DVSAsleep At The Wheel
Wait times for driving tests are in gridlock. As many young, hopeful drivers are eager to shed Covid woes and return to terrorising suburban communities with their twin-turbo V6 engines, civil service bureaucracy is pulling the handbrake.
Figures from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) show that there are over 500,000 prospective drivers awaiting a test. In London and the South-East you’re lucky to find a test appointment at all – let alone in your local area or before the year draws to a close.
Like most services, driving tests came to an emergency stop during the COVID-19 pandemic. While this can be forgiven, its lethargic rebound and inability to manage the accumulated backlog is simply the latest iteration of a civil service failing to act in people’s interests.
Wanting to gain further insight into the situation, I contacted an independent driving instructor who operates in the South-East of England.
They requested that they’d like to stay anonymous, in fear that the DVSA would start “hounding [them] for speaking out.”
They offered their own reason why there is such a backlog. “Perhaps the low pay is what’s holding back new examiners from coming into the industry.”
There is an element of truth in this. Driving examiners and instructors often switch between professions. Instructors, who are commonly self-employed, receive higher pay as well as flexible working hours. “No existing instructors are going to give up their jobs to do examining”, is what they told me. In their view“the DVSA should look to increase pay by at least 15%.”
As examiners are civil servants providing a service to the public, they are on the Executive Officer pay-scale. The current starting salary is £24,876 per annum, with Instructors capable of earning much more as independence allows them to set their own prices. It is clear why any rational young-driver enthusiast chooses the latter.
They finished by explaining how badly affected driving instructors had been by the lack of available test appointments.“The delay is really affecting instructors as we can’t teach our students regularly as parents can’t afford to pay for weekly lessons for 6 or 7 months!”
With vast demand and the DVSA seemingly asleep at the wheel, it is unsurprising that private individuals and companies have begun capitalising.
Services such as testi-app.co.uk have come into the market, allowing students to find available driving tests. While testi does offer this service free of charge, they also operate a ‘premium’ service in which the app automatically checks for driving test cancellations and notifies the user if one is available at an earlier date in their area.
But it is not just companies looking to profit from the backlog.
Across the UK, private sellers are charging as much as £200 for pre-booked test appointments. It is not clear how they are providing this, although it certainly raises questions over the cyber-security of the DVSA’s online booking system.
While I categorically oppose third party sellers racketeering a public service, it is a testament to just how insufficient our current system is. We depend on the government to regulate our road users and thus ensure safety, the DVSA is the de-facto monopoly supplier of driving tests. It is yet another example of a government agency failing to meet consumer demands due to a festering void of competition.
There is a clear and undeniable problematic social culture embedded within the DVSA. Instructors are dependent on the DVSA to licence and regulate their trade. They must feel comfortable that they won’t be ‘hounded’ for speaking out against issues caused by the organisation.
In order to drive change within the DVSA, there must be further involvement from all stake holders; the drivers who are losing business and the students under immense pressure to pass and avoid having to wait another six to eight months.
The DVSA needs to get back behind the wheel and take immediate action to reduce the backlog.