Driving instructor shortage warning as Covid-19, baby boom and falling tutor numbers create a perfect storm

Britain could be facing a driving instruction crisis in the coming months and years as rising demand from learners clashes with a decline in the number of tutors.

A combination of a “baby boom” in 2003/04 and a continuing drop in the number of instructors is likely to be made worse by the recent effects of the coronavirus and associated lockdown, which has created a huge backlog and increase in people looking to avoid public transport.

Learner drivers already face a tough time arranging lessons due to the huge delays caused by lockdown. Driving schools have reported record numbers of enquiries since lessons resumed, with twice as many prospective learners looking for lessons in July compared with the same period in 2019.

This is on top of their existing student base, and the 400,000 learners whose practical test was cancelled during lockdown.

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However, learner driver insurance provider Marmalade is predicting matters could get even worse as data suggests coming years are likely to bring a rising number of learners and a decline in the number of instructors.

Using the number of people turning 17 - the age at which you can learn to drive - as a guide, there is likely to be a sharp rise in the number of new students between now and 2025, growing consistently from 695,549 in 2020 to 794,383 in 2025.

At the same time, driving instructor numbers are expected to drop. The number of approved driving instructors (ADIs) has fallen every year except one since 2013. In the seven years between 2013 and 2020 it has dropped from 44,569 to 39,521. If that pattern continues, there will be 38,100 ADIs by 2025.

That means the number of students to each tutor will rise from 17.59 learners per instructor in 2020 to 20.84 per instructor by 2025.

Table: Marmalade

Crispin Moger, Marmalade’s CEO, commented: “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.

Driving instructor and ADI trainer Louise Walsh said that the coronavirus pandemic had had a major effect on the driving instruction industry.

She 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.

“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. 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 two to four years post-qualifying.”