My son turned 17 nearly a year ago and we bought him a course of driving lessons for his birthday. We knew it would be expensive but figured he’d pass the theory test, have some lessons and then pass the practical. Little did we know that this would take nearly a year and some serious dedication to the cause, from me!
Getting on a course with a recommended driving instructor is as challenging and nerve-wracking as getting into a good catchment school. I kid you not. But why?
The reason is that the students who are currently with the instructors are not passing first, second or even third time. Obviously, there are a few who do, but on the whole, my experience is that the kids are just not getting through. Why? Are the tests harder? Is this a money-making scheme after the losses in Covid?
My son and his friends are definitely at a disadvantage because our nearest test centre is not in an area that we regularly go to. These are not streets they are overly familiar with, yes a road is a road, but it does help your nerves if you know the roads you are being tested on, or if you know there’s a great big pothole, or that around the next corner there’s usually a queue of traffic.
One glorious day the instructor says, “I think you are ready for your test.”
For anyone who hasn’t had the joy of booking a driving test in the last year or so, let me help you with what you need to do. There’s no, “What day do you have a lesson?” or “Would an afternoon suit your schedule better son?” This is where I had to step up. My son was sitting his A-levels and it became apparent that a serious amount of time was going to be required to get a driving test booked, so in I stepped.
I was told to buy the app Testi for £9.99 to secure a cancellation. I was to book a test anywhere in the country and then get a cancellation via the app for the centre we’d selected on a day that suited. I booked Carlisle for six months in the future then duly logged into Testi and waited. And waited. And waited. Nothing came through. Then one evening loads of dates fired through. Click. Sorry, no dates. All the dates were gone before I could log in. Literally, in seconds the dates had disappeared and I was back to the familiar blank screen of ‘there are no dates at your chosen centre’.
I decided to skip Testi and go direct to the DVSA website following the instructions to ‘change my driving test date’. Originally you were allowed up to ten changes, now it’s down to six. Refresh, refresh, refresh. It took a few days to see the pattern of when dates were most likely to become available. I spent hours on this, my whole day off in fact. This is why I had to do it, my son was studying (and anyone with a reluctant student will know that no distraction is to be offered), and I really wanted him to pass so I could stop paying for lessons. We did stand down on the lessons, just enough to keep him in the mode but not going at it. Finally, I got a test. But it was for tomorrow!
This is the thing, the cancellations can vary from next week to tomorrow. Once the instructor says “get a test”, you need to be ready at very short notice.
Test 1 Dec 2021 – Failed. Someone walked out in front of him and the examiner wasn’t 100% confident that my son had gauged the seriousness of this. He did stop unaided and the person was totally fine. But fail he did.
Test 2 March 2022 – Failed. Major hesitation.
Test 3 July 2022 – Pass- whoop whoop!
At one point between booking tests 2 and 3, I had to call the DVSA and during the course of our friendly and frank chat, I asked how many tests were the average before passing. 4 or 5 he said. I nearly fell over. That’s £68 per test!
Highest pass rate 1st attempt – Dorcester 67.3%
Lowest pass rate 1st attempt – Erith 28.5%
- Book the theory test well in advance.
- Secure your preferred instructor, well at least get on their waiting list.
- Don’t bother with any booking apps, their feed is too slow.
- DVSA website direct.
- Book anywhere at any time.
- Change your test up to 6 times.
- Be ready at short notice.
- Remember your instructor may not be ready at short notice as they have lessons already booked.
- You can go to a test in your own car. You will need a spare rear view mirror, no warning lights on the dashboard and to know how the car works i.e how to operate your fog lights.
- You can have a passenger in the back (which is a good idea because if you fail you have someone who knows what happened) like the person stepping out (test 1). The passenger cannot utter a sound or you will fail.
- You can appeal a fail but you’d probably get more feedback by throwing a message in a bottle out to sea. Pointless.
- Average driving lesson rate per hour £23. It’s often cheapest to buy a block of lessons. This is good early on as you will definitely use them. You need to negotiate with the instructor as the test comes nearer but expect to go onto an hourly rate which is usually dearer (£30). Remember if you do the test in their car you will have to pay for the whole time you are using the car, this can be 3 hours – a lesson before the test, the test and returning home after the test which depends on the distance from your centre & the time the journey takes.
- Average number of driving hours to passing 47 hours = £1081
- Theory Test £23
- Practical Test £68 per test
- Insurance – sell a kidney. We are using Marmalade after much research, a specialist young drivers provider.
As every driver knows, each trip is different so on the day of the test you need to hope the Gods of Driving are on your side and that with the wind behind you, you’ll pass.
Finally, my son is free.
And now I get to worry about something bigger, faster and more dangerous than the BMX that used to terrorise me. I feel like I want to put an orange light on his roof so everyone can see it contains special cargo and to be very, very careful near him. I’ll probably never sleep again!