Driving test backlog

Wed Oct 27 2021

The Coronavirus pandemic has affected this country greatly in many ways. One of the issues that has arisen that you may not have expected is the huge backlog of driving tests. During the height of the lockdowns there were approximately 450,000 driving tests that had to be cancelled. Now with everyone trying to rebook these tests, as well as people trying to book for the first time there are many people struggling to find a slot, with many having to wait until next year for their test. 

In the UK over 2020 and 2021 there were three country-wide lock-downs, meaning that theory testing centres had to close down which of course led to a high number of cancellations. Now that testing centres have reopened, and many drivers are trying to rebook their tests it is becoming very difficult to secure a slot. 

What makes the situation worse is a shortage of driving instructors, which means that even if learners do pass their theory tests it may be difficult to find lessons without any delays. There are simply not enough driving instructors to deal with the amount of drivers trying to secure tests and lessons. The number of driving instructors is falling too, there are currently around 30 learner drivers to every instructor.

Reducing waiting times

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) have stated they are now trying to reduce waiting times. On the gov.uk website the DVSA Chief Executive has issued a letter to driving instructors regarding the future demand for driving tests. In this letter they state; ‘...I know many of you are now busy teaching and preparing your pupils for their upcoming tests and to drive safely on their own once they pass their test….Now that driver testing has restarted, the hard work of reducing the backlog as quickly and safely as possible begins. I want to update you on how we plan to do this and explain how we will keep you updated.’ The letter goes on to discuss the future demand for driving tests, as well as some safety measures due to the Coronavirus pandemic, and then lays out the plan for battling the backlog, saying ‘..our driving examiners will be returning to carrying out 7 tests each day in England, Scotland and Wales. This change will allow us to increase capacity across the national network by an average of 15,000 to 20,000 tests per month.’ The letter then also explains that the short notice cancellation fee will be increased to hopefully minimise cancellations. 

Future demand for driving tests

There are actually statistics that suggest that due to a baby boom in 2003-2004 there are a greater number of people hitting a driving age at the same time than in previous years. Birth statistics show that this will continue to grow. 

The National Associations Strategic Partnership (NASP) have claimed that they are receiving more calls from potential pupils regarding driving lessons. As well as this the Department for Transport (DfT) have recently published their research in ‘travel behaviour, attitudes and social impact of Covid-19’ and in this report they suggest that more people are wanting to drive as well as many more people feeling uncomfortable travelling on public transport since the pandemic which my may persuade them to take up driving. 

How the backlog is affecting driving instructors

The Driver Vehicle Agency (DVA) has been recruiting extra examiners and offering more night time appointments to try and deal with the backlog. See more here. As well as this leaving many learner drivers frustrated and unable to proceed with their journey into driving for themselves, it of course is also negatively affecting the instructors. Driving instructors will currently be overworked taking on more pupils to try and deal with the backlog. 

Ian McIntosh, the CEO of Red Driving School commented on how the backlog is affecting driving instructors, ‘The DVSA is working hard to deal with the backlog and has initiated a huge recruitment drive backed by extensive training for new examiners. However, it will take a long time, perhaps over a year to bring waiting times down to a normal level.’ Ian went on to discuss the shortage of driving instructors and continued, ‘...many people who were training to be instructors had their training interrupted by the pandemic and the legislation surrounding instructor training has meant that many cannot now qualify in the permitted timescale. The Department for Transport flatly refused to amend the rules and as a consequence, many future instructors were lost to the industry.’ 

In the UK driving instructors are currently overworked and are over capacity, and this will continue to be the case until more people join the profession to help take care of the backlog.