Young people like 18-year-old Eloise says it could be another year before they pass their test.
“I’ve been looking as far ahead as January but there’s nothing available.”
Lucy started learning to drive last summer and is now ready to take her test – but like hundreds of thousands of other people she is unable to get one.
“I did my theory last year and want to get the practical out the way but no matter how hard I try, getting a slot is difficult,” the 19-year-old from London says.
And she’s not alone.
New figures from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) show there are more than 500,000 learners waiting for a driving test slot.
In May 2021 there was a backlog of 496,124, but by May this year that had grown to 530,387.
It means the average waiting time for a test slot is 14 weeks, although there are reports of learners waiting up to six months in some areas.
‘It could be a year before I pass’
Eloise lives in St Albans and, like Lucy, is struggling to book a test. She started learning last year but was forced to stop because of lockdown.
Even though she’s not got a test date yet, she tells Radio 1 Newsbeat she’s worried about the pressure of passing.
“If you fail your test first time you end up having to wait all over again, so it could be a year from now that I pass.”
In the meantime, the 18-year-old has to rely on public transport, which she says is getting more expensive.
“I live in Hertfordshire and there are buses and trains but they don’t run very often. Driving would save time and mean I’m not spending so much on trains,” she says.
What’s causing the delay?
According to The AA, who got the DVSA figures from a Freedom of Information request, Eloise’s story is a common one.
“When lockdown started, driving tests were paused and there were periods when you couldn’t take driving lessons so that’s led to a backlog,” says Lorna Lee, from The AA Driving School.
Lorna describes the situation as a perfect storm.
“Covid delayed lots of people already learning to drive, and then add the group who turned 17 during the pandemic and you can see the problem,” she says.
Lorna says the delay is stopping people moving on with their lives.
She is also concerned that delays to tests are also resulting in increased costs, as the longer you wait the more money you end up spending on lessons.
“Whether people need to be able to drive for employment or education, it’s really important they’re able to take that next step,” she says.
As well as delays to tests, exams for trainee driving instructors have also stalled. The same DVSA data shows there were 438 trainees with no test date and waiting times were 24 weeks in some areas.
It means it’s been a busy time for people like Jenna Williams, a driving instructor based near Cardiff. She’s fully booked and has a three-month waiting list for new learners.
She puts the backlog down to the pandemic and expiring theory tests.
“During lockdown lots of theory tests ran out because they only have a two year expiry date, which meant pupils had to redo their theory,” she says.
The pressure pupils are under is something Jenna is noticing and she says it’s the main reason they’re failing.
“I think with a backlog of waiting lists for another test, pupils are just feeling so much pressure, where like you said, if they fail, they’ve got five to six months and another wait,” she says.
If you’re one of the people waiting to get a test, Jenna says there’s not much you can do – but she recommends saving.
“Get on the waiting list of a driving instructor and save a bit of money in the meantime,” she says.
“You could be spending a little bit more money than what you normally would with costs rising so having those funds behind you could help.”
The DVSA says it is tackling the high demand by “recruiting an additional 300 examiners, conducting out of hours testing such as at weekends and on public holidays and asking qualified staff that no longer work as driving examiners to conduct tests”.
“Following the suspension and further disruption of driver testing over much of the Covid pandemic, we are doing all we can to provide learners with as many practical driving tests as possible and bring average waiting times down to less than 10 weeks by the end of the year,” a spokeswoman says.