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Learner drivers in Kent forced to apply for tests 100 miles away in Portsmouth due to backlog, says Rochester driving instructor

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A driving instructor has hit out at the "scandalous" wait for driving tests which has built up during lockdown, with learner drivers forced to apply for a slot 100 miles away in Portsmouth.

Jeremy Fox, who runs Elite Driving Tuition, based in Rochester, is also angry his clients are having to travel to Southend in Essex to take their theory exam.

Driving instructor Jeremy Fox
Driving instructor Jeremy Fox

He said: "Candidates are finding it impossible to book a theory at the Chatham centre, no matter how far ahead they look. It's clearly ridiculous."

Mr Fox has accused the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency of "falling asleep at the wheel" for not being prepared for the backlog when pandemic restrictions were relaxed.

He feels that driving instructors should have been treated as key workers to train people to drive, which may have alleviated the continuing problem of a shortage of lorry drivers which, in turn, has led to empty shelves in shops.

He said: "There is a national shortage of lorry drivers. To become a lorry driver, taxi driver, airline or RAF pilot or train or underground driver, you have to have a car licence.

"To get a licence, you have to pass a test, but you can't get a test."

"This will mean more lessons for learners, with more expense and more stress and less tests booked."

Mr Fox has also criticised new measures introduced by the DVSA last month which penalise instructors for the number of mistakes learners make on their test.

He said: "The DVSA will deny it's a punishment. They will say it is a positive way to improve a driving instructor's skills. But that is just smoke and mirrors. It's a punishment. So every mistake one of my customers make in their driving test is recorded against me."

Mr Fox, 63, said he would only enter a student for the test if he thought they would pass but said other factors, such as nerves, could affect their performance behind the wheel on the day.

He believes it will lead to instructors encouraging their clients to do more lessons to ensure they don't fall foul of the new criteria and risk losing their instructor's licence.

He said: "This will mean more lessons for learners, with more expense and more stress and less tests booked.

"It has been very stressful trying to get a test date. At one point there were not any tests until 2023, which is ridiculous."

"The DVSA keeps a record for each instructor and they are proposing that an examiner will call you to discuss your record. I say 'whose record?' It's not mine. I haven't taken the driving test."

Mr Fox, who has run his business for 33 years, added: "On my last review, I got an A-grade with a perfect score, which is rare. But under this system that counts for nothing."

University student Georgia Erangey has been taking driving lessons on and off for more than a year.

She said: "It's been like one step forward and two steps backward because of lockdown.

"It has been very stressful trying to get a test date. At one point there were not any tests until 2023, which is ridiculous."

Learner driver Georgia Erangey
Learner driver Georgia Erangey

After finally getting a date in Canterbury in February from the DVSA site, she became eligible to apply for cancellations via the Testi app.

Georgia said: "You have to be very quick. I tried about 10 times getting up at 5am and finally got an earlier appointment."

The 20-year-old, who is training to be a teacher, added: "I'm hoping to get a job next year, but I will need to get a licence first."

DVSA Approved Driving Instructor Registrar Jacqui Turland said: “DVSA is committed to helping drivers through a lifetime of safe driving.

“Making changes to the way we prioritise ADIs for standards checks will help DVSA to identify approved driving instructors who appear to be bringing pupils for driving tests who may not be properly prepared to drive unaccompanied safely, and support all instructors in providing the best level of training.

“High-quality instruction leads to high-quality learner drivers who are better prepared to drive independently.”

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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