Driving Instructor Shortage and Test Delays

We need more driving instructors to ease the pressure when learning to drive resumes, allowing learning to get back on the road


By Marmalade Author

Updated on Mar 25th, 2021

Since we launched our research which called for more driving instructors into the industry we have been plunged into two further lockdowns, one in November/December and another since January 2021. More lockdowns mean more driving test cancellations, adding to an already growing backlog of tests. 

Our original research didn’t specifically take into account the impact of the pandemic, we were focussing on young learners and instructors. We noted a baby boom in 2003/4 meaning more people were turning 17 years-old in 2020. This compounded by the annual decline in registered driving instructors (ADIs) means there was already a backlog in 2020, which we forecasted to increase over the next ten years. 

With that in mind and with our initial research predicting 2021 to pose the biggest delays for driving tuition in almost a decade, we have now taken a deeper dive to get a realistic view of how big the issue really is.

What does the backlog currently look like?

We have looked at Office for National Statistics and DVSA data and have compiled new insight from driving schools and instructors, as well as the Approved Driving Instructors National Joint Council (ADINJC).

First, it’s worth noting the problem that the pandemic has caused. We have campaigned extensively around the amount of money learners have lost through expired theory test certificates during the last 12 months. But as well as lost money, tuition has been paused for many and access to tests has been limited. In total, 2020 saw 149 days of delays, while in 2021 by the time tests restart, there will have been a further 112 days without driving tests. 

According to the latest release of registered driving instructor data this month, there were 38,778 registered ADIs as of December 2020. A 2.34% decline on the previous year. In an average year, data from Statista shows there is on average 1.6 million driving tests taken in the UK. Using this figure, we can calculate that on average 133,333 tests are taken monthly, which works out at 4,444 per day.

 Based on these numbers and what we know about the number of delays in 2020 and 2021, this means there have been on average 662,222 tests delayed in 2020 and 497,778 in 2021. As tests restart in April and based on these figures, we estimate a backlog of 1,160,000 driving tests in the UK. This figure encompasses the whole picture, not just those that have been cancelled by the DVSA due to the pandemic as has been reported. Based on this average number of tests per year, our estimates represent a backlog of nearly 9 months - 8.7 to be exact.

But what does this backlog mean for the instructor shortages problem we have already noted in previous research? Well, based on the latest ADI figures and this backlog of tests, there is on average 29.91 learners per instructor, a number which is considerably higher than our previous estimates. But, what does this mean for instructor availability and workload?  

What are instructors saying their capacity is right now?

Commenting on the research and offering insight from his own instructors, Matt Stone, director at Let’s Instruct Driving Instructor Academy said: 

“We have part time and full time instructors and we are counting ‘live pupils’ as ones they are currently teaching and ones they have on waiting lists. All instructors are full and refusing pupils from us, driving lesson lengths vary per pupil but are mostly 1.5 hours or two hours long.

“Our average amount of ‘live pupils’ per instructor at Let’s Instruct Driving School:

Part time instructors – 17 pupils

Full time instructors – 31 pupils

“Most instructors run 1.5 hour lessons as standard, so 23 pupils is full capacity and if they run two hour lessons, 17 pupils would be full capacity.

“We are receiving enquiries daily and we only expect these to increase as we get closer to the 12th April when lessons restart. We expect driving lesson prices to rise over the next six months and pupils to have to join a waiting list before starting driving lessons. We hope the knock-on effect of this will be an increase in the income for driving instructors which in turn will attract not only more people into the industry but potentially people from professional backgrounds as well.”

So how overworked are instructors right now?

By taking our own estimates at the current nationwide capacity of driving instructors and also Let’s Instruct Driving School (LIDS) insight of driving instructors actual capacity, as well as the school’s estimations around what counts as full capacity, we can now estimate how busy instructors are. 

