The number of practical driving tests taken in the third quarter of the year was half the usual figure as the Covid-19 outbreak continued to have a devastating effect on driver training.
Between July and September 188,520 practical car tests were taken around Great Britain - a 53.8 per cent decrease on the same period in 2019.
Driving lessons and tests have been massively disrupted by the Covid-19 outbreak and associated lockdown.
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All instruction and testing was stopped in mid-March as the whole country went into lockdown and only began to resume in July in England and Wales, and in August in Scotland. As a result hundreds of thousands of learners missed out on lessons and saw their tests cancelled.
Subsequently, many learner drivers have struggled to rebook a test. The DVSA booking website crashed under the volume of demand almost as soon as it opened in August, with more than 200,000 candidates battling over just 20,000 initial slots. Since then almost 400,000 new appointments for the end of this year have been released but a second lockdown in England and ban on tests in Scottish Tier 4 regions has seen more tests cancelled and, in some areas, a limit imposed on the number of tests examiners can carry out each day.
While the number of candidates fell significantly, the pass rate increased. Between July and September 2020 it was 50.1 per cent - 3.9 per cent higher than the same period in 2019. Government analysts have suggested that this could be the result of priority testing for critical workers, who may have received additional training.
The reduction in theory tests was smaller - down 8.4 per cent compared with 2019 to 457,177 but the pass rate improved even more significantly.
Theory testing began sooner than practical testing in some areas and has been less affected by the problems affecting practical tests such as examiner absence and social distancing.
The pass rate in quarter three was 56.3 per cent - 8.2 per cent higher than last year - a fact attributed to learners being better prepared and motivated to pass given the problems around tests earlier in the year.
Commenting on the figures from the DVSA, RAC spokesman Simon Williams said: “The scale of the pandemic’s impact on novice drivers is clear to see. Even with looser restrictions over the summer, the number of practical driving tests was only half what it was in the same period last year.
“Given how important the ability to drive is in enabling people to work, there will undoubtedly be enormous frustration among learners about having to delay the start of their driving careers. For that reason, it’s incredibly important that testing capacity is increased as soon as it’s safe to do so.”
The DVSA said it was examining all available options to safely increase testing capacity, including adding appointment slots and enlisting qualified desk-based staff to conduct tests.