The following is an email I received from Loveday Ryder, the Chief Executive of the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) on December 21st 2021.
It details news on how the Omicron variant of Covid-19 may affect driving lessons and driving tests, details of a new driving test and much more.
You can also listen to me read through the email and give more details and my thoughts on it in the video below.
As the year draws to a close, I want to thank you for your resilience, patience and support over the last year.
In particular, I want to thank you for everything you’ve done to help get newly qualified drivers on the road. By doing this, you’ve enabled them to access employment, education, healthcare, and social activities. I know many of you also offer training to full licence holders to improve their safety and competency. We acknowledge that achieving all of this in ‘normal’ operating conditions is challenging enough, never mind during pandemic.
I know many of you will be concerned about the increase in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases following the emergence of the Omicron variant, and its potential impact on yourself, your families, your pupils and your business. We and the Department for Transport are closely monitoring the situation and will continue to do so. We’ll update you if anything affects our services as soon as we are able.
I also want to update you on the work we’re doing and have planned for early next year to help reduce driving test waiting times.
Helping stop the spread of COVID-19 to keep driving tests going
Our top priority is to keep you, learner drivers and our driving examiners safe. If driving examiners test positive for COVID-19, they have to self-isolate for 10 days.
Just one driving examiner who has to self-isolate will cause 60 or more driving tests to be cancelled, even when we find ways to cover some of the tests they would have delivered.
To protect our driving examiners, we:
- keep our workplaces COVID-secure
- are asking our examiners to take regular rapid lateral flow tests ( these help to identify people who have COVID-19 but do not have any symptoms)
You and your pupils are required by law to wear a face covering when attending a driving test and your pupil during their driving test (unless they’re exempt and tell us when they book their test).
If you’re booking the test for your pupil, you can find out how to tell us they cannot wear a face covering at https://www.gov.uk/book-pupil-driving-test
If your pupil is booking their own test, they can find out how to tell us they cannot wear a face covering at https://www.gov.uk/book-driving-test
We also strongly encourage driving test candidates to take rapid lateral flow tests before they take a driving test. It’s a situation where people are at a higher risk of passing on COVID-19, and taking a test can help stop this, help protect you, and keep our services going for everyone.
You and your pupils are required by law to wear face coverings while on driving lessons and when taking a theory test to help protect everyone and help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The science is showing that Omicron is more transmissible than previous variants and we all have a role to play in helping prevent this. I’d also encourage you to get boosted now. You can book your booster at https://nhs.uk/covidvaccination to protect yourself, friends and your family.
Reducing driving test waiting times
You may have seen the recent media stories about the increase to driving test waiting times and you will already have experienced the impact this is having on you, your pupils and your business.
As well as all the measures we’ve already been doing to reduce driving waiting times, from 6 December local driving test managers have also been carrying out driving tests for 2 days a week. This is as well as the work they’re doing to help new-entrant driving examiners get up to speed.
Driving examiner recruitment
We’ve just completed the fourth phase of our driving examiner recruitment campaign.
Since we were able to restart in-car training in the spring, we’ve had 126 new driving examiners qualify and start testing. We have a further 23 people going through their training and we have a further 60 people booked on courses which will start in the new year. We ‘ll keep you updated over the next few months.
You can read recent blog posts on Despatch (https://despatch.blog.gov.uk) to find out more about how we’re training people.
To help to speed up the training process, we have identified 28 qualified colleagues who we are planning to train in January so they can support us with training the new recruits.
We are aiming to have 20 or more extra trainers in place from February to support our permanent training team for 6 months.
To help us to train the new examiners they may be accompanied by another examiner we ask that you let your pupils know this could be a possibility on their test.
Making every test count
Given the high waiting times we want to do everything we can to make every test count:
Getting every test possible taking place is more vital than ever before. We completely understand that none of your pupils wants their test to be cancelled after they’ve prepared so hard for it.
But unfortunately, we’re in that part of the year where we might have to cancel tests at short notice because of bad weather. We only do this if it is absolutely necessary, and we do it for your safety, and the safety of your pupil and our examiners.
If we need to cancel a test due to bad weather, we will automatically book the test for the next available date at the same driving tests centre and send the new details to the email used to book the test.
You can read our full guidance on bad weather cancellations on GOV.UK https://www.gov.uk/driving-test/test-cancelled-bad-weather
Learner drivers not turning up for their driving test
We’re also experiencing more candidates not turning up for their driving test without telling us. This wastes an appointment that someone else could have used.
It’s possible that this is happening because they’re not ready and decide not to take the test.
40,533 learner drivers have not turned up for their driving test since they restarted in April 2021.
The numbers of tests where this has been happening has been steadily increasing. In November, more than 6,600 appointments were wasted because people did not turn up on the day which could have been used by other people.
Reducing the number of unused test appointments
We are also planning to remind learner drivers about:
- the documents they need to bring to their driving test
- the rules for using their own car
- making sure the car is COVID-secure
We’ll explore using social media, email and text messages to do this to reduce the number of avoidable cancellations to an absolute minimum.
We’ll also remind learner drivers about the need to change or cancel their driving test appointment if it’s no longer suitable.
We reintroduced the charge for short notice cancellations on 14 June 2021. This means people who cancel their test less than 3 full working days beforehand will have to pay again, unless they can give proof that they’ve tested positive for COVID-19. Some 36,000 candidates have cancelled within 3 days since testing was resumed in April.
If you could also have conversations with your pupils about the impact no-shows have on service that would greatly help us in our efforts to make every test count.
Driving test change consultation
We will be launching a government consultation on a range of proposed driving test changes, which we are planning to publish in the new year.
These measures will help make sure learners are properly prepared before taking their driving test and give us greater flexibility on when we can offer tests.
We’ll be providing more detail on the proposed changes and how you can get involved in the consultation shortly.
Keeping you updated
I know the uncertainty at the moment is worrying. And I know you are concerned about how you can support your customers, your business and your family at this time.
We will do what we can to continue to monitor the situation and keep you updated.
But in the current situation, things can change quickly and sometimes we cannot respond as quickly as we would like. Given this, I’d ask you to be patient with us and we will update you as soon as we can.
We respect the patience and professionalism the industry has shown throughout this pandemic, even though it has been incredibly frustrating at times given the multiple challenges we have had to face.
I also urge you to keep up to date with the driving instructors’ National Associations Strategic Partnership (NASP) website.
I wish you, your family and your friends a lovely Christmas and New Year and I hope you all remain safe and well.
Driver and Vehicles Standards Agency