The key tips half a million learners are sharing to book their driving tests amid huge backlog

Learner drivers celebrated passing their tests as lockdown eased last year. Credit: PA
  • Words by ITV News Digital Journalist Jocelyn Evans

More than half a million learner drivers are waiting to take their test amid a huge backlog caused by the Covid pandemic.

The figures, obtained from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) by the AA driving school, are backed up by a growing online community of learners sharing tips for how to get hold of a test slot.

One user on the Learner Driver UK Reddit said they ended up travelling from Scotland to Newcastle for a test.

Another said they faced a four month wait to retake their theory test. They posted at the end of January: "I can't get another theory test until 25 May in my area, or the surrounding areas. Then it'll be months after that before a practical".

The AA driving school has branded the queue for tests “too long” and called on the DVSA for a “clear plan” to address the issue.

'Book in a random area then use an app to rebook nearby and sooner'

Students ready to take their driving test have shared the best ways to try and get hold of a slot.

Advice across the board is to book a test anywhere in the country and then use one of the many cancellation finding apps that have sprung to life during the pandemic to get something closer in time and location.

One of the most frequently mentioned services, Testi, is initially free but to get notifications of cancellations users end up having to pay for a premium service.

The app says it "helps you find an earlier test and get a driving license as quickly as possible" adding "there is a very good chance" they'll be able to get learners an earlier test.

A selection of Reddit posts from learners trying to get hold of tests. Credit: Reddit

"Mondays at 6am for tests," users recommended when trying to book on the DVSA website, adding: "Book in a random area then use an app to rebook nearby and sooner".

This was echoed by Reddit users across the board: "Book a test somewhere obscure, just to get in the system. Then, hope to goddess that any of those autobook cancellation apps (which cost from £15-25) actually work."

Is there help for students taking their test in far flung places?

If rebooking somewhere closer to home proves impossible, some students are facing taking a test in an area they've never driven before.

Hire cars are available for learner drivers to take their tests in (save driving an instructor's car tens of miles away) and rental companies recommend letting the car for a little longer in advance to get used to driving it in the new area.

There's also been a surge in online resources to help drivers pass their tests - and these are helping those heading further afield too.

Reddit users on the channel have shared thoughts on specific test centres, and potential routes.

It goes further still, with YouTube videos showing test routes and Google Maps of the potential courses.

We looked at Southampton, for example, and found driving schools are uploading videos of every test route their pupils could, in theory, be taken on. Some of these are publicly available, others require you to be a member of of the channel.

More readily available are maps of the routes.

Again in Southampton, at a glance we found two routes that are said to run from the Maybush centre - these are complete with markers for when independent driving sections begin and end, and when learners are expected to complete their manoeuvre.

Is anything being done to tackle the waiting times for tests?

The tests agency has a number of proposals currently under consultation, aimed at cutting down the three-and-a-half-month waiting list.

Among them:

  • Learners who fail could have to wait 28 days to rebook (rather than 10) to avoid people taking tests when not prepared

  • Extending the notice period, during which a cancelled test will result in a lost fee, from three days to 10.

  • Allowing the eyesight check to be carried out in different lighting levels (or by reading a tablet) so more exams can take place in the darker winter months.

Learners got back into cars for tests after a delay during lockdowns. Credit: PA

Already the DVSA has offered overtime and annual leave buy-back to driving examiners in a bid to cut down the backlog of learners waiting for a test.

The agency has also asked retired examiners to conduct tests, aimed to recruit 300 additional examiners, and carried out tests at weekends and on public holidays.