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Rising to the Challenge: learning to drive after COVID-19

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Driving instructors, Driving test, Feature, Learning to drive

We have all endured so much during the pandemic. We have lost loved ones, we have put our lives on hold, we have changed the way we live for the safety of others.

As part of this, routine driving lessons and tests had to be suspended for months. Now that restrictions have eased, we know thousands of learners are still desperate to get on the road to help them access employment, education, healthcare and their social life. It is DVSA’s priority to help everyone through a lifetime of safe driving.

In this blog post we hear from a driving instructor, learner driver and driving examiner. We celebrate how they all have risen to, and overcome, the challenges posed by the pandemic - and are helping the country to build back better whilst keeping themselves and other road users safe.

“I’m in this job to help people”

Ian Brett is an Approved Driving Instructor (ADI) based in Kent. Like most ADIs, he is self-employed. Ian says that, after 13 years’ experience, the pandemic “totally destroyed our business; we couldn’t earn money at all but still had bills to pay and staff to support. We fared much better than others, and were very lucky to have received government grants.”

Ian briefly helped deliver speed awareness courses online, while they couldn’t take place in person due to Covid restrictions. However, getting back to business has been his main focus.

“It was difficult to get back into a sense of normality. The uncertainty was the hardest thing, especially with our pupils investing time and money, not knowing when they were going to get a test.

“Now when you get a pass, it’s all the sweeter knowing the hard work has paid off. Sadly a fail means pushing things back even further; we do have to have some hard conversations, managing expectations of pupils and trying to get those who are ready for test in there first.

“We are also part of a community of ADIs across Kent; we keep in touch and support each other when we can.

A recent survey has shown that there is a huge demand for driving lessons, with 8 out of 10 of driving instructors currently have a waiting list .  “I feel more confident now, as there is more work and our business is sustainable. But even then, I’m in this job to help people. We currently have 140 pupils on our waiting list, and we field anything between 5 and 20 calls a day, enquiring about lessons.

“We are also trying to train up more instructors. Generally we have to be honest with people, giving them further advice and encouraging private practice. It’s hard to know that we can’t help all of them, but we do what we can.”

“It felt like I’d started learning all over again”

Meanwhile, 24 year old Bethany Bridel has been learning to drive in Sevenoaks. Her experience is one to which thousands of learner drivers across Britain can relate.

She says, “when the pandemic first hit, I was really scared. I work in a pub and it was frightening to close the doors. The village I live in relies on tourism and it just became a ghost town.

“Because of the lockdowns, everything seems a bit of a blur but I can remember thinking that no one expected lockdown to last as long as it did. So, driving lessons weren’t at the forefront of my mind. But after the second lockdown, it felt like I’d started learning all over again, and I haven’t been able to do any private practice, either.

“It’s been very deflating feeling so ready for something and not being able to do it.”

Not being able to drive has had a big impact on Bethany’s life. “I live in a small village which is quite isolated, and I have to rely on public transport. It makes finding work very difficult.

“I’ve passed the theory test now. It was a strange experience with all the Covid measures, suddenly being in a room filled with other people. But I felt safe the whole time; the staff were fantastic. I’ve had the same experience on my driving lessons, with masks and cleaning the car before and after.”

Bethany is definitely getting closer to her dream, though. “I do now have a practical test booked – on my birthday! We booked it months ago so it’s disheartening to know it’s still so far away, with most cancellations being very last minute. Though I was surprised by the huge amount of flexibility when it came to moving a test; that’s reassuring.”

She does say that she feels differently about driving now, compared to before the pandemic, adding “I guess I do have some anxiety about there suddenly being lots of new drivers on the road; but it’s reassuring that we’ll all have gone through a lot of practice.”

We wish Bethany the best of luck for her test. She tells us that when she finally gets the keys to her first car “I’m going to drive straight to the beach… or a drive through! I have also promised my boyfriend a meal out where I drive, and he can have a drink for a change.”

It feels good to be back doing what I am meant to do

In the middle of the action is driving examiner, Richard Garner based in Chippenham. Responsible for assessing future road users, and giving them the ability to drive freely, how has his role changed and shifted?

To begin with, he had to shield as a clinically extremely vulnerable person: “When the pandemic first began, I was very concerned. Being vulnerable, I was worried about the effects of catching the virus; thankfully that never happened.”

