The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) is to release nearly 400,000 new driving test slots in coming weeks as it looks to ease pressure on the troubled booking system.
The agency has been heavily criticised for problems with the online test booking process after it crashed under heavy demand and was taken offline twice.
The site was initially overwhelmed by more than seven million enquiries in 24 hours when it opened to new bookings on August 21. After being taken offline for maintenance it went live again on August 25 and was again almost immediately swamped with users trying to book a test.
At its peak nearly 300,000 candidates were queuing to make a driving test appointment and at 5.30pm the same day, the agency shut down the service again, explaining that all available test slots had been booked.
Learners have branded the DVSA handling of the process as a “shambles” and “insanity” as hundreds of thousands of candidates vie for a few thousand test slots. The agency has only released slots for six weeks in advance and has been criticised for not allowing users to choose their location before joining the queue.
Previous problems were repeated this morning (September 2) when the site reopened to bookings for learners in England and Wales.
Users logging on 15 minutes after the system went live at 8am were told they were in a queue of nearly 110,000 people. Just 19,000 test slots were available.
The DVSA has now said it will be releasing 375,000 more test appointments on September 14 to help more student drivers secure a slot.
The test appointments will cover the period up to the end of January 2021 and, according to the DVSA, should allow “almost everybody” to book a test.
It also announced that learners in Scotland will be able to book new test slots from Monday, September 7. Practical driving tests are due to restart on September 14 in Scotland after restrictions around lessons and testing remained in place beyond those in England and Wales.
Ian McIntosh, CEO of RED Driving School said that the problems were hugely frustrating for learners but hard to avoid in the wake of delays caused by lockdown.
He said: “Normally, the DVSA conducts around 4,500 tests per day, but with regular testing postponed during lockdown, it’s easy to see why there is a backlog of around 200,000 practical assessments. The demand for driving has also increased due to a number of people wanting to avoid public transport.
“At RED, we have sympathy for learners who are keen to get on the roads as soon as possible, but we understand the pressures facing the DVSA. Testing capacity is greatly reduced, perhaps half of what it was pre-Covid-19. These measures have been brought in to keep the testing process Covid-19 secure, which is paramount in keeping both examiners and students safe.
“Some test centres still haven’t reopened – of course people practice on their local roads and get to know them, but if they are ready for driving for life then they should be able to cope with a different area. It might be slightly trickier, but if it’s not too far from home then we’d encourage candidates to consider a different test centre and discuss it with their driving instructor to see how they can support.”