In theory, booking a driving test in the UK should be relatively easy. The DVSA’s online booking system works well and both learner drivers and driving instructors can use the booking system whenever they like. Unfortunately in practice, the system is let down by the lack of available test dates. Depending on the test centre, it can take anywhere up to 3 months to get a test date. Learner drivers, driving instructors and the DVSA all agree that the lack of available test appointments is something that needs to be urgently addressed.
Why does it take so long to get a driving test
If you’re wondering why it takes so long to get a driving test, you’re not alone. There’s a good chance you’re reading this article because you tried to book a driving test on the DVSA’s website, only to find out the next available test date is several weeks away. As we were also interested in finding out why waiting times are long, we decided to look into the issue and in doing so, we’ve identified a handful of key factors.
Increase in the number of conducted tests
There has been a steady rise in the demand for driving tests since 2012/13. In that period 1.4m driving tests were conducted and by the end of 2019, 1.6m driving tests had been taken in that year. Apart from in 2018/19, the number of conducted tests has risen each year and this rise in demand has contributed to the longer test waiting times we see today.
Total number of driving tests taken since 2010/11
|Year||Conducted||Passes||Pass Rate %|
It’s also worth bearing in mind, that all driving test centres were not created equal. Some test centres in large cities and towns are extremely busy, while others in more rural locations are less so. The increase in demand is more likely to be felt at busier test centres, which is why the waiting times for driving tests at the some London locations can be well over 90 days.
More older learner drivers taking their test
When the economy is strong and individuals have more disposable income, we tend to see an increase in the number of people learning to drive. This as you can imagine also leads to an increase in the number of learner drivers looking to book their driving test.
After the financial crisis in 2008, the economy began to recover in the early 2000s. Older students who put off learning to drive during the recession began taking lessons again and as the table above shows, the number of conducted driving tests rose steadily. The influx of older learner drivers has contributed to the longer driving test waiting times we see today.
Fast forward to March 2020 and with the COVID-19 virus wreaking havoc on the economy and everyday life – driving tests were cancelled for 3 months from Friday 20th March – we expect the demand for driving tests to fall once the initial backlog of cancelled tests is cleared. We think this will be the case as the economy is likely to go into a recession in the next couple of months, meaning people will have less disposable income.
Shortage of driving examiners
You could say the increase in driving test waiting times is the result of a perfect storm. Not only has the demand for tests increased, but there’s also been a shortage in the number of driving examiners on the DVSA’s books. Many driving examiners have either retired or left the profession and making up the shortfall in examiners is high on the DVSA’s list of priorities. In 2016, the DVSA had this to say on their driving examiner recruitment drive;
To help us reduce waiting times, we need to take on more driving examiners. Our recent examiner recruitment campaigns are starting to show results. At the start of the campaign, we were recruiting on average 10 examiners per month (April 2014 to March 2015). Since April 2016, we’ve been recruiting on average 20 per month.
The waiting list for practical driving tests will continue to increase if the DVSA’s recruitment of driving examiners fails to keep pace with the demand for driving tests. Later on in this article, we’ll explore some of the things the DVSA could do to attract and keep more driving examiners on their books. If implemented, these suggestions should help reduce the waiting times for test appointments.
Impact of cancelled driving tests
Each year the DVSA will have to cancel a number of driving tests. If the DVSA are at fault, the reason for the cancellation could vary from industrial action to a medical emergency for one of their driving examiners. Driving tests are also cancelled due to student error as well. If a student turns up late, they forget their driving license, they fail the eye test or the vehicle they’re driving doesn’t have L plates, the driving test will be cancelled before it begins. Between April 2015 and March 2016, 5,093 car tests were cancelled, as a result of student error, costing candidates £315,766, as each test costs £62.
Whenever a driving test is cancelled, there’s a good chance that cancelled test will be rebooked at some point in the future. The rebooking of cancelled tests adds additional demand to an oversubscribed driving test waiting list.