However Richard has always been keen to get back to the day job: “I was eagerly awaiting a return to in car testing in April, and was incredibly disappointed to be told that I would not be given the choice to return as soon as I’d hoped. Instead I was asked to provide support to the Internal Communications team, working from home. This team have been amazing, and I feel I’ve made some new friends - albeit virtually!

“But I still couldn’t wait to get back into cars. At the end of the day, I’m a driving examiner; I should be out on the road, not behind a laptop. I just wanted to crack on.”

He found ways to step into the fold and support his colleagues, saying “eventually I took on tractor tests for my local area, to free up car slots for colleagues at my centre and others nearby. It was a safe option for me as I wasn’t in the cab with them during the test. It was great to get back doing my job, especially knowing that these kids that I’ve tested were getting ready for harvest, or helping their family’s business.

Now, Richard is back in the passenger seat. “I recently did my first day of car driver tests after over nine months. Despite feeling a little apprehensive, everything came rushing back. It feels good to be back doing what I am meant to do; helping keep Britain’s roads safe.

“I know that all industries – not just driving - are struggling to catch up, and that everyone is doing all they can to help. Of course, we have to assess candidates on the day but it’s great to see people pass first time, knowing that’s one less person waiting for a test.”

Now is the time to drive forward

Needless to say, our roads are a vital network across the country.

From delivering food, to the return of tourism and reuniting loves ones; they connect everyone and are the lifeblood of businesses across Britain.

Helping learners to use Britain’s roads safely will inevitably bolster our economy in this difficult time.

 Tell us how you plan to build back better

Reducing driving test waiting times will contribute to the national recovery effort and DVSA is taking steps to provide thousands of learner drivers with a driving test as quickly and safely as possible.

Driving examiners, ADIs and learners will all have a huge role to play in our future.

Tell us how you plan to help the country build back better and how the driving industry plays a role in your plans. Tag @DVSA and use #BuildBackBetter on social media – we cannot wait to hear from you.

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  1. Comment by Kenneth conquest posted on

    I was one the less fortunate. During the two lockdowns I received no help financially . If it Hadn't of been for Red suspending franchise payment I would of had to quit. Thankfully made it to this point and still enjoying what I'm doing and helping keep the roads safe.
    Ken Conquest ADI .

  2. Comment by Alan Oswin posted on

    I hear you, receive regular updates do they reassure me, no not in the slightest it's like listening to a Party Political Broadcast.
    Positive comments yes I hear them, do you see the pain, anguish, the families confusion how can I honestly tell them it's all going well there is sanctions in place to reduce test waiting times when we have one or two Examiners at our local test centre Worksop, tests that have been book 10, 8, 6, months previous being cancelled because of Examiner unavailable, I'm disheartened depressed with the DVSA National but more importantly Locally, ADI for 16yrs and never have I wanted to change jobs more than now.

    • Replies to Alan Oswin>

      Comment by hollieanderson posted on

      Hi Alan, thank you for your comment. We understand how frustrating the current situation must be for you and your pupils. Demand for practical tests nationally is high at present, following the suspension of driving tests during the coronavirus pandemic. We are doing all we can to provide as many tests as possible so we can get our services back to normal.

      Measures introduced to increase practical driving tests include: Offering overtime and annual leave buy back to our driving examiners, asking all those qualified to conduct tests, but who do not do so as part of their current day job, to return to conducting tests, inviting recently retired examiners to conduct tests, conducting out of hours testing such as at weekends and on public holidays, a campaign to recruit an additional 300 examiners. Kind regards.

  3. Comment by Gary Gough posted on

    I teach pupils with hidden and physical disabilities. In the main those with physical disability are well catered for in my area, Worcester. Thank you so much. It really does make a positive difference.

    However, it’s a very different situation with hidden disabilities and mental health issues, particularly with regards to accessing reasonable adjustments when taking the theory test. Specifically, my pupils and more often their parents find it impossible to communicate their needs or concerns as the system doesn’t allow any form of reasonable contact. It’s like DVSA have forgotten them and aren’t in a hurry to help them either. This is a pity as gaining a license for them means access to the very same things you mentioned in the blog. It’s very difficult to defend DVSA when speaking to pupils and parents about this - actually, I can’t. Add to this that Pearson staff are very often rude and disrespectful to almost everyone taking the theory test in Worcester, not just those with hidden disabilities. It doesn’t take much to put a person off their game when they have learning disabilities, low self esteem and confidence. Pearson staff are very good at doing just that.

