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Never-ending backlog predicted as 5m learner drivers fight for 1.8m driving test slots in 2024

Without an increase in driving test capacity learner drivers face more long waits for test slots, and there’s no end to the delays in sight

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Frustrated learner drivers seeking to book driving tests will be dismayed to learn that demand in 2024 will exceed the available capacity by a staggering 177 per cent.

The claim follows number-crunching of official data by young driver insurance specialist Marmalade, which has estimated that 5,004,282 learners will be fighting for just 1,808,148 test slots this year. Marmalade claims the data also reveals that the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) capacity to conduct driving tests is a third lower than required, and that the service will once again be overwhelmed leading to a “huge rollover” of tests into 2025. The firm has warned that “the backlog might never end if capacity in the testing system doesn’t increase”.

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Breaking down the figures shows that demand for driving tests every month in the UK runs to 195,982, but the average monthly DVSA capacity is only 144,429 test slots. 527,722 test slots were booked in January for the first half of the year, as instructors push candidates to book tests as soon as possible and, according to the insurer, the backlog will be compounded every month as demand overtakes the DVSA’s efforts to reduce waits for tests.

The failing DVSA system is overseen by agency chief executive Loveday Ryder, who says “we strongly urge learner drivers only to book their driving tests when they are ready to pass”. Ryder claims the agency is “taking all measures it can to reduce waiting times”, and says its efforts have already generated over 40,000 extra tests per month.

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The agency boss’s advice is seemingly falling on deaf ears, as instructors continue to advise their candidates to grab test dates as soon as they can - potentially rescheduling their slots if the test day arrives and they’re not yet ready to pass.

“My advice to learners is if you’ve done your theory, get your test booked now, but only take it if you’re confident and ready to pass based on the advice of your instructor and be prepared to reschedule it if you’re not fully ready,” said one instructor, Mark Steeples, who can’t foresee a return to pre-Covid test availability.

“Learner drivers up and down the UK are being impacted by this backlog and a fundamental disparity between the capacity for testing and this high demand. Until testing capacity can increase, we don’t believe that the backlog will ever end, it will only get worse and learners will continue to face a lottery when it comes to securing a test,” says Marmalade’s head of insure relations, Chris Lawson. 

“This backlog and the pent-up demand opens up learners to a risk of exploitation as third parties take advantage of that desperation, which we’ve seen in recent months.”

Are you waiting for your driving test? Tell us about you experience in the comments section below

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Current affairs and features editor

Chris covers all aspects of motoring life for Auto Express. Over a long career he has contributed news and car reviews to brands such as Autocar, WhatCar?, PistonHeads, Goodwood and The Motor Trader.

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