AA Driving School is calling for more transparency in the availability of practical driving tests, after exclusive data reveals learners faced booking delays at 88% of test centres.
DVSA data accessed by AA Driving School via a Freedom of Information Request shows the test waiting time was more than five months in 66 towns and cities.
The average waiting time for a practical car driving test at the end of November 2022 peaked at five-and-a-half-months (24 weeks). This month, Transport minister Richard Holden MP confirmed the five-month-long delay remains in some areas.
Driving tests were suspended during the Covid-19 lockdowns and delays to the return of practical tests resulted in a backlog of learners waiting to book.
Camilla Benitz, AA Driving School Managing Director said: “Driving test delays continue to have real-life implications for thousands of people who need a driving licence to get to education or work. Being able to drive is also incredibly important for maintaining social connections, supporting relatives and gives you more independence in general, especially in rural areas.
“The backlog data we obtained shows learners across the country face months of delays. In some areas you could have searched on 1st November 2022 and only been offered a test from 18th April 2023, if at all.
“There is no easy way for candidates to check availability at multiple test centres without checking each one manually. A better system could save many weeks of waiting as our data showed wait times varied between some local test centres by as much as three months.
“We’d like to see test centre wait time data published regularly by the DVSA to help ensure there is full accountability in getting back to pre-pandemic waiting times.”
Driving tests are not only vital for employment and education opportunities, but research by the AA Charitable Trust shows they also support independence and self-esteem for thousands of young people in care and those leaving the care system.
Sue Cocker, Operations Director for Live Unlimited, a charity providing a free driving lessons scheme for care leavers living in the London Borough of Barnet, said: “Finding available driving tests has become an increasing issue for us since Covid. We currently have six care leavers who are test ready but simply cannot find an available slot, even using multiple test cancellation apps. They are despondent, while the lucky few who’ve secured a test feel an enormous pressure to pass first time.
“Our Driving Ahead scheme is a game changer for a care experienced young person, providing new employment opportunities, building confidence and independence. Yet such are the difficulties in finding driving test slots we are currently suspending new applications onto the scheme. We hate turning people away, but we have no choice.”
According to the DVSA data, learners hoping to book a driving test in Swansea unknowingly faced a 20 week wait, however the waiting time was halved just 12 miles up the road in Llanelli (10 weeks).
In Kent, candidates could book a test in Canterbury after waiting just two weeks, however nine miles away Herne Bay had a 22-week waiting time.
For learners near Cheetham Hill, Manchester, being willing to travel seven miles to West Didsbury test centre would have saved more than three months waiting for a test (22 weeks vs six).
Candidates looking to book in Leicester’s Cannock Street centre had a six-week wait compared to 17 miles away in Melton Mowbray, where learners unknowingly waited 15 weeks for a test slot.
Meanwhile, luckier candidates booking in Norwich’s test centres (Jupiter Road and Peachman Way) would have only waited up to two weeks for a test slot, according to the DVSA data.
However, the postcode lottery of driving test availability means many areas do not have alternative centres with a shorter queue. This is especially apparent in rural locations where the county only has one or two test centres.
In Edinburgh, the shortest wait time was Musselburgh with a 17-week delay, meanwhile across Glasgow’s three test centres the shortest waiting time was still more than four months (Baillieston, 20 weeks).
Transport minister response
In a parliamentary debate earlier this month, Transport minister Richard Holden MP said waiting lists “are coming down for driving tests […] and we hope to achieve back to pre-pandemic levels within the next few months.”
Mr Holden told the Commons: “The DVSA is recovering after the pandemic […] there are 620,000 practical test appointments in the booking system.”
He later added: “The average waiting time to take a car test is at 15.1 weeks, with over 80,000 slots currently available.”
Mr Holden’s comments on 19th January show there has been little improvement in the waiting time. On 22nd November, according to the DVSA data accessed by AA Driving School, the average delay for a practical driving test stood at 15.5 weeks.
However, in the same debate the Commons was told that the average waiting time in Shetland is 18 weeks which shows a significant improvement from the 24-week average at the end of November, at Shetland’s Lerwick test centre.
Camilla Benitz from AA Driving School added: “It’s good there has been an update in Commons on some of the waiting times, but we now need to see some clear action to bring these waiting times right down.”