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Learner drivers face £2.7m bill to re-sit theory tests

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Around 118,000 theory test certificates expired in the six months to September, meaning learner drivers face forking out £2.7m to re-sit the exam.

Since the Coronavirus Act 2020 came into effect on 25 March, around 118,000 theory test past certificates were due to expire by the end of September, according to parliamentary under-secretary for the Department for Transport, Rachel Maclean.

In England, Scotland and Wales, theory test certificates are valid for two years. Maclean added that ordinarily, an average of 14,000 people let their theory test certificate expire each month.

And with each theory test costing £23, learner drivers face a collective bill of £2.7m to re-take their test. Of this figure, £782,000 is due to the coronavirus lockdown measures.

Driving test booking frustration

During the national lockdown earlier this year, driving lessons and tests were paused, meaning thousands of learner drivers had no option but to wait until they could take the practical exam once the sector had opened.

In England, driving lessons and theory tests could take place from 4 July while driving tests restarted on 22 July for those who had already paid £62 and had their test cancelled due to coronavirus.

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) revealed over 210,000 driving tests were put on hold due to Covid-19 and they were given priority to reschedule.

The driving test booking service reopened for everyone else on 21 August but the site crashed and was taken down for maintenance due to the surge in demand.

Once it was up and running, learner drivers reported being left frustrated searching hours for an available slot while others claimed they couldn’t find one near their location for months. Again, the worry was that the theory test certificate would expire before they could take the driving test.

No theory test certificate extension

Under unprecedented coronavirus measures, drivers could continue to use their cars even if their MOT had expired and photocard driving licences that expired between 1 February and 31 December 2020 have also been extended for 11 months from the date of expiry.

However, no such extension has been granted for theory test certificates.

Stephen Crawford, driving instructor at Local Driving School, said: “Due to the cancellation of/delays to hundreds of thousands of tests earlier this year, there are now waiting times several months long for learner drivers across the country.

“The decision not to extend expiry dates on theory tests will only add to these huge queues. Learners will now need to re-take theory tests that they passed before lockdown, alongside other learners currently waiting to take this test. While learners should be freshly acquainted with the theory of driving when they take their driving test, which is why there is a time limit, a balance needs to be struck so that waiting times aren’t increased, or the hard work of students disregarded.

“With many students now looking for work, and requiring the use of a car to go to job interviews, these delays could impact their prospects. Likewise, for workers looking to avoid public transport, they can’t do this for several more months with increased delays to driving test schedules.”

Sarah Rees, AA Driving School managing director, said: “Learners across the UK have adapted to staggered driving test and lesson restart dates, as well as local lockdowns.

“It has been a challenging time for learners and we hope that the government will relax the two-year theory test rule to give a helping hand to learners who will be at the back of the queue due to coronavirus.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson, said: “Theory test certificates are not being extended to ensure new drivers’ knowledge and hazard perception skills is fully up-to-date at the critical point they begin to drive on their own.”

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