case. Learner drivers are complaining that it’s nearly impossible to find a driving test right now.
I know this first hand – I started taking classes in 2019 and then had to stop due to the pandemic. After months of searching for a test, I finally booked one for May, but then had to cancel because it wasn’t in an area I knew or could practice in.
Can I find another niche? Not yet, no. And apparently it’s because of a significant backlog in driving tests.
Kay, a 27-year-old analyst from London who prefers not to give her last name, is in the same boat. “When I try to book a test on the government website, no test is available for months,” she told HuffPost UK.
She started learning to drive in 2018 before taking a year-and-a-half break. She started classes again at the end of 2020, but due to the current Covid restrictions and lockdowns, her progress has been slow. She eventually booked a test but failed.
She now feels ready for a recovery, but can’t find a place either. “If I could book another test quickly, I think I would pass the next test,” she said.
It’s even difficult to book lessons. My driving instructor is busier than ever and has increased his prices from £20 per lesson to £30 since the pandemic, which means I’m taking less lessons while I wait and risk losing my skills.
The price of a driving lesson varies depending on where you are and who you book with, but they usually start at around £20-25 per lesson. It is recommended to complete at least 45 hours of lessons before booking a test.
That’s over £1000, a huge outlay for learner drivers during a cost of living crisis (let’s not start with petrol if you pass). And if you can’t book a test, you’re probably spending more money in class so you don’t forget everything you’ve learned by the time you can get one.
Michael Akpowowo, 24, from London, says he’s been looking for tests for a month and can’t find any theory or affordable courses to take.
“I don’t have a driving test date as I’m still looking for good driving lessons and haven’t passed my driving theory test yet,” Akpowowo told HuffPost UK. “Most of the driving companies I looked at had expensive bookings or made me doubt they were offering quality lessons.”
The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), which administers driving tests, says the backlog is due to a seven-month hiatus in testing at the height of the Covid lockdowns.
The DVSA performs around 2 million tests each year and said “the demand is very high now,” a spokesperson told HuffPost UK.
It says it has introduced measures to deal with the delays, including recruiting 300 additional examiners, contacting all those already qualified to perform tests and holding tests outside opening hours on weekends and public holidays.
“We are doing everything we can to provide learners with as many tests as possible and reduce average wait times to less than 10 weeks by the end of the year.”
The DVSA advises learners to take their tests only when they are ready. “With more than half of candidates failing, learners should only take their test when they are confident they can pass,” the spokesperson said.
“It’s important that they are properly prepared for their test and that they don’t take it until they are ready. This will help them avoid a long wait for a retest and help us by not adding themselves to the driving test waiting list.
He also responded to reports of an increase in people buying driving test slots in bulk and then reselling them at extremely high prices, as well as suggestions that fake driving instructors profit from selling time slots to learners.
The DVSA said it was doing everything it could to “suppress” this.
Until now, driving instructors and schools could create a reservation account to make multiple reservations for their students. The DVSA said it closed the system to new registrations and closed accounts that do not belong to driving instructors and driving schools.
“We will continue to work tirelessly to crack down on companies that exploit learner drivers,” the spokesperson told HuffPost UK.
They also confirmed that from June 2, the number of times a test appointment can be changed has been reduced from 10 to the pre-pandemic limit of six.
The number of tests available to book will not be affected by any of these changes and learners can still use the online system to book their own tests, they said.
Hopefully the traffic jam clears up soon and we can all get back on the road. For now, 24-year-old Ọrẹ Ogunbiyi from London has actually given up on finding a test.
“I haven’t taken a course yet because I need a [practical] test date to motivate me,” Ogunbiyi, who followed his theory, told HuffPost UK.
“There is simply no availability anywhere. I saw a slot coming up very quickly, but it was two weeks away. I tried to click on it, but it was gone by the time I moved to the next page anyway,” says Ogunbiyi. “I just put it aside for now because if I can’t get a test by December why bother?”