Learners driven up the wall by testing queue

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Learner drivers wanting to book tests in Argyll and Bute say they have been referred hundreds of miles away in a chaotic ‘free for all’.

Lockdown cancelled driving tests booked by thousands of people across the UK until tests slots re-opened online again last month.

However, some test centres remain closed – including Oban and Islay – and the number and frequency of tests was reduced – sparking a stampede.

It has seen learners in places like Mull referred to test centres in Inverness and Paisley.

People in Lochgilphead have been expected to be put through their paces on roads in Glasgow, Dumbarton or Greenock.

As well as being far from where they took lessons and learned their test route, it will also cost more as their driving instructors have to accompany them on test day.

There are also reports of learners from England and Wales having secured tests in Scotland but then trying to book lessons with instructors in Argyll and Bute, said Amy Bruce, of Lochgilphead.

Amy Bruce.

The 35-year-old bought a car months ago that she has not been able to drive and was all geared up to sit her test in Lochgilphead on March 25 when lockdown was imposed.

Having had a booked test, she had hoped that would be honoured when tests re-opened.

Instead, when tests were made available again, she was referred to Dumbarton, Greenock and Glasgow, the latter being the most difficult place to pass a driving test in Scotland due to its high failure rates.

Miss Bruce has now secured a test in Inveraray but faces a wait until mid-December.

Like many others, she has missed out on months of honing her skills and called the situation a ‘free for all’ which had been handled atrociously.

She added: ‘Even experienced drivers get nervous driving in new areas, so to seriously consider this as an option for people is irresponsible and upsetting.

‘We do not have the years of experience of driving to be able to just sit a test anywhere. This is not why I have spent thousands of pounds with a local instructor to learn the test route to pass my test.

‘Passing your test is just that, it is not the same as learning to drive.’

Jamie Blair.

Jamie Blair, 17, of Tarbert, had intended to sit his test in Lochgilphead.

He feels the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) ‘ignored’ the needs of people in rural areas when releasing tests.

‘Driving tests are being given to pupils from the cities where public transport systems are much more frequent,’ said Jamie.

‘However, in a place like Tarbert a driving licence and a car is a necessity for many young people like me.’

The lack of a driving licence limited graduate job opportunities and university chances, he said.

University applicants are required to demonstrate volunteering – difficult without access to a car, he said.

Nor did his father’s work commitments make him available to ‘taxi’ him around.

MP Brendan O'Hara speaking at Westminster last week.
MP Brendan O’Hara.

Argyll and Bute MP Brendan O’Hara has been overwhelmed by constituents complaining and has called the lack of local tests ‘unacceptable’.

Mr O’Hara said: ‘It’s not acceptable that those living in this large, rural area are expected to have to travel so far for a driving test.

‘This costs time and money. It would be safer all round for test centres to be available locally, avoiding the need for people to be travelling further than they need to.’

He has raised the issue with Grant Shapps, transport secretary for the UK Government. Mr O’ Hara received a reply from roads minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton.

She said the pandemic had presented an ‘unprecedented challenge’ and speedy resumption of driving tests was a ‘complex process’.

The DVSA had started to restore services but new procedures were required to keep people safe, she said.

To increase the number of tests available to learners, this week the DVSA extended the test bookings period from six to 18 weeks. The move created more than 375,000 more test slots until the end of January next year.

She added: ‘Oban driving test centre (DTC) is currently closed to the public. However, arrangements are in place to carry out a health and safety assessment shortly to allow tests to resume.

‘Test slots for Oban will be released this week for dates in November and December.’

‘The DVSA is releasing test slots for Isle of Mull, Isle of Tiree and Inveraray
DTCs this week for November and December 2020.’

She said the driving test centre on Islay remained closed but the DVSA was looking into when it will be safe to re-open it ‘as soon as possible’.

She said: ‘Any candidates on the hold list will receive priority booking for these dates before they are released to the general public.’