The Driving Standards Agency is struggling to cope as thousands of learner drivers rush to take their driving test before the introduction of a written section in July.
Applications have increased by 30,000 to 245,000 since this time last year, while problems have increased because of the closure of six of the agency's 11 driving test booking centres and "teething problems" with its telephone booking system.
The increasing waiting lists and last-minute cancellations of the pounds 28.50 test have meant that some learner drivers are threatening to sue the agency.
"The driving test is one of the most nerve-racking times of your life and the new theory test is making it more so," Martin Arnold, head of public affairs at the British School of Motoring, Britain's largest driving school, said. "A number of learner drivers are getting very frustrated with the DSA. They're turning up for tests and finding they've been cancelled. A number have threatened to sue."
Mr Arnold said the agency was meant to be offering driving tests within six weeks, but there was now a three- to four-month wait in some places. "Last year the agency closed 6 of the 11 driving test booking centres. It also introduced a telephone booking system for tests with which they've had a number of teething problems."
The DSA lost its charter mark last year because it could not fulfil its aim of providing a test within six weeks. The problem was exacerbated by a reduction in full-time examiners, which has forced the agency to train 160 part-time replacements. BSM is compiling a national review of the driving test waiting time and will announce the results next month.
A spokeswoman for the DSA said the national average was now seven weeks, caused by a growing number of people applying for licences. She added: "Less than 1 per cent of tests are cancelled at short notice and that's when examiners have gone sick and we're unable to contact the candidate."
She said that of the 350 test centres nationwide, 14 had waiting times longer than 10 weeks. The new two-part driving test is due to be introduced on 1 July. The written section, contracted out to a company called DriveSafe for pounds 70m, is expected to cost the applicant pounds 13-pounds 15 and will have to be taken before the driving test.
There will be 130 theory test centres compared to the 350 driving test centres, a differential that is already causing controversy. Learner drivers on the Isle of Wight, for example, are being told they will have to make a five-mile ferry crossing to Portsmouth for their test.
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