Frustrated learner drivers in Leeds are facing waits of up to four months to take their driving test because of a backlog caused by a shortage of examiners.
Analysis by the Yorkshire Evening Post has revealed that figures for waiting times across Yorkshire vary from anything between five and 18 weeks, with more than 6,000 tests cancelled across Yorkshire in the last year alone.
The “horrendous” situation, say instructors, is forcing them to book driving tests for their students before they’ve even had their first lesson.
“It’s unbelievably frustrating,” said Noel Gaughan, an instructor who has set up a nationwide petition to Parliament, securing nearly 4,000 signatures. “This is about jobs and livelihoods. Someone, somewhere, has taken their eye off the ball. And it’s only going to get worse.”
Official figures show learner drivers face a postcode lottery as to how long they have to wait for a test. In some areas students are waiting more than four months for a test while in others, such as Steeton, near Keighley, options are available within five weeks.
According to figures from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency’s website, the test centres in Yorkshire with the longest waits as of earlier this month were Knaresborough, Whitby and Horsforth, at 18 weeks. Leeds was at 14 weeks, Skipton 17 weeks, and York and Pontefract 16 weeks.
This is about jobs and livelihoods. Someone, somewhere, has taken their eye off the ball. And it’s only going to get worse.Instructor Noel Gaughan
A response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the agency with figures from May 16 gives an indication of how quickly waiting lists are rising.
At that point, the waiting time at the Leeds Practical Driving Test Centre was 13 weeks, with a wait of 15 weeks at Horsforth Driving Test Centre.
Both were significantly higher than the national average wait of 11.3 weeks, and dramatic increases on the averages for the 12 months to April, which were 8.8 weeks in Leeds and 9.3 weeks in Horsforth.
In the first four months of this year, there were 247 car tests cancelled by the DVSA at Leeds DTC and 280 cancelled by the DVSA at Horsforth DTC.
“There’s a shortage of examiners,” said Harrogate driving instructor Mark Lancaster, explaining the test backlog. “They are just leaving the industry and it takes time to train new ones up.”
DVSA Head of Operations, Phil Lloyd, said staff shortages were to blame.
He said: “The increase in demand for driving tests is continuing, and we acknowledge that waiting times are currently higher than we would like in some of our locations,” he said.
“We are working to address this as quickly as possible and will continue with further examiner recruitment campaigns throughout 2016.”
The agency had recruited 193 new examiners in the past year, he said, with a further 44 starting since April.
Some students are abandoning their hopes of learning to drive as the time and costs involved in months of further lessons are simply too much to bear.
“I actually started learning around six year ago when I was 19,” said Glenn Taylor, now 25 from Pudsey.
“I failed the driving test and it slipped off my priority list - I seem to recall waiting around five or six weeks then for a test at the old Eccleshill centre.”
Deciding to try again this year, he bought a car to practice in and found a driving instructor. But when he tried to book his test in Horsforth he was told it was a three month wait. “I have been told it’s down to staff shortages but it appears the situation is just getting worse with no improvements in sight,” he said. “To compound that I was told by my instructor he’d had a number of tests cancelled by the test centre when some students test dates were approaching and therefore forced to the back of the queue again.
“Unfortunately, I failed the test. Now it’s not on my priority list again,” he said. “If I wait say four months for a test which I fail I will have another four month’s wait. It’s very important. If you need to travel to work then a car is pretty key.”
Horsforth driving instructor Mark Johnson said the situation was getting ridiculous. “It’s a very long time,” he said. “What’s frustrating is if they take a test and fail. Then they’ve got to wait a pretty long time.”