To reduce the pressure on driving test waiting times, the DVSA ask driving instructors to ensure their students are thoroughly prepared for their driving tests. If everyone taking their test understands exactly what is required of them, it should reduce the chances of the test being cancelled. If fewer tests are cancelled, fewer tests need to be rebooked, meaning more driving tests appointments available for those waiting for a test appointment.
Driving test cancellation rate
|Year||Conducted Tests||Cancelled Tests||Cancellation Rate %|
Lack of driving examiner cover
A few years ago the DVSA employed a number of ‘floating’ driving examiners. A floating examiner was someone who filled in, when an assigned examiner was unable to make a test date. Floating examiners would provide cover for several tests centres in a given area.
In a bid to reduce driving test waiting times, the DVSA decided to scrap floating examiners in favour of returning examiners back to their original test centres. Although this did reduce driving test waiting times at centres that gained additional permanent members of staff, it did create other unintended issues.
As it stands, if a driving examiner can’t attend a test due to annual leave, or a medical reason, it’s likely the test will have to be cancelled. Having floating examiners meant fewer tests were cancelled, as replacements were usually on hand to take tests at short notice. As we’ve explained in the point above, an increase in the number of cancelled tests, means longer waiting times for anyone looking to book a driving test.
Test cancellation services
Driving test cancellation services have inadvertently played a part in increasing driving test waiting times. Driving test cancellation checkers, help students find driving tests at short notice, however, they make it harder for anyone looking to book a driving test in advance.
Driving test cancellation services automatically scan the DVSA’s database for any available driving test dates. The software then alerts anyone signed up to it, when a test date becomes available. As this is done automatically, it reduces the number of available driving test appointments, as available dates are snapped up quicker than they otherwise would be. The service is great for those who need a driving test at short notice, but for anyone looking to book a test in advance, the software does increase the length of time you might spend waiting for a test date to become available.
Standard of teaching
In 2018/19 the national pass rate for the driving test was 45.8%. This was a historic low. Although many in the media speculated the low pass rates was a result of the new driving manoeuver introduced in 2017, the DVSA confirmed otherwise. According to the DVSA, students were most likely to fail their driving tests for incorrect use of their mirrors when changing direction or failing to look properly at a junction.
The reasons given by the DVSA, suggest that the standard of teaching could be a factor in why there are so many failed tests. As we know, failed tests lead to longer driving test waiting times, as more students are forced to rebook their tests.
If driving instructors are given more training and support, students will be better prepared for their driving test, meaning their chances of passing will be much higher. Driving test availability should improve across all test centres if more students are able to pass their driving test at the first time of asking.
Impact of long driving test waiting times
Waiting a long time for a driving test date to become available is not just an inconvenience, it also causes serious issues for both learner drivers and driving instructors. Some of the issue caused by extended waiting times include;
Added pressure on learner drivers taking their test
The driving test is stressful enough without knowing you may have to wait up to 3-months for another test should you fail. The waiting time for a driving test in some locations is so long, it creates additional pressure on students to pass. Pass rates tend to improve when students are well prepared and relaxed during their test. Reducing driving test waiting times could lead to students feeling less stressed on their test. This could in turn help raise the overall pass rate in the country.
Higher costs for students at test standard
Longer waiting times can also lead to higher costs for learner drivers. If a student is ready to take their driving test and there aren’t any available dates, they may be forced to book driving lessons they don’t need, just to remain at test standard. Unnecessary driving lessons are a waste of time and money. This is an issue we see many learner drivers complain about and it’s something that could be solved if test waitings times were to be improved.
Longer waiting times make it harder for ADIs to plan
For many students learning to drive, their driving test will be booked by their driving instructor. Before booking a test on the student’s behalf, the instructor will consider the students budget, objectives, schedule and progression, before looking for a test date. When driving test availability is limited, driving instructors find it hard to plan, as they are forced to book tests far in advance. The lack of available test dates mean instructors sometimes have to book test dates months ahead, with no guarantee the student will be ready as the date comes around.
