Two in five (43%; 138) driving test centres in Great Britain have seen waiting times increase this year (30th January and 10th April 2023), according to new FOI data.
In total 59 driving test centres recorded waiting times of more than five months (24 weeks) on both dates; 21% of test centres recorded no change in waiting times of less than 5 months.
According to DVSA data accessed by the AA Driving School, 80% of driving test centres (260 total) faced waiting times above the pre-pandemic average of 6 weeks in April 2023, six months after the AA Driving School revealed bookings were above average in 88% of test centres.
In addition to long waiting times at test centres, official DVSA data shows the national backlog of learners waiting to take a test has remained above 500,000 since July 2021. Figures show the backlog stood at 551,271 in May 2023 (down by 65 places from 551,336 in April 2023).
A survey conducted by the DVSA of approved driving instructors found that 89.6% of pupils cited long waiting times for a test as the reason they were taking an extended break from driving lessons (October 2022).
Test centres with waiting times which remained above five months in both January and April 2023 included Aylesbury, Cheltenham, Luton, Northampton, Oxford, Peterborough, and several test centres in London.
Several Scottish test centres had no change to the 24-week waiting times in January and April 2023, including East Kilbride, all three test centres in Glasgow, Edinburgh (Currie) and Paisley. Wales’s Newport test centre also saw no change to its 24-week waiting times on these dates.
In contrast, one third of test centres (35%) saw waiting times decrease in January and April this year. This included test centres in Basingstoke (19 weeks vs 3 weeks), Gloucester (16 weeks vs 6 weeks), Herne Bay (24 weeks vs 6 weeks), Taunton (24 weeks vs 11 weeks) and Wakefield (24 weeks vs 3 weeks).
Search engines are awash with sites claiming to offer a quicker way for desperate learner drivers to access a test slot, but pupils pay a premium for these services. Many websites offer ‘subscription’ type packages which, for fees starting from around £18 per month, promise to alert pupils when a test slot becomes available.
Other reports show social media adverts selling test slots for up to £250. The practical driving test costs £62 through the official government booking system.
The government are aware that bots are being used to block book test slots from the DVSA website, which prevents learners booking them legitimately. In April 2023, responding to a question on bot booking issues, Transport Minister Richard Holden MP told the House of Commons the DVSA “will continue to take steps to block cancellation services from accessing the booking system.”
Mr Holden MP admitted the DVSA’s own waiting time data “may be misleading” because the booking system records the last date the candidate made the latest booking and does not take into account the date of the original booking, or any subsequent bookings made by rescheduling the test slot.
Camilla Benitz, AA Driving School Managing Director said: “It’s simply unacceptable that two fifths of driving test centres have increased waiting times since the start of the year.
“The DVSA’s own survey data shows long test waiting times are the most common reason for learners to take an extended break from driving lessons, so the true ‘backlog’ may be much higher as some people have dropped off the system entirely.
“The extortionate costs of resold driving tests unfairly penalise those on lower incomes, including care leavers who have been supported by charities to take lessons, and more must be done to close the loopholes in the DVSA’s booking system.
“There is such a disparity in test availability that learners could still save months of waiting by booking at an alternative centre. Greater visibility of tests and waiting times at test centres should be available to all learners, not just those who can afford to pay extra through booking services.
“We need to see a concerted effort to tackle the issue otherwise the backlog will remain. This means the DVSA making more tests available, recruiting examiners to increase their numbers and improving their pupil booking website. Only then will we start to see an improvement in the backlog.”
Live Unlimited, charity providing a free driving lessons scheme for care leavers living in the London Borough of Barnet, is still having issues booking driving tests for the people supported by the scheme, months after it was highlighted in January 2023.
Care Leaver Holly, 22, recently passed her driving test through Live Unlimited’s Driving Ahead scheme, shared the below statement on her struggles with booking a test despite being ready to pass it.
Holly said: “Getting a test within London is close to impossible. I found the six months leading up to my test one of the most anxiety provoking experiences. When I did finally manage to obtain a test, it was in Liverpool. I stuck with the test for over two months while signing up to cancellation apps. London dates come up once in a blue moon and got snatched away within split seconds.
“I finally had to sign up to a WhatsApp group of people who bulk book the tests from the DVSA and sell them at double the price. I received a test from these people and was told to cancel my current test and was given a 24-hour window to pay. Before the window was up, they had given my test away and not only did I have no London test, but my Liverpool test was also gone too.
“I spent the next few weeks frantically looking before finally book yet another test, although this time in Darlington. Again, no London tests to be found. I finally managed to obtain the £122 test for a centre in London and passed this way. Coming from a disadvantaged background of being in the care system, if not for Driving Ahead, I would not have been able to fund these extortionate prices.
“The DVSA need to make better availability for tests in London as well as a fairer booking system that prevents people from bulk booking the tests to make a profit. It puts people with low income at a disadvantage, as well as a charity having to pay more for one person leaving them unable to help the next as quickly.”
Sue Cocker, Operations Director for charity Live Unlimited, said: “Gaining a driving licence can be a game changer for a care experienced young person like Holly. Not only has it provided her an important life skill and opened up employment opportunities, it’s given her a huge confidence boost.
“We want to help more people like Holly pass their test, but we currently can’t enrol new applicants onto the scheme without them having their practical test booked. Unfortunately, we simply can’t afford to start paying for their driving lessons in the hope they’ll secure a test slot.
“The lack of available tests is frustrating and dispiriting for our young people. Those lucky enough to have a test feel an added pressure to pass. Care leavers don’t have hundreds of pounds to find a way around the system, nor should they. They are being unfairly disadvantaged and it is very difficult to know what we can do to help.”