More than half a million learner drivers are waiting for a practical test as the agency responsible struggles to clear a backlog caused by the first Covid lockdown.
The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), which oversees driving training has been accused of lacking a clear plan to tackle the backlog, which has seen some candidates wait months to secure a test appointment.
DVSA figures obtained by AA Driving School show that in late October 538,832 tests were booked for the following 24 weeks, leading to what the driving school said were unacceptably long waits for student drivers.
AA Driving School’s interim managing director Robert Cowell said questions needed to be asked about the DVSA’s response to the backlog and how it would cope if restrictions were to affect tests again.
More than 400,000 practical driving tests were cancelled in 2020 during Covid lockdown and when they restarted the DVSA was swamped with demand, leading to repeated failures of the test booking system.
Since then it has extended the hours tests are carried out and proposed increasing the number of tests examiners conduct each day. It has also launched a recruitment drive for more examiners and asked qualified examiners working elsewhere to return to carry out tests.
However, drivers still face a wait of up to three months to secure a test appointment.
Mr Cowell said: “Learners were left disappointed when the Government decided not to extend theory test certificates that expired in the lockdowns, as they did with MOTs, and it’s disheartening to see that the practical test backlog reached half a million tests this year.
“Driving instructors adapted to make lessons safer when restrictions lifted, but the DVSA has still not caught up enough to meet demand and questions need to be asked about what support they can get to ensure we don’t end up in the same position if restrictions come back.”
The DVSA’s chief executive Loveday Ryder said learners could help cut the wait by only apply for a test when they are sure they are ready.
She : “We are doing all we can to provide as many tests as possible so we can get our services back to normal.
“I know learners will be keen to take their test now, but it is important that they are properly prepared for their test and don’t take it before they are ready.
“With more than half of candidates failing, and demand currently extremely high for tests, learners should only take their test when they are confident they can pass.
“This will help them to avoid a lengthy wait for a retest and help us by not adding to the driving test waiting list.”