Exclusive: Yorkshire’s postcode lottery that’s driving learners to distraction

A graphic showing the scale of the problem
A graphic showing the scale of the problem
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Frustrated learner drivers in parts of Yorkshire 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 Post has revealed that figures for waiting times across the county vary from anything between five and 18 weeks, with more than 6,000 tests cancelled in Yorkshire in the last year alone.

I have been told it’s down to staff shortages but it appears the situation is just getting worse with no improvements in sight,

Learner driver Glenn Taylor

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. “We have lots of people ringing. Lots of people crying. It’s absolutely horrific.

“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 that learner drivers face a postcode lottery as to how long they have to wait for a test.

In some areas - with Horsforth, Harrogate and Whitby being the worst - students are waiting more than four months for a test while in others, such as Steeton, near Keighley, options are available within five weeks.

Analysis of Government statistics shows that thousands of tests are bring cancelled across the country.

In the year to March 2016, a total 53,575 driving tests were cancelled across the country - an increase of 36 per cent in just two years.

More than 6,246 tests were cancelled in Yorkshire in the last nine months of 2015 alone.

DVSA Head of Operations, Phil Lloyd, said staff shortages were to blame.

“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.

“We have made offers to an additional 114 people, who are currently either attending the new entrant training course, or awaiting to attend,” he added.

“DVSA conducts over 1.7 million car practical driving tests each year and only a small number of these are cancelled by the agency.

“We recognise that short notice cancellations are very disappointing for our customers and work to ensure that tests can go ahead wherever possible.”

Hundreds of people are currently waiting for tests at multiple centres in Yorkshire, with some people being told the first available appointment is now in October.

And across the county, some students are abandoning their hopes of learning to drive as the time and costs involved in months of further lessons is 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.”

Driving instructors say stories like this are becoming familiar in Yorkshire and nationwide.

“There’s a shortage of examiners,” said Harrogate driving instructor Mark Lancaster. “They are just leaving the industry and it takes time to train new ones up.”

Mr Lancaster said students are booking their driving tests as soon as they pass their theory exam, some even before they’ve had a driving lesson.

“It just takes so long,” he said. “One girl who passed her theory last week found a date for October 8. They have just got to take what comes up.

“If they fail, they’ve got to wait 18 weeks until the next test. When I started this job, six weeks was probably a long time to wait.”

London driving instructor Noel Gaughan has set up a nationwide petition to Parliament calling for test waiting times to be cut to a more realistic five weeks, securing nearly 4,000 signatures.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Mr Gaughan, whose previous clients include singer Adele. “If someone was to fail a test for something simple, then they just have to wait. The chance of them passing a second time is nigh on impossible. It’s an unbelievably crazy situation. It’s horrific and it’s affecting a hell of a lot of people.

“I’ve heard of waits up to 20 weeks. They are taking people’s money – there’s no reason for waiting lists to be as long as they are.”

According to figures from the Driver and Vehicle standards Agency’s website, the test centres in Yorkshire with the longest waits as of this month were Knaresborough, Whitby and Horsforth, at 18 weeks. Leeds was at 14 weeks, Skipton 17 weeks, and York and Pontefract 16 weeks.

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.”