Covid: Learner drivers get behind the wheel for first tests since January

ITV News Reporter Stacey Foster speaks to a driving instructor and student about the struggles of booking a driving test

Learner drivers got behind the wheel for the first tests since they resumed on Thursday.

More than 450,000 tests were cancelled in Britain due to the coronavirus pandemic, meaning the waiting list to book a lost is around 17 weeks, according to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).

The newly passed drivers expressed their relief at avoiding the possibility of having to wait several more months for another opportunity.

Candidates said the backlog has put them under more pressure to pass.

Tests were suspended throughout the UK in early January, but restarted in England and Wales on Thursday.

A driver near a test centre in Tolworth, south-west London, owhere examinations have resumed under the latest easing of lockdown restrictions. Credit: PA

They will resume in Northern Ireland on Friday, and in Scotland on May 6 at the earliest.

AA Driving School pupil Jack Hayes, 25, took a test in Cardiff on Thursday and was among the first learner to pass once the suspension was lifted.

He described how his “nerves hit an all-time high” and he “felt a huge wave of relief” at the result.

Mr Hayes said he is “so grateful” that he does not need to “worry about booking another test in almost six months’ time”.

He added: “I really feel for those that weren’t so lucky today.”

Jade Bone, 24, who passed in Southampton, said she was “petrified” ahead of her test.

“I really wasn’t expecting to pass,” she said.

“I’m quite relieved. I thought it’s not going to be until August when I get to take it again.

“This is such a weight off my shoulders.”

Rob Fenn, an instructor at RED Driving School, said tests are “essentially fully booked” due to pent-up demand.

He is advising eager students to “sit at a computer and keep refreshing the page”.

The DVSA said it is offering an additional 2,500 car tests per month by utilising weekends and bank holidays.

Up to 300 new examiners are also being recruited to help reduce the backlog.

Only 46% of tests in the year to March 2020 were passed, leading the DVSA to tell candidates they should be “properly prepared”.

The most common reasons for failing include not looking properly at a junction (22%), not using mirrors correctly when changing lane or direction (17%), and not moving off safely (8%).

DVSA chief driving examiner Mark Winn said: “Learners should only take their driving test if they are completely ready to pass, and feel they’ve had sufficient practice driving on a variety of roads and in different conditions.

“Thousands of people fail their test every year because of common errors which are potentially dangerous and avoidable.”

India Donald celebrates passing her driving test at a test centre in Ashford, Kent, where examinations have resumed under the latest easing of lockdown restrictions. Credit: PA

Tests can be rescheduled free of charge if learners feel they need more time to prepare.

Recent analysis by the PA news agency found that driving licence numbers among young people have fallen to the lowest level since current records began.

Just 2.97 million people in Britain aged 16-25 hold a full licence, down from 3.32 million in March 2020.

Motoring experts said the decline was due to the suspension of lessons and tests.