    • Replies to Gary Gough>

      Comment by hollieanderson posted on

      Hi Gary, thanks for your comment. We are experiencing an unprecedented volume of requests for theory tests, and therefore these are taking longer than usual to process. We are working hard to get back to customers and apologise for the inconvenience caused by longer waiting times. Please rest assured that I have also fed back your remarks to my colleagues. Kind regards.

  4. Comment by Christopher strong posted on

    I have been a ADI for 41 years, even test examiners comment how low my ADI number is, through the years I have see many changes and upheavals
    But nothing like the pandemic, it’s the younger instructors I feel sorry for the ones with a mortgage and young children, now that lock down has been lifted don’t be tempted to take on more pupils than you can comfortably handle, none of us like to say no when getting a phone inquiry, but you must think about your family, the potential pupil, and of course your well-being
    Nobody should be sitting in a car 10/12 hours a day,

  5. Comment by Don Harris posted on

    Given the dvsa have opened numerous additional theory test centres (22 I believe) and the chronic shortage of examiners in the country. My local driving test centre is down by 50% with only 1 on duty occasionally instead of 4 or 5.
    What are the dvsa going to do when the thousands of theory certificates expire due to no fault of the candidate but the additional overload to the system, will the theory test certificate be extended this time. Or could it be considered fraudulent practice to sell something that cannot be completed?

    • Replies to Don Harris>

      Comment by hollieanderson posted on

      Hi Don, thank you for your comment. After careful consideration, the government has decided not to extend theory test certificates due to the impact on road safety. We understand that this will be disappointing for some candidates. But it’s essential that candidates have the most up to date road safety knowledge and hazard perception skills to help prepare them for their test and driving safely on their own once they’ve passed. Kind regards.

  6. Comment by Maung Maung posted on


    Covid Restrictions released. During Covid-19 lockdown period WC from test centre was open as usual for Core Worker DVSA test. Now last week I went to the test centre for the test WC was locked and candidate cannot use it. We understand only accompanying ADI can only sit and wait in the waiting room but unable to use bathroom. Please look into this as some pupils are nervous and they do need WC before attending their test. Some pupils may have their health issue and using WC as well. It was Isleworth DVSA we went.

    • Replies to Maung Maung>

      Comment by hollieanderson posted on

      Hi, thank you for your comment. I have raised this issue with my colleagues and asked if this can be looked into. Kind regards.

    • Replies to Maung Maung>

      Comment by hollieanderson posted on

      Hi, I can now confirm that the toilets at Isleworth have been temporarily closed as a result of vandalism, and repairs are currently being carried out. I hope this helps. Kind regards.

  7. Comment by tim hunter posted on

    Like everyone else I’m a very busy ADI with lots of tests booked for my pupils. The extra pressures at the moment for pupils are the longer waiting lists for a test if they fail, the quick return to the test centre if they fail, and unfortunately the poor attitude of the examiners who simply don’t seem to want to be doing the job anymore.
    I could give examples but it would make the comment too lengthy. They just need to brush up on their people skills, and maybe try to be part of the solution to the problem of long waiting lists rather than treating each test as a chance of catching COVID.

  8. Comment by Anthony Williams posted on

    I have been an ADI since 2005, I understand that like all industries safety measures have had to be in place due to the pandemic.

    Most parts of the economy are opening up and businesses are trying to get back to normal. Isn't it time that driving tests get back to as near normal as possible.

    I do feel that the current test procedure of returning straight back to the centre should the candidate commit a serious fault needs to be looked at.

    Like instructors , driving examiners wear face masks and gloves, contact areas are wiped clean and windows are down during testing. It's about time that pupils get a full assessment of their driving like tests were before the arrival of the Covid.

    Also I am quite appalled with the current proposal of examiners taking industrial action.
    This is only going to cause greater upheaval and longer test waiting times.

    • Replies to Anthony Williams>

      Comment by hollieanderson posted on

      Hi Anthony, thanks for your message. Should we make any changes to the way tests are currently conducted, we will let ADIs and stakeholders know. Safety of our customers and colleagues is a top priority. There have ben no dates for strike action announced as of yet. Kind regards.

