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How Many Driving Tests Were Cancelled Because of COVID-19?

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We don’t need to tell you at this point that coronavirus has turned the world upside down. All of us can tell stories of how everyday life has changed, but it can sometimes be difficult to put a number on just how big the impact has been. In the field of driving tuition, for example, learners across the UK have had their plans put on hold. It hasn’t always been clear just how many—but now, we can look into the number of driving tests cancelled because of COVID-19.

The PassMeFast team has delved into new statistics released by the DVSA. They paint a picture of widespread disruption affecting hundreds of thousands of learners across the country. Read on to get the details on coronavirus-related cancellations, and to see why these numbers only show the tip of the iceberg.


Clarifying cancellations

An example of an email received by customers with driving tests cancelled because of COVID-19

A quick word before we start. In the vast majority of situations, a cancellation is something you’d never want. In the world of driving tuition, however, a cancellation could either be positive or negative. Not sure how that could be the case? Let us explain.

Let’s start with the times when a cancellation is good news. Usually, getting a driving test appointment means dealing with long waiting times. However, if a candidate decides to cancel their own test, then their slot becomes free for someone else to take. By taking advantage of this, you can ‘skip the queue’ and take your test earlier. Many schools (including us!) offer services to help you grab one of these appointments, which are known as driving test cancellations.

However, there’s another side to cancelled tests—and this is the one we’re focusing on here. We’re talking about the times when the DVSA cancels a driving test. When this happens, that slot is gone completely. It’s not available to the person who originally booked the test, and nor can anyone else take it.

The latter scenario can be extremely frustrating. There’s the impact to the candidate whose test has been cancelled, of course. However, there’s also a knock-on effect, as it means that the supply of tests is shrinking—and that queue just grows longer.

COVID-19 isn’t the only reason why the DVSA may cancel a test, of course. In fact, there’s a range of different cancellation reasons to look into.


Four cancellation reasons… and one newcomer

Photos illustrating the common driving test cancellation reasons: a beach (symbolising leave), a protest (symbolising disputes), a flood (symbolising acts of nature) and a stethoscope (symbolising medical absences)

The DVSA releases information every year about why each driving test was cancelled. It breaks down all of these cancellations into categories—and, before March 2020, there were only four of them. The four cancellation reasons were:

  • Leave — this includes holidays, but also ‘special leave’, which encompasses bereavement, personal emergencies and care, as well as civic activities such as jury service
  • Disputes — typically, a driving examiner strike
  • Acts of nature — extreme weather, such as snow, fog, flooding and storms
  • Medical absences — sick days as well as appointments

As you can see, COVID-19 doesn’t fit neatly into any of these categories. After all, while it’s certainly within the sphere of medical issues, most tests weren’t cancelled because examiners themselves got sick. Instead, it’s the complex range of safety measures that have caused a vast number of cancellations.

With this in mind, the DVSA added a fifth cancellation reason in March 2020: pandemic. As we’ll soon discover, this new category proved to have a more devastating effect than any strike or storm.


Driving tests cancelled because of COVID-19: the stats

Animated pie chart, column graph and line graph shown in a desktop window on a blue background
Image source: janjf93 via Pixabay

It may already feel like an eternity, but, at the time of writing, COVID-19 has been around for just over a year—and it’s been around 11 months since the first UK lockdown. Despite this, the number of driving tests cancelled because of COVID-19 has already reached mammoth proportions.

2019/20

To start with, let’s take a look at the full table of cancellation reasons for 2019/20. This covers the period from April 2019 through to March 2020. One figure will jump out immediately…

Leave Disputes Acts of nature Medical absences Pandemic TOTAL
April 2019 1,315 0 72 4,175 0 5,562
May 2019 1,538 2 4 2,937 0 4,481
June 2019 1,715 0 61 3,273 0 5,049
July 2019 2,114 1 27 4,275 0 6,417
August 2019 1,647 1 35 3,019 0 4,702
September 2019 1,662 0 145 2,810 0 4,617
October 2019 1,556 1 167 4,813 0 6,537
November 2019 1,271 0 522 4,829 0 6,622
December 2019 1,100 146 1,875 4,179 0 7,300
January 2020 1,129 1 887 4,071 0 6,088
February 2020 1,086 0 1,634 3,434 0 6,154
March 2020 615 0 155 2,612 85,171 88,853
2019/20 TOTAL 16,748 152 5,584 44,427 85,171 152,082

For the first eleven and a half months of the year, things seemed pretty standard. Acts of nature peaked in winter; annual leave went up to coincide with the summer holidays; and medical absences remained relatively stable from month to month. And then came COVID.

