Norfolk learners face up to 20-week wait for driving test
- Credit: Emily Chatten
Driving tests have resumed in Norfolk today but learners could be waiting up to 17 weeks to get booked in because of a post-lockdown backlog.
It has been one of the most difficult years to get a driving licence, after another lockdown stopping lessons and putting tests on hold.
With learners from March 2020 - when the first lockdown hit - still waiting to pass, for many who have just turned 17 it can be difficult to even get on a waiting list for an instructor.
Martin Wright, from Wright Learn Driving Instruction, based in Thorpe St Andrew, said there is little availability until September for testing centres in Norwich.
The 52-year-old said: “I have been back to work now just over a week and a half. It has been very busy after having so many lockdowns in the last 12 months.
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“There is a great demand for driving lessons. But I can't take any more people on or add them to my waiting list and other instructors are in the same position.
“When I last looked there were about three or four tests available to book in Norwich on Jupiter Road but not until September. There was nothing showing prior to that date.
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“And there were no tests available at Peachman Way test centre.
“But we will do our best to get pupils through first time. The DVSA have also sent documents about the top 10 reasons for failing your car test.
“They have sent that out to encourage instructors to focus on those point and make sure pupils are ready to take their test to try and stop the turnover of fail, pass.”
Emily Chatten, 24, is a pupil with Mr Wright. She started driving lessons in July 2019.
After cancellations and two fails, she is set to take her test on May 6.
She said: “I originally had my first test booked in March 2020 but I woke up on the morning of my test and I got a call to say that it had been cancelled. A week later we went into lockdown
“When the first lockdown finished, I started to learn again and I had my first test in August but I failed that one. I had another booked in October 2020 and I failed that too.
“Then we had the November and December lockdowns. So, I was forced to take really long breaks from driving which was really frustrating and basically start from scratch.
“When I failed in October there was already a massive backlog. The nearest available test was in May.
“I feel quite confident. I have been practicing in my sister's car and I have had two lessons back with Martin, but we will see what happens on the day.”
Finola Lear, 29, owner of Finola Faye Driving Tuition based in Gorleston, said the waiting time for local test centres was around 18 to 20 weeks.
She said: “A lot of my pupils were test ready last year but their tests were cancelled and rescheduled two or three times. Some haven't driven in over four months so now it's a struggle to get them test-ready so quickly.
“I have a huge waiting list and I still have pupils I had from last year, trying to get their tests and get the backlog down for people wanting to start lessons. It has been a whole year now people have turned 17 but they can’t get an instructor in the area."
Ms Lear said, as well as waiting to be booked in for practical tests, some students were being forced to retake their theories – which had expired during lockdown.
She added: “A lot of people's theories have expired. One pupil had a test booked for February. It got cancelled and his theory ran out at the end of February. He has to pay more money to retake it.
“It has been really frustrating for them. A lot of pupils find the theory a lot harder to pass. Especially if they have learning difficulties.”
To ensure learner safety, the Government has decided not to extend theory test certificates and learners will need to pass another theory test if their certificate expires.
There are currently 420,000 practical car tests booked and the national average waiting time for a driving test is 17 weeks.
Loveday Ryder, Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) chief executive, said: “I know the suspension of tests and lessons has been incredibly hard for learners and many are 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 take their test only when they are confident they can pass."