      • Replies to hollieanderson>

        Comment by Steve Hunt posted on

        If your in the car with someone who has covid it will make no difference whether you are in for 10 mins or 40 mins. There is no reason not to complete the full test that has been paid for.

        • Replies to Steve Hunt>

          Comment by hollieanderson posted on

          Hi Steve, thanks for your message. Safety of our colleagues and customers remains a top priority. If our policy about ending tests changes we will let stakeholders know. Kind regards.

    • Replies to Anthony Williams>

      Comment by Jan posted on

      I'm in support of the early return from test if a serious fault is made. It's not up to examiners to do the job for us instructors by giving them more experience when they've clearly failed.
      Examiners are being asked to work harder so why keep them out longer than necessary? We need more examiners not less. If an examiner catches Covid19, they're off work potentially for weeks, meaning more cancelled tests. As many of our colleagues have found to their detriment, masks and sanitised hands and a clean car, do not necessarily protect you from this virus. The greater the exposure, the higher the risk!
      We still need to be doing all we can to minimise the risk so the faster we can get back to pre Covid19 times.

  9. Comment by Paul Parker-Brice posted on

    Paul Parker-Brice ADI N/WLondon

    We all know that the waiting list for practical and even theory tests is massive. But in regards to the practical test, over Covid I think the figure was 250,000 test cancelled or postponed. Since then I’ve had pupils trying to get tests and they are getting February and March 2022. But we have to remember that every month that passes another however many 17 year olds become eligible to drive.
    What I can’t see is how is the DVSA ever going to catch up with the way it is going at the moment. The only way I see to reduce the numbers slightly is for maybe an extra test or two for the examiners daily, or opening on a Saturday which with no matter how much money examiners would be paid would still make it very unacceptable as they all need time off and lunch breaks.
    So the question really is how do we get the drivers on to tests in a acceptable time scale. I personally have told my pupils that I will do lessons once a fortnight until they have a test in sight.
    Has the DVSA got a plan to get the numbers down rapidly or is this how it will be for the next few years and beyond.

    • Replies to Paul Parker-Brice>

      Comment by hollieanderson posted on

      Hi Paul, thanks for your comment, and apologies for the delayed reply. DVSA are working hard to make more tests available and meet demand for testing. Measures introduced to increase practical driving tests include: Offering overtime and annual leave buy back to our driving examiners, asking all those qualified to conduct tests, but who do not do so as part of their current day job, to return to conducting tests, inviting recently retired examiners to conduct tests, conducting out of hours testing such as at weekends and on public holidays, a campaign to recruit an additional 300 examiners. Kind regards.

  10. Comment by Ian Thomas posted on

    A very positive way to attempt to reduce the long waiting list for tests is to slightly adjust the pass rate which has statistically it has been consistently set nationally at around 47%. over the last 10years. A 1% increase in the pass rate would provide 160,000 more successful candidates. That is simply based on the 1.6 million Tests that were carried out in the full year prior to Covid. With the 450,000 Tests that are reported to be outstanding now it is obvious that a significant number of Test retakes would be saved.
    In my personal experience many very good, confident and competent pupils pupils have been failed with trivial and very questionable serious faults.

    • Replies to Ian Thomas>

      Comment by hollieanderson posted on

      Hi Ian, thanks for your comment. All pupils are assessed to the same standards, and a pass or fail is dependant on their performance on the day. There are no current plans to change the way we conduct tests, or what constitutes a pass. Kind regards.

      • Replies to hollieanderson>

        Comment by Ian Thomas posted on

        Further to my concern about the consistent 47% pass rate you have stated in your reply that the practical tests are all 'taken to the same standard'.
        It is recognised that the Tests actually will vary and the results affected by varying factors and inconsistencies with a) the lottery of selected route,
        b) the individual personality of the examiner c)traffic and the situations that are created d) the anxiety and performance of the pupil.
        In my opinion and shared by many (most) Instructors is that the test result is totally unpredictable. Very good pupils do fail on questionable 'serious' faults and those that 'may' pass often do so with flying colours.?? Interestingly the views of Driving Instructors regarding their pupils readiness and creditability for test is not even considered. We are strongly advised (directed ) to only submit pupils who are test ready !!! Further more it is proposed that ADI's be monitored for their test success record. That suggestion and approach is riddled with flaws. The only consistency is that it is an attempt to regulate pass rates with ADI's (seeking 100% perhaps ??) compared with Examiners who are 'regulated' with a consistent 47% National pass rate !! I have yet to hear any other creditable reason for the results to be so consistent over 10 years !!
        My simple point is that IF the 47% pass rate is raised by just 1% there will be 160,000 more successful test passes each year and so help the enormous and deplorable Test backlog which will continue to get worse.
        (1% of 1.6 million tests taken in the previous full non covid year = 160K )

