DRIVING instructors in west and north Wiltshire say the current 17-week wait for driving tests is probably the worst they have ever known.

There are 420,000 learners across the UK waiting to take their driving tests and Chippenham and Trowbridge test centres are fully booked until October.

Most instructors are having to turn away would-be pupils because they already have waiting lists and can’t cope with the demand for lessons.

Duncan Hamilton-Sheen, who runs L with Duncan driving school in Westbury, said: “It is the worst I have ever known. There is nothing until October 10.

“I have one pupil who has been ready to take his test since March 31 2020 but has been unable to because of lockdowns.”

The pupil, who lives in Devizes, has since been given four new test dates and been forced to retake his theory test last July because it had expired.

He now hopes to pass his driving test on September 8 at the Trowbridge centre but has so far had only three driving lessons since Christmas because of the third lockdown.

“It’s a postcode lottery,” said Mr Hamilton-Sheen, 57, of Leighton Park West. “Depending on where you are, there are tests available, particularly in the north of England.”

Alan Sherman, of Alan’s Driving School in Trowbridge, said: “I can’t get a test centre booking anywhere locally. Trowbridge is fully booked until the end of September.

“The backlog is the probably worst it has ever been in the 25 years that I have known it.” Richard Indge, 54, who runs Richard’s Driving School in Avebury Road, Chippenham, said: “I have never known it be so busy as this. I think it is the worst I have ever experienced in 30 years.”

“We have got a backlog of pupils and the driving test centres have got a backlog in people trying to book a test.”

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency said the national average waiting time for a driving test is 17 weeks.

The Bristol-based agency is busy recruiting an extra 300 driving examiners and hopes to reduce the tests backlog by the summer.

Its chief driving examiner Mark Winn said there is “high demand” for tests, and those who fail may have to wait a long time before getting a new test.

He added: “We know many learners have waited a long time to take their driving test, so now tests have restarted, we want them to be ready and to pass first time.

“That means learners should only take their driving test if they are completely ready to pass, and feel they’ve had sufficient practice driving on a variety of roads and in different conditions.”

“Thousands of people fail their test every year because of common errors which are potentially dangerous and avoidable.

“Learners should discuss their current driving skill levels with their instructor and make sure they’ve had enough lessons so they can drive safely and are ready to pass their test first time.”

DVSA is recruiting new examiners to help reduce the backlog of driving tests caused by the pandemic, receiving over 5,000 applications and plans to recruit up to 300 people.

The agency expects to offer an additional 2,500 car tests per month across the country by booking them at weekends and Bank Holidays. This will increase as coronavirus restrictions lift in May and new driving examiners start in post.

Since April 12, most of the theory test centres in England and Wales have offered extended opening hours.

In addition, ten new temporary theory test centres will be opened to create an extra 120,000 theory test slots per month.

DVSA added: “The extra capacity should help to clear the backlog for theory tests by late summer.”

Candidates with theory tests booked later this year can look for an earlier test date at: https://www.gov.uk/change-theory-test

Learners who feel they need more confidence and practice before taking their test are able to reschedule their test free of charge on GOV.UK. This will help them to avoid a lengthy wait for a retest and help the DVSA by not adding to the backlog of tests.

Learners with tests from April 22 who do not feel prepared can choose a new date for free at www.gov.uk/change-driving-test.