Below we have taken the average capacity between our estimate using the data from Statista and the ONS (29.91) and LIDS data which shows their instructors actual current capacity (31) to find a nationwide average

Average demand for Instructors Estimated average full capacity (1.5 hr lessons) Estimated average full capacity (2 hr lessons)
30.46 LPI 23 LPI 17 LPI

Using this average, we have calculated the percentage difference between LIDS recommendations of what a full capacity number of learners is per instructor for those running 1.5 hour and two hour lessons. We have then taken an average of the two percentage differences to find how over capacity instructors currently are with the backlog.

Average over-capacity per driving instructor Percentage over-capacity (1.5 hour lessons) Percentage over-capacity (2 hour lessons)
55.81% 32.43% 79.18%

Driving instructors in the UK are on average 55.81% over capacity according to our estimations

This is a problem which is only set to remain and potentially increase unless more instructors join the profession to help teach learners. For learners, this means more of a wait to access professional tuition as well as backlogs when it comes to taking the driving test.

What does the representative body for driving instructors make of the numbers?

The chair of the ADINJC, Lynne Barrie commented on the issue facing instructors and learners: 

“This has been extremely stressful for driving instructors during the last 12 months and also for learners as many of them have not taken any lessons since December and some have faced other lockdowns as well and no professional driver training taking place. 

“Many provisional drivers have had practical test dates changed on six or seven occasions now and are eager to get underway as soon as possible. Meanwhile we know that many driving instructors have been forced to take up other work during the pandemic as they have been struggling financially and that some are now following other career paths. Once they return to work there are others who will need to dedicate time to more than one job and so will be unable to teach as many learners as they did before the pandemic. We are also aware that there are long-standing and well respected instructors who have decided to retire early and will no longer be teaching once we start back to work. It’s highly likely we will need new ADIs to take the place of those who have left the industry.

“Learners should be aware that the number of ADIs has declined. The pressure of the backlog is leaving many instructors under pressure to fit their clients into their diaries but there are only so many hours a day that an ADI can safely train their clients. I am concerned that there is a potential for unreasonable pressure from pupils and their families. 

“Most instructors I have spoken to say they will need to prioritise their clients so that anyone with imminent practical tests can be helped and then they will organise their diaries for clients they were training before the lockdown came and then any new clients wanting to start to learn to drive. A lot of ADIs have full diaries and are turning people away so finding an ADI with availability could well be challenging currently.

“My concern as chair of the ADINJC is mainly for the ADIs who need to get their lives back on track after having such an awful 12 months. I have spoken to so many who have suffered unimaginable stress and are also concerned for their pupils.”

Our tips for getting test ready if you can’t find an instructor with capacity

Here’s three quick and simple ways you can get driving test ready at home if you’re not able to secure as many driving lessons as you’d like or if you can’t find an available driving instructor: 

Get to know how a car works

Part of the driving test will check your ability to maintain a car, so start getting used to where the oil is and how to check it, how to gauge your tyre’s tread, where engine coolant and screen-wash goes. Can you name what the warning lights mean on the dashboard?

YouTube your way to success

Skip an episode of Made In Chelsea and opt for some advice videos on YouTube which talk around parts of driving you struggle with the most. This might be roundabouts, junctions or dual carriageways for example. We recently launched a Driving Instructor Masterclass over on our YouTube channel, which covers loads of different driving skills you may be looking to perfect!

Practise with a family member or friend if you can 

Getting extra experience on the road at different times of the day will prove invaluable when it comes to taking your test. The extra time will allow you to master the areas you have found challenging and also to keep your skills and knowledge fresh and test-ready. You will need to make sure your supervising driver is over the age of 21, they have the right learner driver insurance for you to drive their car and have held a full UK licence for at least three years.

Practice makes Perfect

Short term learner insurance allows you to practise in a parent's or friend's car and get test ready!
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By Marmalade Author

Providing tips and advice for young drivers on all aspects of driving - from getting through the driving test to buying and running your first car.

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