Learner drivers are facing substantial waiting times to book lessons and tests as the industry struggles to catch-up on the backlog of lockdown-enforced cancellations – even though the go-ahead to resume driving lessons and tests was given in April, following the easing of Covid-related restrictions.
According to figures released by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) in April, there was a backlog of 420,000 practical tests and 380,000 theory tests, and the national waiting time to undertake a practical test was 17 weeks.
Although the coronavirus pandemic has contributed to the delays, the writing appears to have been on the wall for the sector for some time. In the past decade, the number of approved driving instructor registrations has fallen by 8000 drivers.
“There is currently a huge shortage of instructors,” Theo Tucker, operations director at Bill Plant Driving School, told Autocar. “Bill Plant Driving School has literally turned away over 70,000 potential pupils since lessons resumed due to simply not having an available instructor to fit them in.”
This view is echoed by Ian MacIntosh, CEO of Red Driving School. “We’ve seen a fourfold increase in the number of enquiries from learner drivers this year and most of our drivers are fully booked,” he told Autocar.
According to Tucker, in order to rebalance the scales “driving schools should do everything they can to ensure that their instructors are able to get their students through their driving test on their first attempt.”
While that sounds obvious in theory, he adds: “This is in order to avoid adding to the delays that current students are experiencing, which are in part caused by other learners having to rebook tests, having been unsuccessful the first time around.”
Tucker urges caution in booking a test before a learner is ready. “Many learners are rushing to book the first available test slot due to long waits, but this is counterintuitive to solving the delays,” he said. “We have made it clear to our instructors that they should be cautious not to simply enter a race to reach the finish line as soon as possible, even if their learners or their parents are desperate to pass as soon as possible.”
Not only does an early test risk failure, but there are also safety issues. Tucker said: “We should never compromise on the substantial quality tuition that is required to get someone to pass their test and become a safe driver for life, or else we risk significantly undermining road safety.”