The shortage of driving examiners across Shropshire is being blamed for the increasing amount of time learners have to wait to take their test.
According to the Driver and Vehicle Standard Agency (DVSA), people in Shrewsbury have a lengthy 17-week wait, despite the national average being just eight weeks. Meanwhile in Telford, it is 15 weeks and in Wrexham the wait is currently 11 weeks.
"The situation is at breaking point"
Driving instructors are becoming increasingly frustrated and are seeing students forking out for extra driving lessons while they wait months for the next available test.
Gary Langley of Shrewsbury-based A-Class School of Motoring claims that last year learner drivers had to wait two weeks for a test, but now this has crept up to nearly four months, making it unworkable for both the learner and the instructor.
“At the moment with the availability of tests being so far away we are having the difficult task of predicting when they will be ready and booking their tests way in advance. They all progress at their own rates so this is getting to the point of impossible with the waiting list being so long”
Mr Langley said, “A lot of pupils will progress as we predict and be fine, whereas some won't which then means pushing their test even further back and crushing sometimes the little confidence they had”
“The DVSA is supposed to provide a service to the tax-paying public and it seems to me ridiculous that they will have to wait another four months until they get another try.”
He continued saying how the long wait will affect learner drivers’ potential job opportunities or those wishing to obtain their licence before going to university, in the least driving up additional and unnecessary costs in continuing lessons to keep their standards up.
“Something needs to be done about it as the situation at the moment is only getting worse.”
Mr Langley added, “The situation is now at breaking point.”
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Strike Knock-On Effect
Information from the DVSA states there are seven examiners in Shrewsbury, in Telford, there are five, in Ludlow two, and in Harlescott LGV there is one examiner. Some instructors believe the problem stems from the strike in November last year, which saw a number of tests cancelled and centres closed in a row over working hours.
Karen Jones who runs KS Driving School in Shropshire said, “In Shrewsbury some days you may only have one examiner on because they are working in other areas. This is having an impact but the strike a few months ago has made it worse.”
“I have spoken to the examiners but their hands are tied and they just do not have anyone coming along at present .They do a good job and it’s not their fault that the waiting list is as long as it is.”
Karen spoke about how her customers are becoming frustrated at being unable start learning to drive due to those who want to carry on until their test date. However, she thinks the additional time on the road prior to the test has been of benefit to some learner drivers.
“We are getting more first-time passes because pupils are having more time on the road with us."
“Their experience of dealing with different situations is better which makes them safer on the roads when they pass. Their driver faults are lower which shows how good their driving is.”
DVSA Head of Operations Phil Lloyd commented last year that the long waits are due to a number of factors, including the reduction in the number of examiners available to undertake the tests and the increasing number of learner drivers taking their tests later.
In the government Despatch blog which gives advice to driver and ride trainers, Mr Lloyd announced plans to reduce waiting times by attracting more people to apply to become examiners with a view of reducing wait times down to 6 weeks. To become an examiner, there are seven weeks of training followed by a nine-month probationary period. Some believe that although plans are in place to make the recruitment process easier, talented examiners have walked out due to difficult working conditions.
When I spoke to him 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 ".
“We are working to address this as quickly as possible and will continue with further examiner recruitment campaigns throughout 2016.”
The Facts and Figures
Could the increased demand for driving tests be as a result of an increased number of people learning to drive? The Driver and Rider Testing Instructors Statistics released by the Department of Transport showed that between 2007 and 2013 the number of people taking practical tests had dropped by 18.5 per cent. The report suggested this may have been down to the downturn of the economy in 2008 which put people off taking their tests, as well as the declining birth rates in the 1990s.
In 2015 it looked as though numbers were on the up, with 407,904 practical tests being taken between January and March 2015 throughout the UK – a 5 per cent increase from the same quarter in 2014. Since then the latest statistics for January to March 2016 show a decrease of 3.1 per cent with 395,080 taking practical tests.
Yet in Shropshire, data released by the DVSA shows that between January and March 2016 there were more drivers taking tests in Shrewsbury and Wrexham than the year before, while in Telford the numbers dipped slightly.
So what can be done to address the issue? According to Mr Lloyd, there were a number of recruitment campaigns across the UK in 2015 which resulted in 193 new examiners starting work at test centres between April 2015 and March 2016. Offers have been made to an additional 127 people who are currently either attending the new entrant training course or waiting to attend.
As for Shropshire, the DVSA will look to include Ludlow, Shrewsbury, Telford and Harlescroft LGV in the next round of recruitment taking place in October 2016.
Options for Learners
Mr Langley has suggested those wishing to learn to drive take their theory driving test as soon as they can. This can be practised at home before they turn 17.
Once lessons have begun, discuss with your driving instructor on booking your practical test straight away. However, Gary warned that this might not be suitable for all learners, as some may take a little longer to get ready for a test.
“Using other test centres is also an option” he added “Locally Shrewsbury by far has the longest waiting times so looking at other centres could work.”