The UK government continues to refuse to extend theory pass test certificates despite three national lockdowns cutting short the time learner drivers have to pass their practical tests by over eight months.
An enquiry submitted to the DVSA under the Freedom of Information Act divulged that 1,324 driving test passes were issued in Northampton from 23 March 2020 to 21 April 2021. This covers all types of driving and rider tests. This amounts to less than a third of the 4,502 driving test passes issued the year before from 23 March 2019 to 22 March 2020.
This drastic drop in test passes will not come as a surprise to many people, given that the country has been locked down on three occasions in that time period.
"Tests have a backlog not seen for years"
Co-founder of Northamptonshire-based driving school A-Drive Tuition, Sara Batty, said: “The lockdowns affected us in terms of not being able to work, which has had an impact on us as a business financially.
“The students have had to wait to take lessons and the knock-on effect is the new students who would replace test passes are having to wait even longer - some, who are starting university, potentially never taking a test.
“Tests have a backlog not seen for years if ever this bad. The potential to get back to pre-Covid testing and clearance of backlog could potentially take years. It’s a really tough and frustrating time for learners and instructors. We understand the frustration and we are really working hard and doing our best to accommodate.”
Practical tests and driving lessons have been stop-start
When a candidate passes their driving theory test, they are provided with a pass certificate, which is valid for two years. This means they have two years to pass their practical driving test before they would have to pay £23 to resit their theory test.
The three national lockdowns meant that, for 253 days from March 23 2020 to April 22 2021, practical driving tests could not legally be carried out.
For 225 days in that same time period, driving instructors could not legally carry out driving lessons.
This means that learner drivers, who passed their driving theory tests between the middle of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 missed out on just over eight months of the two years they should have been allowed to pass their practical driving test.
The DVSA is responsible for over half of this year's driving test cancellations in Northampton
Data reveals there were a total of 8,313 driving test cancellations in Northampton from March 23, 2020 to March 31, 2021. The DVSA made 55.9 per cent of these cancellations due to the coronavirus pandemic, staff being off work sick and bad weather.
This contrasts to the 9,189 cancellations made from 22 March 2019 to 22 March 2020 when the DVSA were responsible for only 4.4 per cent of the cancelled tests.
"We are doing all we can," says DVSA
On top of the missed time, learner drivers have also had to deal with long waiting lists for tests in their area as the DVSA coped with high demand as a direct result of the national lockdowns grinding driving tests to a stop for weeks and even months at a time.
DVSA Chief Executive, Loveday Ryder, said: “We are doing all we can to provide as many tests as possible so we can get our services back to normal.
“I know learners will be keen to take their test now, but it is important that candidates are properly prepared and don’t rush to take it.
“With more than half of candidates failing, and demand currently extremely high for tests, learners should only take their test only when they are confident they can pass. This will help them to avoid a lengthy wait for a retest and help us by not adding to the backlog of tests.”
Learner drivers have to rely on cancellations to book a practical test
When candidates go to book their driving test on the DVSA website, test dates will only show online up to 24 weeks into the future. Tests after this have yet to be released.
As of today (Friday, September 17), there are currently no tests available to book at the Northampton driving test centre.
Learner drivers looking to book their test now will, therefore, have to rely purely on driving test cancellations by paying additional money to download third-party apps that will scan the DVSA driving test dates for cancellations at their chosen test centre.
The government still refuses to extend theory test pass expiry dates
Despite all these disadvantages that learner drivers have faced for the last year and a half, the government refuses to consider extending theory test certificates so that candidates would have the full two years to pass their practical test.
A spokesperson for the DVSA said: “Ensuring new drivers have current, relevant knowledge and skills to identify developing hazards is a vital part of the training for young and new drivers, who are disproportionately represented in casualty statistics.
“To ensure their safety, the Government has decided not to extend theory test certificates and learners will need to pass another theory test if their certificate expires.”
The DVSA has introduced measures in a bid to increase practical driving tests available to learners
The DVSA has introduced some Covid-safe measures in a bid to increase practical driving tests for learner drivers including offering overtime and ‘annual leave buy back’ to their current driving examiners; asking all those qualified to conduct tests - but who do not do so in their current day job - to return to conducting tests; inviting recently retired examiners to conduct tests; conducting out-of-hours testing and campaigning to recruit an additional 300 examiners.The DVSA have additionally reinstated their three-day cancellation policy for driving tests and candidates, who have to isolate or find out they are ill with Covid-19 within three days of the test will receive a full refund.
There are plans in place to increase the number of test centres in Great Britain from 180 to 202.
To find out more about booking driving tests, visit https://www.gov.uk/book-driving-test.