Learner drivers face a driving test postcode lottery, with new figures showing a difference in waiting times of up to 13 weeks depending on where in Britain motorists live.
New figures from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) show that in some regions learners face an average wait of more than 19 weeks for a test while in others the wait is less than six weeks. They also show that dozens of individual test centres are reporting waits of up to 24 weeks due to massive demand.
The average waiting time across all of England, Scotland and Wales was 13.5 weeks in October but learners in Yorkshire and The Humber had to wait an average of 19 weeks between booking and sitting their practical driving test. Scottish learners faced the second longest delay, with an average waiting time of just over 16 weeks, according to the data obtained by insurance broker Adrian Flux.
The DVSA has been struggling to bring driving test waiting times under control since the Covid pandemic. More than 400,000 tests were cancelled during the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, leading to a massive backlog of learners waiting to sit their test. The problem was exacerbated by an increase in the number of people trying to book tests and by repeated IT failures.
In June, when average waiting times were 14 weeks, the agency said it aimed to bring this down to nine weeks before the end of this year through a combination of recruiting more examiners and extending its operating hours. However, currently only drivers in Wales face a wait of less than 10 weeks. The DVSA figures show that the average waiting time there in October was five and three quarter weeks. The next closest region was the East Midlands, where learners still faced an average wait of 10.5 weeks.
Long waiting times at some centres have seen desperate learners pay more than £200 to jump the queue via third-party agencies. A BBC investigation earlier this year found unscrupulous groups bulk booking test appointments then selling slots on for three times the official cost.
The DVSA only allows learners to book tests up to 24 weeks in advance. Once a test centre reaches 90% capacity its waiting time is automatically logged as 24 weeks, although there may be some individual slots available earlier. The figures, however, show that in October, 22 test centres had absolutely no spaces left for the following 24 weeks. Of those, 19 were in Scotland, where the average wait for a test is around 16 weeks.
The data also shows sharp differences within individual regions, offering hope of an earlier booking for learners willing to travel. While several test centres in Yorkshire quoted waiting times of 24 weeks, learners booking a test at Bradford Heaton or Heckmondwike faced a wait of just four weeks. And in Wales, where several centres had waiting times of between one and four weeks, drivers in Cardiff, Swansea and Newport faced waits of between 14 and 17 weeks.
The wait appears to be forcing student motorists to spend more time learning with their parents as they await a test but try to save money on professional lessons. Adrian Flux has seen an 108% rise in policies or quotes for learners looking to be insured on their parents’ car compared with pre-pandemic figures.
“It’s clear that the backlog caused by various coronavirus lockdowns are continuing to cause frustrating delays for young drivers,” said Gerry Bucke, Adrian Flux’s general manager. “Taking out a policy to learn to drive in your parents’ car makes so much sense. Short term and pay-as-you-go policies are more cost effective than paying for extra lessons or extending learner driver insurance cover while you wait and the extra practice should hopefully help ensure you don’t have to wait for a retest.”