UK could see national shortage of driving instructors

The UK could see a major national shortage of driving instructors in the second half of 2020 and beyond, according to new research.

This is due to the recent lockdown restrictions, a 2003/04 ‘baby boom’ and a decline in registered driving instructors.

The statistics from learner driver car insurance provider Marmalade looked at the potential number of new young learners based on the amount of people turning 17-years-old each year against the number of registered approved driving instructors (ADIs).

Despite the delays caused by COVID-19 in recent months, it’s clear the potential demand for driving instructors looks set to only increase when you look at the raw data alone.

According to data from the Department of Transport there were 39,521 registered ADIs in the UK at the start of 2020, with 695,549 people turning 17-years-old and potentially looking to start driving. This works out at about 17.59 learners per instructor and this is predicted to rise even higher in the next few years if the declining trend in number of instructors continues.

It’s also important to note that this data is based on the amount of 17-year-old learners alone and that demand will be even higher when you consider new learner drivers 18+. In addition to the 695,549 people turning 17 in 2020, almost 1.3 million drivers aged 18+ took their driving test in the year up to April 2020 highlighting the impounding problem if this trend continues.

The figures also suggest that while the shortage of instructors at the second half of 2020 will be compounded by the recent lockdown and social distancing measures, this is a problem that looks set to cause a headache in the next few years.

Not only is the number of instructors set to continue falling as the number of those retiring outweighs new entrants to the profession, but the number of those turning 17 in 2021-2025 looks set to also increase drastically – up by almost 795,000 in 2025.

Louise Walsh, driving instructor at Driving Instructor TV, said: “As an industry, COVID-19 has hit us hard. Being unable to work for 14 weeks has really taken its toll and returning to work, although welcomed, has been made challenging for a number of reasons.  

“It’s been great catching up with pupils I’ve not driven with for four months and lovely to welcome those who have turned 17 during lockdown and had to wait till they could start, however I’m having to turn new enquiries away. Without a clear picture of how long the backlog of tests will take to clear, it’s unfair to put future pupils on my indefinite waiting list.

“In addition to the rise in demand, this is further compounded by a lack of test dates as the DVSA do their best to clear the four month backlog while operating at reduced capability to keep staff and learners safe. Instructors are also needing to manage their own diaries better to allow for reduced time in the car and for thorough cleaning of the vehicle between pupils.

“I also train potential driving instructors and this side of the industry continues to be affected too with three DVSA qualifying tests suspended as well as the tests that qualified instructors have to pass every 2-4 yrs post qualifying. With the final qualifying test – the part that tests instructional ability – still without a set date to return, many instructors are stuck in limbo unsure of their future. Much of instructor training involves three people in a car, and most trainers are reluctant to resume this aspect of our work.”

Commenting on the results, CEO at Marmalade Crispin Moger, said: “While it’s not surprising that the demand for driving instructors looks to be significant in the coming months following the lockdown restrictions, this is just the beginning when it comes to the much bigger issue of a national shortage of approved driving instructors.

“With the warnings surrounding public transport, we are expecting to see more young people than ever before wanting to learn to drive themselves over the coming months, and this is before you even look at the national birth statistics which suggests more teenagers than ever will be turning 17 in the coming years.

“To support your driving instructor, we urge learners to be on time for lessons with their mask as required, and to cancel their lesson with as much notice as possible if they display any symptoms. If during these busy times you’re not getting lessons as often as you would like with your instructor, learner drivers can still practise in the company of a parent, family member or friend, providing the tutor is over the age of 21 and has held their licence for three years.”

10 thoughts on “UK could see national shortage of driving instructors”

  1. I think the figures are not quite right. Dvsa conduct around 1.5 million tests a year with an average of 2 tests per pupil. The figure of 17.59 pupils per instructor is per year. If each pupil takes 50 hrs to learn that would be 6 months work. Which means existing numbers of instructors should be able to take up the slack.

    1. More scaremongering. Calls are high however many not talking up lessons due to costs so many are shopping around for the cheapest price. With tests in some areas being difficult to get this will thin out the number of lessons per week being carried out. Many of what we call highly recommended instructors are busy already, welcoming their existing learners back along with some new but so many are not therefore the slack will be taken up quite easily in my opinion.

    2. Alan Jamieson

      But, Instructors are leaving in droves. It’s entirely possible that up to 25% will leave before this is all over. That’s 10,000 fewer Instructors. Not a chance those left can cope with demand. Every day I see Instructors cars and equipment being put up for sale. Several new adverts every day.

    3. David Carter

      I reckon that Marmalade are looking for a way to get themselves mentioned and a suggestion that there will be a shortage of ADI’s is the vehicle for that PR, whether there’s any truth or not in the suggestion.

      They aren’t the first or last to publish “findings, report or stats” to get such a mention.

  2. I think you will need a lot more than 17 pupils to make a full time living. The amount of parents teaching their children to drive had increased and the number of qualified instructors leaving has increased as they realise 4 months without a penny coming in means self employment isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Good luck to the industry and those working in it not knowing whether they will be able to pay their bills from one month to the next. Scary

  3. Dr James Whalen

    Between April 2019 and March 2020 1,599,566 practical car tests were carried out with a pass rate of 45.9%. This was down 3.9% when compared to 2018/19. The percentage of 17 year olds who start to learn as soon as they are legally allowed to is lower now, but this decrease is not such a factor as it was a few years ago because those who delayed before are now starting to learn (e.g. people who decided to go to university rather than learning as a teenager). It is difficult to predict what the demand will be as there are many variables that affect it, for example another factor is the number of losing their jobs due to the pandemic and the nature of the job market now for young people

  4. It would help if the education system allowed students to come out of school for lessons, this could be monitored easily on an email or web based system where instructors verified that they where taking students out.
    In my area come term time again most students can only go after school time, or play ‘Hooky’ and risk a negative on their record for not being in school during their free periods. We have a joint sixth form combined with three schools, two of those schools do not allow students time out for driving lessons one does! So stupid that the three can have differing rules.
    School are only interested in their statistics looking good not on the development of the students life skills.

  5. Bill Harling

    I’m sure a lot of instructors will be feeling that self employment isn’t now for them..I think that their will always be a requirement for people wanting to drive..I think as a self employed miniature business we have to look at ourselves as though we are a big business.Budget planning ,cash flow and keeping a good eye on your profit and loss is a must for survival. Ive used the down time to contact my old clientel and let them know I’m still about and put a carrot in place should they bring me a new student. You might think but isn’t demand high now but I’m thinking six months down the road when hopefully the current chaos is over..

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