More than 200,000 learners have been desperately trying to book their driving test today after the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency re-opened its online driving test booking service that crashed four days ago.
The booking website had been down since Friday 21 August for maintenance after it crashed due to high levels of demand.
Having come back online at 8am today, the queue at the original time of publishing was in excess of 215,000 people – all of whom are desperately trying to get one of the 35,675 tests that have been released for the next six weeks.
By 16:30, the backlog stood at over 165,000, despite the available test allocations likely filled before lunchtime.
Backlog: Queues to access the DVSA’s online booking site for driving tests – which crashed four days ago – have surpassed 200,000 learners today
A screengrab taken from the DVSA’s website shows the huge online queues forming as a result of learners not being able to access the website for four days.
Its chief executive Gareth Llewellyn said last week: ‘Coronavirus has severely impacted our business-as-usual operations, including by stopping driving tests in March.
‘Since then DVSA have only been dealing with applications for emergency driving tests for critical workers.
‘Following unprecedented demand for the driving test booking system with almost seven million attempts to book a test when it opened, we need to carry out urgent maintenance so people can book tests.
‘We have to close the booking service until Wednesday 26 August and are sorry for any inconvenience caused.’
Learners have taken to social media to express their frustration at the scale of the queues on the site, including one parent who was still waiting on the website at 12.55pm having tried to access the booking form since 8am.
Others have also used Twitter to celebrate bagging one of the 35,675 slots.
There is already an unprecedented backlog for driving tests prior to the website crashing, with driving tests cancelled for four months during the pandemic, restarting in England on Wednesday 22 July.
Driving tests for non-critical workers have been cancelled since 20 March, meaning some half a million budding motorists missed out on the chance to get their full licences during the height of the crisis.
Candidates who have had their already-booked exams put on hold were given first dibs to sit their tests when exams were given the green light last month, but future bookings are now available to learners.
There is already an unprecedented backlog for driving tests prior to the website crashing, with driving tests cancelled for four months during the pandemic
On average, some 4,000 learners were sitting driving tests every day in the UK before lockdown. With there being 124 days between practical tests being halted and them restarting, an estimated 496,000 learners are still raring to sit their exams.
Driving theory tests in England were also suspended on 19 March as part of the wider efforts to restrain the spread of Covid-19, though restarted again on 4 July as part of the easing lockdown measures.
Theory tests resumed in Scotland from Wednesday 22 July, though practical tests north of the border don’t restart until 14 September.
In Wales, theory tests restarted on 3 August and car driving tests resumed from 17 August.
On average, some 4,000 learners were sitting driving tests every day in the UK before lockdown. It means almost half a million missed out on taking their motoring exam between 20 March and 22 July
Sarah Rees, managing director of the AA Driving School, said the sheer volume of queues to access the DVSA’s booking site today means not all those patiently waiting on the website will be able to book one of the limited driving test slots.
‘We know the DVSA has been working hard to fix issues with the booking site but for those who have already experienced cancelled tests due to lockdown, this is yet another bump in the road on their journey to getting a licence,’ she told This is Money.
‘Demand for lessons has been high since lockdown relaxed and instructors could get back on the road. We know many people are trying to get their licence as a way to avoid public transport or to increase their employment prospects.
‘Unless issues with booking a test are resolved quickly the backlog of learners desperate to get their licence is only going to increase.’
Dan Hutson, head of motor at Comparethemarket, said the delays to sit tests is ‘curbing the freedom and possibilities of many young people’.
He told This is Money: ‘Our recent research finds that of those young people who were actively trying to pass their test prior to the lockdown, nearly 90 per cent said that they have had to cancel lessons, theory or practical tests.
‘This delay is likely to have an impact on their job prospects with over half (56 per cent) stating that not being able to progress with their test will negatively impact their chances of securing employment.’
Theory tests resumed in Scotland from Wednesday 22 July, though practical tests north of the border don’t restart until 14 September. In Wales, theory tests restarted on 3 August and car driving tests resumed from 17 August
Learners who successfully book a test face new rules post-lockdown
Learners who successfully get one of the available slots will face a raft of new safety measures that have been put in place to protect learners and examiners from Covid-19.
One of the most notable changes is the abrupt termination of a test if a learner makes a serious or dangerous mistake.
In normal circumstances, a candidate who performs one of these errors will be allowed to continue their practical driving exam until the end, despite it resulting in a failed attempt.
The driver would usually not be informed about their fault until the exam is completed.
However, to help impose social distancing, this type of error will trigger an immediate termination of the test – and a fail result.
‘In this new era of driving tests, the examination will be stopped immediately if the candidate commits a serious or dangerous fault,’ Ian McIntosh, ceo of RED Driving School explained to This is Money.
‘Previously, the test would continue, which gave the candidate the benefit of a full test experience where they’d be informed at the end of the session that they hadn’t passed.
‘This new measure has been introduced to limit contact time between the examiner and learner driver. While this make sense from a safety perspective, it does feel like the experience of being tested is a little diminished.’
Learners who arrive at a test centre for their exam without a face mask can have their test cancelled and examiners have discretion to end a driving test early if they feel a face covering has become a safety issue in any way – for instance, causing glasses to fog up
The DVSA has also confirmed a number of other new coronavirus-related measures put in place for safety reasons following lockdown.
Learners who arrive at a test centre for their exam without a face mask can have their test cancelled, unless they have already declared they can’t wear a covering for a physical or mental illness where it could cause distress.
Examiners can also ask learners to stop driving during the test to adjust a face mask if it has moved and is no longer covering the learner’s nose and mouth.
Invigilators will also have discretion to end the driving test early if they feel a face covering has become a safety issue in any way – for instance, causing the glasses of the driver to fog up.
At the end of the practical test, driving examiners will ask students to get out of the vehicle before they offer any test result feedback rather than deliver the news inside the car. This is to extend social distancing when possible.
The DVSA also warns learners that they must cancel a test if they have any coronavirus symptoms, have been in contact with someone who has the coronavirus or have returned to the UK in the last 14 days.