An extra 20,000 practical driving tests appointments are to be offered each month as part of an effort to cut huge waiting lists around the country.
The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) said it would increase the number of tests examiners can carry out each day in order to address the backlog of learners trying to secure a slot.
The Covid pandemic has caused huge disruption to the driving test system, forcing hundreds of thousands of tests to be cancelled or rescheduled. Since testing restarted examiners have also been carrying out fewer tests each day in order to reduce their risk of exposure and to allow them to follow additional Covid-secure safety measures.
As a result, learners were told earlier this year that they face waiting times of up to 17 weeks to secure a practical driving test slot.
Now, the DVSA has said that from Monday, 14 June examiners will be able to carry out seven tests per day – the same number as they did before the pandemic.
This should allow the agency to offer between 15,000 and 20,000 extra driving tests per month.
It said the change was possible as examiners were now used to carrying out the additional Covid safety measures and so could carry out their usual number of tests with little risk of overrunning.
The extra tests will be added at the end of each day to avoid disruption to existing bookings but the DVSA said the change would also allow it to begin offering early morning and evening tests again.
The new appointments will be “gradually” added to the online booking system on a daily basis from Wednesday, 9 June.
The announcement comes shortly after the DVSA set a deadline for learners with on-hold test appointments to rebook their test.
Due to rising Covid infection rates in some parts of the country the DVSA is also reintroducing short-notice cancellations. These allow candidates who test positive for Covid or are required to self-isolate to cancel their test within three days of their appointment and reschedule it.
Ian McIntosh, CEO of RED Driving School, welcomed the move, saying that the current waiting lists had caused anxiety for learners and their instructors.
He said: “By increasing the number of practical tests examiners can take each day, the DVSA is proactively helping to tackle the growing backlog caused by the pandemic. This is hugely positive for learner drivers who have found it incredibly difficult to find available appointments.
“Some of our customers have had to wait several weeks before being able to book a test - the DVSA last month reported that learner drivers would endure an average wait time of 16 weeks to book a practical test – and this has caused a huge amount of stress and uncertainty for our learners and instructors.
“We encourage all learners who are ready to take their test to keep a watchful eye on the site and book a practical test as soon as possible!”