Less than 30 per cent of candidates pass their driving tests first time at some examination centres, while only 152 out of 340 test centres in England, Wales and Scotland recorded pass rates of 50 per cent or more. The other 188 centres confirmed that more than half of first-timers taking their tests failed, according to figures released by the Department for Transport last night.
The worst-performing centre in the country is Hermon Hill, in Wanstead, north-east London, which recorded 3,453 fails out of 4,826 first-time tests taken in the year up to the end of March – a failure rate of 71.5 per cent. Two centres in Bradford, at Thornbury and Heaton, also posted failure rates of more than 70 per cent.
Nine of the bottom 10 performers, which all recorded pass rates lower than 35 per cent, were in London or Yorkshire. The national average for failures was 46.2 per cent – amounting to 336,352 out of 728,438 tests taken.
However, any learner drivers hoping to improve their chances by heading for one of the best-performing centres would have a long way to travel, as most of them are in remote areas of Scotland. Examiners in places such as Mallaig, Inveraray, Islay and the Isle of Skye test barely 200 candidates between them a year.
Motoring experts last night blamed "socio-economic factors" for the low scores in a number of inner-city areas.
The AA estimates that the average cost of a single driving lesson is now £24, and recommends that a candidate has 44 lessons before taking a test – pushing the standard bill for learning to drive well over £1,000. The combined cost of taking the theory and practical parts of the test is £86.50.
Olivia Baldock, training co-ordinator at the Driving Instructors Association, said: "As the recession has hit harder over the past few years, more and more people have decided to save money and take lessons from parents and other relations.
"This is not always a good combination and can mean that people have to spend a lot more as they do not get the right training and end up having to take more tests and pay for more lessons."
The AA claimed earlier this year that the number of driving tests failed after learners were taught by trainee instructors has soared to 27,000 a year – and that many candidates did not know the person teaching them had no qualifications.
Government figures show the overall pass-rate in England and Wales has crept downwards in recent years, from around 70 per cent in 2005-06 to 64 per cent last year.
In Mallaig, in the Scottish Highlands, the test centre examined only 14 first-time candidates last year, failing three of them and recording a failure rate of 21.4 per cent – the lowest in Britain. Islay, a Scottish Island with a population of fewer than 3,500, failed nine out of 36 novice candidates, a fail-rate of 25 per cent.
A spokesman for the Driving Standards Agency insisted that the widely varying failure rates were not a reflection on the examiners – or their candidates.
"Pass rates are influenced by various factors, and there will inevitably be some variation from one test centre to another."