The 4-month wait facing frustrated learners
Thinking of taking your driving test in Milton Keynes, King’s Lynn, Norwich, Aylesbury or Basingstoke? You might want to book now - and prepare yourself for a lengthy wait.
Although it's a similar story everywhere, these test centres have a truly ridiculous waiting time of up to 18 weeks. As I write, Basingstoke's closest test slot is 4 January 2016. Aylesbury has none listed at all.
Having spent most of this year taking and failing driving tests, I know this frustration only too well. In my area, the wait is 2 months at least. So, you fail your test and then have your disappointment compounded by having to pay out for another 8 weeks of driving lessons before you can take it again.
It's an expensive problem and spins out the learning process (which some would argue is a good thing) beyond what young learners expect and budget for.
What can you do?
Bribe someone? The DVSA claims the lack of examiner availability is due to a lot of retirements rather than budget cuts, so that might not work. But realistically, there is a legit way around this.
A game of nerves
After my first test, I had to book a slot 2 months away. It was pretty crushing and I called the test booking office every morning at 9am for a week, before realising they don't actually get cancellation details any earlier than the online list.
Cancellation fishing online is a game of nerves. You get just 3 opportunities to change your test slot, so it's like a playing chicken. You book your scarily distant test slot, then you sit and you wait, finger poised over the refresh button, for the holy grail of cancellations to pop up.
Sometimes the cancellation is for 3 days away, so you click it and then sweat for the 30 minutes it reserves itself for, waiting for your driving instructor to tell you if they're available.
I calculate that I've taken about 2 years off my life acting out this terrible charade. It's telling that there are actually companies who specialise in finding test cancellations for desperate learners.
How to win the driving test booking game
Book a slot, any slot (ish)
Go to gov.uk/book-driving-test and pick the next slot that would suit you, even if it's the wrong side of Christmas. It's important that you could actually do this time just in case you get stuck with it.
Get your test slot booking reference number
Confirm and pay, then go retrieve your booking number from the email DVSA will have sent you.
Bring up the latest available dates at your test centre
Now go to gov.uk/change-driving-test. Put in your licence number and booking number, then choose to show the nearest available dates for your test centre.
Start the waiting game
Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. This is about patience. If you can't sit and refresh all day, try early morning and 7pm. I don't know why 7pm is the golden hour but it's worked for me and a lot of other people complaining on the internet.
Pounce on good dates to reserve for 30 minutes
When a good time comes up, click it FAST. This reserves the slot for half an hour while you speed dial your driving instructor. I'm lucky enough to have one who would probably cancel his child's christening if I asked him but your instructor is likely to be a busy person. Prepare for disappointment - they have a business to run and you're not their only student.
If you've found a slot that's still really far in the future, do not despair. Just repeat the process - but remember you only have 3 chances to change the date. You'll have to rebook if you need to change more than that.
On the day of your test, take your phone and debit card with you. If you fail (sorry, but it could happen), you'll be able to book your next test 1 hour after the test you just took was scheduled to start. That means you waste no time at all and you have an excuse to not talk on the drive back from the centre. It's kept me from crying a few times.
It ain't over until it's over, folks. With a test 2 months in the future, you have AGES to get a closer test. Just make sure you're keeping up the private practice so you're ready when a test slot comes up.