Theory test availability
DVSA reported that, as of 10 May, waiting times for theory tests in England are on average 3.1 weeks, Wales 1.1 week and Scotland 16 weeks. DVSA said that this had been flagged with Transport Scotland and capacity would be added as soon as they were able, however as social distancing remains at two metres in Scotland, the situation is very difficult. Discussions were also taking place with Pearsons to try and add more capacity. NASP stated the First Minister for Scotland had just announced that from 17 May, six people would be allowed to meet inside, however there is no change to social distancing.
NASP asked about the situation with regard to wearing face coverings on tests as we move forward. DVSA stated that this would be dependent upon PHE advice and the wider government review of social distancing requirements.
Sitting in the back
NASP asked when instructors will be able to return to sitting in on driving tests. DVSA said that if all social distancing requirements are lifted in June there could possibly be a return to three in a car depending on government advice. The status quo will remain.
NASP also asked about tests going back to the full time and not returning early as candidates learn from the full time even if they haven’t been successful. DVSA stated that this is also dependent on all social distancing requirements being lifted and that they will keep instructors informed.
NASP asked about the long waiting times around the country and how DVSA envisaged tackling the issue. DVSA stated the average waiting time is currently around 16 weeks, and the booking window is open for 24 weeks, and that the pass rate would appear to be above normal for the first two weeks since testing resumed, however, there were no official figures available at this time.
Currently six tests a day are being carried out, and discussions are ongoing for when these might return to seven. DVSA noted that the Top 10 Reasons for Failing had received a lot of hits and had been, on the whole, received very well.
DVSA intends to do a customer insight survey with ADIs to help them assess customer demands. This survey has been prepared to go to ADIs to assess the demand for lessons, not tests. It was agreed that DVSA would share this with NASP before its circulation. NASP also pointed out that the waiting lists for practical tests will extend when candidates in Scotland start being able to book theory tests, and that currently there are practical tests available but as no theory testing is taking place this means they can’t be taken up.
Bookings on hold
NASP pointed out that instructors had not been informed that the on-hold system had been reinstated when booking L tests, and this made it difficult to answer queries from members. NASP asked what advice it should offer to instructors using the system. DVSA said it was useful to keep these bookings together to determine the best thing for individuals, and that they were currently looking at the booking system and working on it to decide the best way forward. This would include a review of the message in the system to make it clearer what candidates should do with an on-hold booking.
It was pointed out that the advice is different for parts 2 and 3 that are on hold, because these are resourced differently by DVSA.
NASP stated that currently there are empty slots not being used, sometimes because of the no notice cancellation policy and asked whether the reinstatement of the cancellation fee would help. DVSA said that the rate of failed to attends was much the same as previous and there hadn’t been much fluctuation, and said that the return to seven tests a day may be an opportune time to review the policy.
Trainee licences and part 3
NASP asked about extensions to trainee licences as this situation was causing stress and added costs to trainees. DVSA said that these come under different regulations to the theory test and that there is no provision in law to grant any extensions. The regulations stipulate a six-month licence so there is nothing DVSA can do, however, the regulations are silent on when licences should be issued.
There had been a number of people coming to the end of their two years in January-March 2021 who had applied for their licence, including payment. DVSA had been able to hold these applications until they were needed. DVSA can’t accept an application after the expiry of part 1, however, they can hold it until the PDI is able to use it. DVSA pointed out the importance to emphasise to trainees that they should contact the Registrar’s office early so that they can offer advice and be flexible. There is no ‘one size fits all’ or generic advice and people need to get in touch. Part 2 and 3 tests will be reviewed in the light of any changes in social distancing rules.
DVSA pointed out that the ADI team are mainly still working from home with few people in the office. However, there had been a substantial increase in the amount of mail going into the office and asked if NASP could encourage ADIs to contact the office online email@example.com or by phone 0300 200 1122 and press 25 when options become available.
Test centre waiting rooms.
NASP asked whether all waiting rooms will be fully reopened. DVSA said that no decisions had been made and these would be driven by government advice, however the majority were now open. Others continue to be reviewed.
