Why driving tests aren’t considered key service in Britain?

For years, my partner did not felt too much pressure to have her driving license done. She was happy to commute by public transport, and when we were going somewhere together I was driving and I never complained about it. It was only after I was unable to drive for the longer period of time due to head injury when she realized it might be, indeed, a good idea for her to finally get a full driving license. And so we trained, driving around on L-plates and when she felt ready, she went for her driving test in January next year. The first attempt was unsuccessful, we weren’t in hurry, so the next test was booked for late March. Unfortunately, the pandemic came, and the test was postponed. First till early November. Then till February. Now it has been postponed indefinitely. Soon it will be a year. And during this year we’ve learned how important it is to be independent. Especially during the pandemics. 

During this year I had another accident and I injured my knee. My partner, who by this time became a pretty capable driver, was driving me to my physiotherapy. Still on L-plates, as she still only holds a provisional licence. Sometimes it was inconvenient: when we needed to go shopping, I had to be in the car, then I had to sit in it outside the supermarket, as, firstly, I was barely able to walk, and secondly, only one person was allowed inside due to COVID regulations. Usually, we go together to work and I drop her off outside her job on the way to mine. Now it’s impossible, and due to not being able to drive alone, she had to walk. This was annoying, but of course, this is not a big deal for us.

But I quickly learned that other people have it more difficult. Someone had been promised a new, dream job on the condition of obtaining a driving license. With the driving test being postponed, that proved impossible. And the employer cannot afford to wait for a year.

Someone else is a carer. Travels regularly to Scottish Highlands by bus, visiting elderly parent. With COVID lockdown the bus services were severely reduced and it became impossible for that person to travel – unless she would get a driving license. Alas, this was impossible, and with her husband doing extra hours in his NHS job, she had to rely on her truck driver friend to give her a lift (which, unlike driving her own car if she had a driving license, was technically illegal).

Another man I spoke with wanted to progress his career as a lorry driver and upgrade his driving license from C to C+E. Again, the test was postponed. Meanwhile, the company lost business due to COVID and had to reshape its operation. As result, some class 2 drivers were made redundant (including the man who told me that story), while the company had to employ new class 1 driver. And so, instead of improving his earnings thanks to newly obtained qualification he now has to support his disabled wife and unemployed daughter by delivering shopping in the van for one of the supermarket chains…

Yet another person lost her job and was desperate to find any employment. She wanted to get her licence and get into the food delivery business, which is booming nowadays, and yet it’s impossible. Yet another one also lost her job and found new one further from home, and now has to commute for nearly 90 minutes each way (provided that she’ll make bus/train connection) on the route, that would take her, even during rush hours, at most 30 minutes via the motorway. She wanted to drive there, she even bought a car, which now sits on her driveway, as she is also unable to pass her test.

There are many reasons why people might not only want but genuinely need to pass their driving license test during the pandemics. This is why in many other European countries the tests are taking place. True, sometimes during the harshest lockdowns the exam centres are closed, in other times both candidates and examiners have to wear masks and gloves and the vehicles are to be disinfected after each test. That also causes delays. But those delays can be counted in weeks (Poland) or at worst months (Republic of Ireland), not in years, like in Britain, where the tests are not considered essential service and no exams are being conducted for nearly a year now.

I wrote to my local MSP about it (or, technically, to an MSP from the constituency next door, as she is the person dealing with the transport issues). My concern was understood, and she wrote to DVSA. Today I was e-mailed their answer. This is one of the most polite answers from the category “We won’t even address your concerns, this is our decision, bugger off” I ever saw. Not only there will be no tests, but also the validity of theory tests will not be extended, so after the COVID limitations end many learner drivers will have to re-sit their theory test and then join a long queue of candidates – as the testing centres, apart from covering current needs, will have to work through a year (or more) long backlog of driver candidates.

So when you have to rely on random truck driver to give you a lift so you can take care of your elderly parent, when you spent 3 hours a day on a crowded train to get to your work, or when you stand in the queue outside Job Centre to sign up for your universal credit as you’re unable to take a new job without a driving license, remember, that DVSA does it all because for them the “main priority must be that everyone is safe” and because they had to “take action”. It just happens that the action they took is to do absolutely nothing for nearly a year.



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