  11. Comment by Laura Higgins posted on

    Hi, im an ADI.
    Since COVID why is it that some driving instructors in Luton have been able to take the same pupil 3 to 4 times within few weeks apart? It has not been un-noticed by other driving instructor in Luton aswell, whilst others struggle to even get a test. Why have dvsa not put a cap on how many test can be bought? They have taken the COVID lockdown as a quick way of been making a profit buy selling tests at £300 to £500 which is absolutely appalling when pupils have already paid for a test date. I can understand £20 for early cancellation. Some pupils have put driving on hold until there is a date available even when I’m trying my best to keep the momentum going or they are desperate that they get a loan to pay this ridiculous amount. This should not have been allowed especially when we restarted and trying to assure pupils everything will be okay. Now telling them that they have to wait longer until next year or keep looking. We are here to help learners to make it easy for them but unfortunately some see it as a quick profit under COVID-19 and making it difficult for others driving Instructors and learners. Sorry not right.

    • Replies to Laura Higgins>

      Comment by hollieanderson posted on

      Hi Laura, thanks for your message. ADIs should be booking tests only for named pupils, and should not abuse the online business service agreement. Likewise we discourage the use of cancellation apps and have tried to make sure all candidates have equal chance to book a test. Kind regards.

  12. Comment by James posted on

    I keep getting my driving test cancelled due to only having two driving examiners in Hastings East Sussex why haven't you advertise for examiners for Hastings

    • Replies to James>

      Comment by hollieanderson posted on

      Hi James, thanks for your message. Earlier this year we ran a campaign to recruit more examiners across Britain. Many of these new recruits are in post or in training. Whilst I can't confirm where these new examiners will be stationed, this will help with the overall demand for tests. Kind regards.

  13. Comment by Maung Maung posted on

    HI My ADI badge is running out on 31 December 21. I have done all necessary to renew my Badge. But I logged on to my account and tried to renew and not being allowed. I called customer service and unable to talk to someone. I understand it is to be submitted in December but what if there is a delay? What is the best way to contact ADI registration department. Please advise. I am worried about my Badge not being received before 31st December. Bank holidays are there.

    • Replies to Maung Maung>

      Comment by hollieanderson posted on

      Hi, thanks for your query. I have double checked and you can only renew your badge from the 1st day of the month it expires. Kind regards.

  14. Comment by stephen OGGELSBY posted on

    why is the waiting list for driving test appointments restricted to 23 weeks or whatever it is ?

    • Replies to stephen OGGELSBY>

      Comment by hollieanderson posted on

      Hi Stephen, thanks for your comment. The current booking window for practical tests is 24 weeks. This is an extension of what it was previously, and it allows a candidate to secure a test booking while demand is high. Kind regards.

      • Replies to hollieanderson>

        Comment by stephen OGGELSBY posted on

        79 test centres in uk unavailable to book a test because the list closes at 24 weeks . this is plainly wrong.

  15. Comment by Chris Winwood posted on

    I've been waiting for quite some time now like alot of people, I know its frustrating but I've been having to so a 25mile trip to work and back a hour long journey to get there and back, all through the first lockdown and second while doing 12 hour shifts its depressing so it saddens me to hear the test examiners want to strike its quite ludicrous and causes more deleys and stress, for selfish reasons, I certainly hope they get home alot faster then I do there certainly on a higher wage just sick of doing 14 hour days practically even more to get up and ready but I need my job and salary to get by hope to get a test date soon and get on the road.

    • Replies to Chris Winwood>

      Comment by hollieanderson posted on

      Hi Chris, PCS have confirmed that the two-day national strike planned for Monday 18 and Tuesday 19 October 2021 is postponed. We’re really pleased to have been able to avoid any impact on our customers sitting tests on those dates. We remain in discussions with PCS on a long-term solution. Kind regards.