Learner drivers in Aberdeen are being forced to wait months to secure a driving test, with many frustrated pupils travelling to Inverness, Arbroath and even London to beat the delays.
Both practical driving tests and theory examinations were suspended from January due to Covid restrictions but restarted again last month.
Test centres in the city are now booked up until October and beyond, with a large backlog of tests having built up because of the pandemic.
Thousands of learner drivers are now finding they are unable to book either a theory or practical test at all and are logging on several times a day in the hope of securing a last-minute cancellation.
“It really is a soul-destroying wait for people who are ready to take their tests now and who might have been ready for months,” said Moira Craib, a driving instructor who runs her own motoring school in Aberdeen.
“Some people are more nervous because of the long wait they’ve had but mostly they are angry.
“They are looking for test appointments all the time 24/7, their parents are often looking too and they just can’t get a test – that’s soul-destroying.
“It’s a lot of money too, to keep going with the lessons while waiting for their test date to come around when they are more than ready to pass.”
Learner drivers are fed up waiting
Moira says her students are having particular trouble booking theory tests.
“I’ve got one person who has been with me since last year who hasn’t managed to take their theory test this whole time,” she said. “It has been booked then cancelled and then rescheduled several times.
“There are far more cancellations popping up for practicals than for theory.”
Out of her 25 current pupils, only 10 have managed to book their theory tests.
The DVSA say that the average wait for a theory test in Scotland is 16 weeks, but anecdotal evidence suggests it could be even longer.
“I’ve had customers travelling up to Inverness to take it,” Moira said, “people are getting desperate and will travel wherever and whenever they can get something.
“I have others who have gone down to Montrose and Arbroath.”
A DVSA spokesperson said that the department is doing all it can to clear the backlog: “Scottish Government social distancing restrictions require a two-metre distance between theory test candidates. DVSA is delivering as many theory tests in Scotland as possible within those requirements.
“We are doing all we can to offer more theory tests at our centres in Scotland by increasing opening hours and running tests on extra days where possible.
“The safety of our customers and staff is our priority and we can only increase the number of tests when physical distancing restrictions are eased by the Scottish Government.”
Travelling 500 miles for a driving test
Kate Copland, from Aberdeen, got so sick of the delays that she opted to travel to London and take her theory test there.
Kate said: “I was on the theory test websites and looking as far ahead as September and October for Aberdeen and there was absolutely nothing.
“I even wondered if the test centres in the city were closed for some reason I didn’t know about.
“Then I started checking in the central belt and Inverness and there was still nothing, so I thought I’d give London a try and I got an appointment right away.”
Kate, 31, moved back to Aberdeen in February after spending several years working in London.
She is now working from home in the Granite City and managed to combine taking her theory test with a trip to visit her London office.
“I am so lucky to have had the chance to go down to London to take it,” she said, “otherwise I don’t think I’d be passing my test within the year.
“I’ve no idea when I’ll be able to get my practical test done but I’ll be booking it as soon as I can.”
Waiting lists rocket
Meanwhile, in Aberdeen, local driving instructors are trying to work around the delays.
“If I’ve got a customer who isn’t really ready for their test but managed to get one booked, I’ll go and speak to other driving instructors in the area and see if we can swap the appointment with someone else,” Moira said.
“It’s become far easier to swap than to cancel and risk waiting months.”
She says that companies have also begun to pop up promising to fast-track learners and arrange a driving test faster – but for a minimum fee of £100.
The DVSA say the average wait for a practical test in UK is 14 weeks.
This delay is also affecting the number of new students that instructors can take onto their books, and Moira says she knows of a couple of instructors who are planning to reduce their lesson lengths in order to take on more pupils each day.
“My waiting list is up to January 2022 at the moment,” she said, “and going forward I will be prioritising taking pupils who have already got their theory test because the delays are so long.”
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