The first coronavirus-related cancellations came in mid-March, with the DVSA officially cancelling tests nationwide from Thursday, 19th March. As a result, the table above accounts for only the very first set of driving tests cancelled because of COVID-19. Despite this, that number that still managed to outstrip all other cancellation reasons for the entire year.

With an extra 85,171 cancellations due to coronavirus in just two weeks, 2019/20 went from a year with a fairly average number of cancelled tests to the highest number on record. Nonetheless, 2020/21 was to be even more dramatic.

2020/21

2020/21 has felt the impacts of coronavirus right from the beginning. We’re not yet at the end of the year, though, and that means we don’t yet have full data. The figures we do have, however, are shocking.

Leave Disputes Acts of nature Medical absences Pandemic TOTAL
April 2020 167 0 0 68 140,254 140,489
May 2020 141 0 0 0 582 723
June 2020 52 0 0 5 89,164 89,221
July 2020 71 0 0 40 1,887 1,998
August 2020 744 0 3 677 1,441 2,865
September 2020 1,263 0 37 2,829 1,702 5,831
2020/21 YTD TOTAL 2,438 0 40 3,619 235,030 241,127

It can be hard to wrap your head around numbers like those above, so let’s break things down a little. Firstly, even with six months of the year to go, 2020/21 has the most cancellations on record. It’s no surprise why, with 97% of these driving tests cancelled because of COVID-19.

The waves of cancellations carried out by the DVSA are clearly visible in the table. Most cancellation emails for tests up to May 2020 were sent out in April. It’s for this reason that April has more than 140,000 cancellations, while May has just a handful. The same applies to the disparity between June and July.

Of course, from July onwards, tests started to slowly reopen to the general public. This is why we start seeing a slight return to normality in August and September. The caveat, though, is that there were still over 1,000 COVID-related cancellations each month.

Finally, there’s one big factor hanging over the 2020/21 stats: the year isn’t over yet. These figures don’t show the impact of the subsequent lockdowns in November 2020 and in early 2021. We can therefore expect more grim numbers in releases to come.


Which test centres saw the most driving tests cancelled because of COVID-19?

Map with pins sticking out
Image source: delfi de la Rua via Unsplash

Normally, waves of cancelled driving tests impact one part of the country more than the others. Severe winter weather, for example, is more likely to hit those living further north or on higher ground. COVID-19, however, has affected virtually all parts of the UK equally.

Despite this, we can work out which test centres have seen the most cancellations. In the table below, we’ve compiled the ten locations with the most pandemic-related cancellations between March and September 2020.

Goodmayes (London) 6,028
Morden (London) 3,401
West Didsbury (Manchester) 3,363
Pinner (London) 3,103
Norris Green (Liverpool) 2,904
Isleworth (Fleming Way) 2,841
Cambridge (Brookmount Court) 2,800
Hendon (London) 2,679
Slough (London) 2,578
Reading 2,526

These statistics only tell part of the story, though. You’ll notice that all of the listed centres are in larger cities or towns. These places routinely see huge numbers of tests every year, so they’re naturally going to suffer more cancellations in numerical terms.

Perhaps a more interesting way of looking at it is to see which centres saw the most cancellations relative to a normal year. To try and work this out, we looked at the most recent COVID-free year: 2018/19. We then compared the total cancellations in a full year to the pandemic-related cancellations in just seven months.

Our calculations showed that several test centres went from a single cancellation in 2018/19 to hundreds in the coronavirus era. Worst hit of all was Yeading, a London test centre which went from 1 cancellation to 938.


Back to normal?

With thousands of learners facing cancelled tests throughout yet another national lockdown, the figures we listed above are set to grow dramatically in the future. The lockdown that began in January 2021, for example, has had a huge impact on driving courses. The good thing, though, is that this won’t be the case forever.

Though we’re still facing restrictions for a good while to come, including on where we can legally drive, the rollout of the vaccine points towards a world where we can get back to normality. That means (fingers crossed!) an end to coronavirus-related cancellations, and a return to driving dreams coming true.

By Andy Boardman

Andy has been part of the PassMeFast Blog team from the very beginning. He'll provide you with plenty of useful motoring advice, helping you to get the most out of every trip. When he's not writing here, you're most likely to find Andy on the way to his next destination.

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