Third party booking sites
NASP complained about the use of third party booking sites that appeared to be able to find and book tests before instructors and the general public. This is putting an unnecessary strain on instructors and causing many candidates to accept a test with no consultation with their instructor and consequently attempting the test in their own car with very little professional training. NASP urged DVSA to implement measures to stop this happening.
DVSA is aware of this and discussions were ongoing with DVSA’s firewall supplier to introduce new rules to challenge these sites, and stated that there is a gradual reduction in the level of searches people can make without impacting normal bookings. Companies are constantly finding ways round any blocks we implement to get tests. DVSA also pointed out that some instructors may be misusing and if that was found to be true, the Registrar could take some action. NASP requested that DVSA issue communications to explain the situation to instructors.
B+E test allocations
NASP had raised a complaint around the allocation of B+E tests and asked if it was an individual issue or more general. It appeared that smaller trainers had a perception that they are being overlooked in favour of the large companies for tests. DVSA replied that allocations get spread amongst trainers and that currently demand is very high with B+E competing with other vocational tests, and as the tests increase it should help ease the situation and that the trainer booking system sends requests to DVSA.
NASP asked about plans to accommodate electric vehicles and whether any consideration was being given to how DVSA will work in future. DVSA noted that the review to their five-year strategy will include looking at the short term and longer-term situation regarding new technology.
NASP pointed out the gradual swing in demand towards automatic lessons, however instructors invest a lot of money in their cars and, understandably are reluctant to invest in new cars when they don’t really know where the future lies. NASP asked whether there was any different show me/tell me questions being considered to keep up with the new technology and any new training instructors would need to consider.
DVSA said that they were already seeing an influx of electric and hybrid vehicles, with a shift towards retarding/deceleration on electric vehicles to the point where it becomes braking with lights showing at the rear. These are acceptable for use on test and technical updates are given to driving examiners. The use of reversing cameras is acceptable on test (with appropriate observations), but self-parking cars are still not, although it will come in the future.
DVSA will keep abreast of new developments and allow them at the right time and said it would be useful to have information from instructors on when they would be likely to invest in the new technology. NASP asked whether there would come a time when DVSA would stop allowing diesels on tests. DVSA replied, that this was already impacting at test centres in the ULEZ in London, and schools were upgrading their fleet.
NASP raised concern about some situations where poor communication from DVSA had made it difficult to keep instructors updated. One incident had been a situation where an MPTC had not had toilets open for candidates, but there had been no communication to make people aware and it took a long time to get answers. DVSA apologised for this issue and would look into what had gone wrong on this occasion.
DVSA said that the aim was slicker communications, that instructors would be sent targeted comms, and that there were investigations when things didn’t work as they should. NASP accepted that and pointed out that when associations initiate a complaint it’s important that we receive information to pass back to members as soon as possible to allow them to give a proper service to their customers.
Another issue highlighted with no reply was it was reported a lot of tests were being cancelled and moved back in the Taunton area, with nothing more than an email stating examiner no longer available. This is really unfair when these candidates have had their tests moved several times. DVSA stated they had checked and at the moment, that test centre seemed to be operating fine but would look into the issue a bit further, however they were trying to avoid cancellations in order to run as smoothly as possible.
NASP asked if there was any new information regarding how standards checks would be conducted as there had been further rumours of changes. DVSA replied, there would be an update going to all instructors regarding standards checks in the near future. The engagement calls from the enforcement officer conducting the test, recently introduced, would help to put people in a good position for their standards check.
Recruitment of examiners
DVSA received 5,000 applications to the initial campaign and were continuing with the process, and if for any reason they do not get enough after the first trawl they would do a second campaign. NASP asked how many examiners they were looking to take on to help solve the exceptionally long waiting times. DVSA have advised that they are in the process of recruiting around 300 additional examiners.
Safe Driving for Life website
NASP suggested that the early launch of this upgrade’s website was premature considering as a lot of the included material was outdated and asked if we could view the pages and offer updates, DVSA agreed.
DVSA stated the site would develop further with the help of instructors and learners and hoped the full launch would be within the next month.