Sitting and passing your driving test used to be a rite of passage for most 17 and 18 year olds. In recent years however, many have had their learning slowed first by the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent delays. If you’re currently learning to drive, or live with a teenager who is, here is the ultimate guide to everything you need to know about booking your practical driving test.
There are a few things you need before even thinking about booking a slot for your practical driving test. These are:
Once you’ve passed your theory test and your instructor has confirmed that he thinks you are at the right standard to pass a formal test, then it’s time to book a slot. This is done through the DVSA website – just enter “book a practical driving test” into a search engine and click on the DVSA link. There are a few steps to go through first. You will have to enter your driver number, which is the long string of letters and numbers on the front of your driving licence. You will also be asked to enter the pass number from your theory yest. There is also an option field for your driving instructor’s number. Filling this in is not compulsory, but helps avoid situations where two of an instructor’s students have booked test slots at the same time, and there is only one car available for them to take the test in.
You are also asked to put in your home postcode so that the system can suggest slots at the nearest centre to your home address. You can easily change to looking for slots at a more distant from home centre if this suits your instructor, or you, better. Driving tests are usually released 24 weeks in advance. Once you have a slot booked, you can then swap to a different slot or centre.
The Covid-19 pandemic meant that no driving tests happened for months, and this has created a huge backlog of learners desperately trying to get a test slot. In summer 2022, research by the AA showed that across the UK, the number of people waiting to sit a driving test is around half a million. Many learners are finding that slots are snapped up as soon as they are released, and the average wait for a new slot in many parts of the UK is as long as six months. The DVSA has stated the aim of reducing the longest waits to 10 weeks by the end of the year, but this is dependent on recruiting new examiners and freeing up more slots for learners.
There is the separate issue of expiring theory test certificates. Learners must pass a theory test before applying for a practical test, but the pass certificate is only valid for 2 years. When the delay for getting a practical slot can be as long as six months, and bearing in mind that a large number of learners fail their first one or two tests, it’s not inconceivable that a theory test expires before a learner has managed to pass the practical test. If you are in that situation, it may be worth exploring other options such as trying to secure a slot at a centre which wouldn’t be your first choice, or at a different time of day. You have complete freedom over where you pass your theory test and there is no difference between passes in different parts of the country.
One of the benefits to the driving test booking system is that once you have booked one slot, you have the option to switch to another slot of your choosing. This doesn’t have to meant that you bring your driving test forward. It might be that as your driving test approaches, you realise that you are not quite at test standard and need a bit more time, or even fall ill a few days before your test. If you go online and shift your existing test for one in a few months, this frees up your original slot for someone else.
If you are one of those people who find the only available slot is months in the future, then the best advice is to book that slot. You have to have a slot booked before you can even think about swapping it for another one. Once you’ve paid the money to secure your slot, you can start looking for ways at getting a test more quickly. If you are sitting the test in your own car rather than relying on the instructor’s, this gives more flexibility for you to think about just how far you are prepared to travel to sit your driving test. Remember: any car in which you are thinking of sitting a driving test in must be roadworthy and safe. Check the tyre tread depths, make sure the battery is charged and that the car has proper insurance and a valid MOT check. Testers can go online to look at your MOT status too.
There are two main ways of getting an earlier slot for your practical driving test than the one you have booked which might be many months away. The first is to log regularly into the DVSA website and try to change your test for a sooner one. When you log in, you will be able to see your current booked appointment, and whether there are any sooner spaces. The DVSA says that most new slots are released on a Monday, and many learners will sit hitting the refresh button in the hope of getting a cancellation.
This policy has proved controversial in recent months. Several large companies with automated software were found to be logging into the driving test booking system and booking up hundreds of test slots at £73 seconds after they were released. They were then offering these slots to learners at upwards of £200 each. There was understandable outrage about these practices, and the government has reconfigured its website. This is why you are likely to be asked to complete Captcha boxes, or log back into the website after a period of inactivity.
The other option is to make use of one of the apps such a Testi which will help you find a slot. This is an app which you can download to your smartphone. Although the basic features of this app are free, most learners choose to buy the premium version. Set up your Testi account with your driver number, pass number and preferred booking centre and the date of your test. The app will then use this information to constantly monitor availability of tests at your chosen centre, and ping an alert to your phone whenever a date sooner than the one you have booked becomes available. If you have paid for the premium service, you can hit the book button and let the app book your new slot for you.
Many people have managed to bring their test dates forward using the Testi app, but with a 500,000 backlog, you have to act immediately when the notification comes through. It is not just you being notified; it is potentially hundreds of other learners in your area waiting for slots too. If you haven’t paid for the premium service you will still receive the notification but won’t be able to book through the app, and by the time you’ve logged into the DVSA website, the slot is likely to have disappeared. Hopefully, if the backlog eases and slots start to become more widely available, it will become easier to get practical slots in 2023 and beyond.
You have two years from the date of passing your theory test to sit and pass your practical test. If you haven’t been able to pass your driving test within that period, then your only option is to sit – and pass – the theory test again. Learners can minimise the chances of this happening by thinking carefully about only booking a slot for their theory test when they are sure that they will pass, and when they are already driving at a standard which suggests they should be able to pass a practical test in the next six months. This still gives plenty of time for a fail (or two) before the theory test runs out.
If you have had to hand your driving licence back because you have been disqualified from driving for a period, then you are treated as any other brand new learner, who has never passed a test. So start in the same way by sitting a theory test and once you have passed that, then you are free to book a practical test at a convenient time. Remember that even though you may have passed a driving test before, you are still not allowed to drive legally until you have passed for a second time and received that valuable pass certificate. After a successful test, you will be given the paperwork which you need to send off to the DVLA to receive your full driving licence in the post.
The pass rate for the practical driving test is just 52%, so on average, you’re just as likely to fail a driving test as you are to pass it. Failing is not uncommon, but the good news is that the examiner will tell you why you have failed so you can concentrate on brushing up on those skills for your second attempt. The law states that you have to leave ten working days between failing one test and booking another. At present, you are unlikely to be able to get a slot with such short notice anyway. After a fail the same advice applies. Book any slot you can, however far away in time, at your preferred driving test centre. Then either use the DVSA website, or an app such as Testi, to try to get a slot sooner.
Learners in Northern Ireland have a different system for booking driving tests. Drivers still have to pass a theory test and then a practical test, and only drivers with a residential address in Northern Ireland can book a theory or practical in Northern Ireland. If you are learning to drive in Northern Ireland, there is full information on the NI Direct website, and your instructor will know the ins and outs of the system in detail.