Thousands of learner drivers who are ready to take their tests are unable to do so, as the backlog of people waiting reaches 440,000.
According to the Driver Vehicle and Standards Agency (DVSA) the average waiting time for a car driving test is 14 weeks. However in the worst affected areas it is at least 24 weeks, which is as far ahead as tests are made available.
DVSA statistics show the number of tests carried out between April 2020 and March 2021 fell by 73% compared to the previous year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. That has led to skyrocketing waiting times, and means most people wanting to take a test will be unable to do so until next year.
Iram Khan, a driving instructor based in Ilford, east London, says: “It’s really frustrating because the students are test ready but there are no dates for another six to eight months.”
One of her students, Amisha Patel, says that for her, passing her driving test would offer her independence as well as security.
“I want to drive for my independence – not having to rely on public transport and Ubers,” says Amisha.
“All the things we’re seeing on the news at the moment happening to young girls – I want to drive for my own safety. I think lockdown taught me that I need to drive because I couldn’t get myself from A to B.”
In order to try to tackle the backlog, the DVSA has proposed increasing the number of tests carried out by examiners from seven a day to eight. However, 92% of drivers balloted by the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union voted against that proposal, and plan to hold a two-day strike.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, says the eight-tests-a-day proposal is unsafe.
“Seven tests a day is already very stressful,” he says. “These are difficult jobs that require skill – people need to be alert and it can be dangerous taking people out on to the roads.”
He adds that the proposal would offer “less value for money” for the candidate because the tests would have to be shortened.
But DVSA chief executive Loveday Ryder says the planned strike is “disappointing”, as the proposal could unlock an extra 5,000 tests a month.
“Safely reducing driving test waiting times will contribute to the national recovery effort and we are taking steps to provide thousands of learner drivers with the vital driving tests they need to access employment, education, health and social activities,” she says.