Revealed: the huge backlog of driving tests in Greater Manchester that could take until 2024 to clear

Staggeringly, more than 130,000 budding motorists will be trying to claim tests slots across the city-region this year and next, researchers have found.

Greater Manchester has the second-longest driving test backlog of any area in the UK - and it could take until New Year’s Day 2024 to clear.

The shocking statistic was uncovered by learner driver insurers Marmalade which sent Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and used national statistics data to analyse the situation in test centres across the country.

The research suggests that more than 130,000 young people could be seeking test slots in Greater Manchester in 2022-23.

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) says it is doing all it can to clear the backlog but currently a significant number of drivers are having to sit their test more than once.

What does the data show for Greater Manchester?

To gauge the size of the driving test backlog Marmalade sent FOI requests to the DVSA and combined those with Office for National Statistics (ONS) data.

It found that in February, 8,487 learner drivers could not book a test slot and were put into a roll-over.

Only London had a larger number, with more than 27,000 drivers unable to take their tests in the capital.

Driving test passes in Northampton have dropped to less than a third of last year's total.

Marmalade’s analysis suggests a whopping 136,982 learners will battle for test slots across 2022-23 in Greater Manchester.

And it has suggested it make take until 1 January 2024 to clear the city-region’s backlog.

Why does Marmalade think this is happening?

The company suggested there could be numerous reasons for the large backlog in driving tests.

These include the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic which meant budding motorists were unable to sit their tests, declining numbers of driving instructors and a baby boom around 17 years ago which means there is currently a larger cohort of young people in the age group for learning to drive and trying to pass their tests.

How did Marmalade arrive at its conclusions?

The insurance firm asked for data on all tests booked for 2022 as well as gross demand for tests through the DVSA across all of 2021.

After analysing Office for National Statistics 2021 driving test data, the team was able to establish an average capacity for practical testing across the UK.

Beyond this month, the rollover will continue to compound each month for the next 21 months as test-ready learners build and capacity for testing struggles to cover demand.

Capacity only becomes available from January 2024 onwards, which means another two years of delays, extra costs and frustration for thousands of learners across Greater Manchester, the firm said.

What has the DVSA said?

The DVSA has said it is doing what it can to get learners through the test centres.

This includes offering overtime and annual leave buy-back to examiners, asking people who have stopped doing tests but are qualified to do them to return, inviting recently-retired examiners to come back and allowing tests to be done at weekends and on public holidays.

A campaign has also been launched to recruit another 300 examiners and a consultation has been set up on how the driving test could be improved.

The DVSA also suggested learners struggling to book at their preferred test centre should look if there are free slots at others reasonably nearby.

It also suggested that recently the number of learners failing to pass has gone up, meaning there are more tests to be booked.

DVSA chief executive, Loveday Ryder, said: “We are doing all we can to provide as many tests as possible so we can get our services back to normal.

“I know learners will be keen to take their test now, but it is important that they are properly prepared for their test and don’t take it before they are ready.

“With more than half of candidates failing, and demand currently extremely high for tests, learners should only take their test only when they are confident they can pass.

“This will help them to avoid a lengthy wait for a retest and help us by not adding to the driving test waiting list.”

What did Marmalade say?

The insurance firm said the DVSA’s words about increasing capacity was not necessarily matched by actions on the ground which has seen test centre close down, including in Greater Manchester.

Crispin Moger, CEO of Marmalade, said: “Learner drivers have been consistently impacted as a result of the pandemic and the 2020 and 2021 lockdowns.

“We have seen the biggest-ever backlog in access to driving tests and for many this will have set them back quite considerably in their journey to getting on the road or perhaps even ended it for some.

“The DVSA has said it is offering overtime to examiners and rolling out a recruitment drive to increase capacity, while also closing down test centres across the UK as well as we’ve seen recently in the likes of Manchester.”