Driving lessons have officially returned to the UK’s roads! Excellent news for the thousands of learner drivers across the country that were forced to take a break from learning back in March.
However, for those soon to turn 17 or are looking to learn to drive for the first time, finding an instructor with availability right now may feel a bit like finding a needle in a haystack, and that’s not just because of the backlog caused by lockdown which saw more than 400,000 practical tests cancelled!
Yes lockdown and the ongoing restrictions have reduced capacity for instructors to ensure everyone remains safe, but there are also other factors at play that could mean it’s harder to book lessons over the next few months.
A decline in driving instructors
According to data from the Department of Transport, the amount of UK driving instructors has fallen by 12% over the past seven years - falling from 44,569 in 2013 to 39,521 at the start of 2020 - and this is predicted to fall even further in the coming years. So for those thinking about becoming a driving instructor, now could be a good time to train!
For those considering a career in the profession - check out the government’s eight step guide to becoming an instructor here: https://www.gov.uk/become-car-driving-instructor
Based on current trends, the amount of instructors on the road in 2025 looks set to fall to just over 38,000 as more instructors retire or move into other careers themselves, which could make things difficult for provisional drivers.
The impact of a 2003 ‘baby boom’
The amount of people born in 2003 saw a significant spike compared to the three preceding years, following a bit of a lull between 2000-2002, and based on the birth rates alone, around 695,000 people will turn 17 in 2020 - that’s 27,000 more compared to 2019 alone.
However, the amount of potential learners only looks set to grow when you look at the birth stats for the following years. The amount of people turning 17 in the years 2021-2025 grows exponentially year-on-year as follows:
- Estimated amount of people turning 17 in 2021 (born in 2004): 718,996
- Estimated amount of people turning 17 in 2022 (born in 2005): 722,549
- Estimated amount of people turning 17 in 2023 (born in 2006): 748,563
- Estimated amount of people turning 17 in 2024 (born in 2007): 772,245
- Estimated amount of people turning 17 in 2025 (born in 2008): 794,383
Based on these figures alone you can understand why getting a lesson might prove a little harder in the years to come, but when you add the amount of instructors to the mix you can really see why we need to encourage more potential instructors to pursue it as a profession!
Instructors v potential learners
To look at the supply and demand, we decided to take a look at the amount of potential young learners over the coming years to work out roughly the amount of drivers per instructor. Of course this doesn’t take into account those over 17 looking to learn to drive, so the number of learners per instructor could be even higher!
A breakdown of the results from the study is as follows:
When you look at the ‘potential young learners v number of ADIs’ column you can see clearly how the demand looks set to ramp up significantly over the coming months and years. While there were around 16.84 young learners per instructor in 2019 this is predicted to increase by four people (20.84) by 2025 and if you think about this practically - that’s going to be around an extra four lessons a week for instructors, assuming those learners only want one per week, some might want more!
These results are just a just a bit of an overview to showcase the issue but makes it clear why we need more Approved Driving Instructors!
The movement away from public transport
One final thing worth mentioning is the impact of Covid-19 on public transport use; it’s no secret that many people are more wary than ever before about the use of buses, trains, trams etc. due to the risk of infection and social distancing measures in place.
Many believe that while the current measures in place are only temporary, this global pandemic will encourage people to take transport into their own hands through learning to drive and this could further compound the amount of people wanting to learn to drive across different age groups. Just another element to add to the mix!
How does all of this affect current instructors?
We spoke to Louise Walsh about how the pandemic has hit her business:
“As an industry, COVID-19 has hit us hard. Being unable to work for 14 weeks has really taken its toll and returning to work, although welcomed, has been made challenging for a number of reasons.
“It’s been great catching up with pupils I’ve not driven with for four months and lovely to welcome those who have turned 17 during lockdown and had to wait till they could start, however my diary is now very full and I’m turning new enquiries away. Without a clear picture of how long the backlog of tests will take to clear, it’s unfair to put future pupils on my indefinite waiting list’
“In addition to the rise in demand, this is further compounded by a lack of test dates as the DVSA do their best to clear the four month backlog while operating at reduced capability due to implementing safe practices to keep staff and learners safe. Instructors are also needing to manage their own diaries better to allow for reduced time in the car and thorough cleaning of the vehicle between pupils.
‘As a driving instructor trainer, my main business is training potential driving instructors. This side of the industry continues to be affected too. The three DVSA qualifying tests were suspended as well as the tests qualified instructors have to pass every 2-4 yrs post qualifying. While the final qualifying test - the part three test of instructional ability - still without a set date to return, those stuck in limbo in their two year qualifying window, are unsure of their future within the industry. Much of instructor training involves three people in a car, and most trainers, including myself, are reluctant to resume this aspect of our work. Supporting those who are finding the uncertainty unsettling continues to be my biggest challenge.
“Many pupils have also had the added pressure of their theories running out with little hope of taking a practical test before their theory expires. So now, adding the baby boomers who are turning 17 to the mix and the need for driving instructors is at an all time high.”
What does this mean for learners and what can they do?
CEO at Marmalade Crispin Moger had this to say:
“While it’s not surprising that the demand for driving instructors looks to be significant in the coming months following the lockdown restrictions, this is just the beginning when it comes to the much bigger issue of a national shortage of approved driving instructors.
“With the warnings surrounding public transport, we are expecting to see more young people than ever before wanting to learn to drive themselves over the coming months, and this is before you even look at the national birth statistics which suggests more teenagers than ever will be turning 17 in the coming years.
“To support your driving instructor, we urge learners to be on time for lessons with their mask as required, and to cancel their lesson with as much notice as possible if they display any symptoms. If during these busy times you’re not getting lessons as often as you would like with your instructor, learner drivers can still practise in the company of a parent, family member or friend, providing the tutor is over the age of 21, they have the right learner driver insurance and has held their licence for three years.”
So yes while it may be a little harder than usual to find an instructor compared to pre-pandemic life, excellent instructors are still out there and are ready to get you out on the road! However, we do need to attract more instructors to the profession and we encourage those thinking about making a switch to do so!