Students taking tests whilst not fully prepared
Following on from the point above, the lack of available test dates can put pressure on students to take their test, when they’re not 100% ready to do so. Often a student will book their driving test weeks in advance to get an available date. If when the date of their test comes around, they happen to feel unprepared, they are still likely to take the test because of the length of time they initially had to wait. This leads to a lower pass rate and more rebooked tests, which as we know leads to higher test waiting times, as the booking service begins to back up.
Increase in the number of students that failing to get their license
One of the most unfortunate consequences of the longer driving test waiting times we see today, are learner drivers dropping out of the process before getting their driver’s license. It’s not unheard of for students to get frustrated and lose faith, especially if they need to book another test after failing. The thought of having to rebook, wait for a test date weeks away and possibly taking driving lessons in between, is enough to cause some learner drivers to drop out of the process altogether.
What are the DVSA doing to reduce driving test waiting times?
The DVSA have acknowledged the need to improve driving test waiting times, so much so, they’ve written about the topic several times on their despatches blog. It’s clear the issue is a priority for the organisation and here are a few of the initiatives they’ve put in place to help tackle issue.
Hiring and training more driving examiners
The long term solution to improving driving test waiting times is hiring more driving examiners. If the DVSA are unable to increase the number of examiners on their books, lengthy waiting times for test slots will continue to be an issue for all concerned.
To help improve the situation, the DVSA have made changes to the way they recruit and train potential driving examiners. Previously those applying for a driving examiner role were required to complete a 1-day assessment made up of two parts. The first part of the day was spent in a role-play exercise and the second part was spent assessing the candidates driving ability. Applicants need to pass both stages to gain access to the training academy.
The assessment program was changed so that role play and driving assessment now take place on separate days. This has led to around 600 candidates taking part in the role-play exercise, with around half that number progressing onto the assessment drive.
The DVSA have also changed how they grade the assessment drive. Changing the way they grade the assessment drive has increased the percentage of candidates that progress onto the training academy. The DVSA had this to say about change and the way it’s impacted the number of potential driving examiners that progress through the process;
We’ve also introduced 4 levels of assessment for the drive. They are gold, silver, bronze and fail.
This lets us invest more time in driver development. While driving ability is still vital (we haven’t ‘watered down’ what we expect), we now give more time to make good drivers, great drivers.
In the past, around 50% of those taking assessment drives went on to the training academy. This has now risen to 80%.
Training examiners in other test categories
The DVSA are also retraining examiners so they’re able to conduct driving tests across different vehicle categories. The hope is that by making driving examiners more flexible, it will allow the organisation to place examiners where the demand is greatest.
For example in the winter months at some test centres, the demand for motorcycles tests might be low, so waiting times for this test type might not be an issue. If motorcycle test examiners can be reassigned to car tests, where the waiting times might be higher, this could help free up more driving test appointments, without the need to recruit more examiners.
Offering more weekend and evening test appointments
Driving test availability can be improved by offering more weekend and evening test appointments. Currently, weekend slots are available at most test centres, however, test appointments can be quite sporadic during this time.
The DVSA are working to improve the situation by persuading more driving examiners to work on the weekends. This should, in turn, increase the number of driving test slots available throughout the week.
In the summer months when we have more daylight, the DVSA are also trying to offer more evening driving test appointments. This should also help ease the burden on driving test waiting times, as demand for driving tests across all categories, tends to rise during the summer.
Use LGV test centres with spare capacity
The DVSA are also trying to improve driving test availability by repurposing non-car test locations. For example Bishopbriggs LGV test centre in East Dunbartonshire, Scotland was re-purposed to allow examiners to conduct car and trailer tests at the site. This has helped to improve overall waiting times in the Dunbartonshire area. Bishopbriggs LGV test centre now has a car test waiting time of around 4 weeks, which is below the DVSA’s 6-week target
Although waiting times for the practical driving test is an issue for all concerned the DVSA are taking steps to improve the situation. With better use of data and improved planning, we think driving test availability could increase across the country, which should make it easier for learner drivers to secure that all-important test date.