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The Nationwide Driving Test Report

Lockdown restrictions and social distancing due to the pandemic affected countless learner drivers across the UK. In fact, figures from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) show that there was a 72.7% decline in car practical test numbers from March 2020 to March 2021[1]. With so many tests cancelled due to the lockdown, there were around 1.16 million people waiting for driving tests in April 2021

UK Driving Test Report

With these figures in mind, we wanted to look at the current and historic landscape of learning to drive in the UK. We have delved into the following data points to create a picture of how learning to drive in the UK has changed over time, and what it’s like today:

  • The cost of driving lessons 
  • The number of Approved Driving Instructors (ADIs) per city 
  • First time pass rates 
  • Male and female pass rates 
  • The most common reasons for failing your driving test
  • The most common reasons for cancellations
  • Regional data: busiest centres, most/least likely to pass, most likely to get cancellation 
  • Most popular driving test apps

We also have some tips for passing your driving test, so you can be best prepared for success when hitting the road. If you need to lease a car upon passing your test, our car leasing deals will provide you with great options for the best prices. 

The increasing cost of driving lessons in the UK

Learning to drive has become more and more expensive over the years, as you might’ve expected. But how much has the cost of driving actually changed? Our research has revealed how much on average it costs to learn to drive across the UK, by analysing the cheapest available driving lesson prices for each of the locations displayed on the British School of Motoring, PassFaster and The AA. We then combined this cost with the average number of hours it takes to pass a driving test according to the Driving Standards Agency (DSA), which is 44 hours worth of lessons. 

To work out the overall increase in cost in each region, we compared the current prices to historic UK data. The earliest driving test costs we found, which were from 1980-1990, were only £10 on average - so the increase in price turns out to be quite dramatic when compared to today’s costs. 

Increase cost of driving lessons

According to our research, the top five cheapest places to learn to drive are Swansea, Bristol, Bradford, Leeds and Portsmouth. Swansea was the cheapest overall, with the average cost of driving lessons per hour being £22. Taking into account the 44 hours of lessons needed to pass your driving test, it would set you back £968 in Swansea to get to this stage. This is an inflation rate of 220% since the 1980-1990 rates.

On the other end of the spectrum is Brighton & Hove, London, Nottingham, Birmingham and Sheffield. In all of these places, the 44 hours needed to pass your test would cost no less than £1,500, and in Brighton & Hove, it would cost you a huge £1,936 because of the £44 hourly rate. This marks a 440% inflation rate since the 1980-1990 rate, so learning to drive in this region is unfortunately not the cheapest option out there. 

On average, when compared with the hourly costs in 1980-1990, UK driving lesson prices have increased by an average of 215% in just 30-40 years. If prices continue to follow this pattern, it might be worth getting your lessons booked in now - it’s bound to be more expensive the longer you leave it.

The number of Approved Driving Instructors (ADIs) per city

It won’t come as a surprise to learn that the waiting lists for driving instructors are increasingly long after a year of cancelled tests and postponed lessons. Additionally, there has been a 12% decrease in registered ADIs since 2013, so the combination of demand growing and amount of instructors decreasing will only add to waiting lists.

Some cities have more ADIs than others, so it’s always worth checking which areas around you have the most instructors to shorten your time on the waiting list. Here are the cities with the highest and lowest numbers of ADIs in the country at the moment.

Cities with most driving instructors

First time pass rates year on year 

On average, 46.9% of UK learner drivers pass their test on the first attempt. It can be disheartening to have to retake a driving test, but these figures show that you’re in good company. Interestingly, the 2020/2021 year saw a significant increase in first time passes, with 51% of learners getting their licence without needing a second try. The lowest first time pass rate was in 2007/2008, with only 43.3%. 

Male and female pass rates year on year

On average, male learner drivers have a much higher first time pass rate than female learners. On average, the male first time pass rate is 50.2%, whereas the female pass rate is only 43.8%. In some years, the difference is less dramatic - for example, in 2021/2022, the male pass rate was 53.9% and the female pass rate was 49.2%. Here are the full results for the male vs. female first time pass rates in the UK from 2007 to present.

The ten most common reasons for failing your test

As we now know, failing your driving test isn’t an uncommon thing. There are many reasons learner drivers fail first (or second, or third) time round, but the DVSA has put together a list of the top ten reasons. So that you can look out for these common mistakes in your driving test, here they are in full.

1. Not making effective observations at junctions

Ensuring you are aware of your surroundings at junctions is vital when driving, to avoid being hit by or hitting another car, or causing a traffic problem if you fail to pull out at the correct time. To avoid failing for this reason, look out for the actions of other drivers and make sure you move off safely when it’s time to do so.

2. Not using mirrors correctly when changing direction

It’s vital to check your mirrors when changing direction, changing lanes or changing your speed. If you don’t you may get into an accident. To avoid failing for this reason, don’t forget to check your mirrors before any manoeuvre, looking for any vehicles, pedestrians or cyclists that may be in your way.

3. Not having proper control of the steering

Having good control of the steering comes with confidence, so after the 44 hours of lessons this should come naturally by the time you take your test. If not, be sure to concentrate on this in any lessons leading up to the big day so that you can focus on the more technical aspects of driving during the test.

4. Incorrect positioning when turning right at junctions

Turning right at a junction from the wrong lane can be very dangerous. Make sure you know the rules of the road when it comes to positioning at junctions before you take your test. If you find yourself in the wrong lane when you’re meant to be turning right, turn left instead and explain your actions to your examiner. It’s much better to turn the ‘wrong’ way than to put yourself in danger.

5. Not moving off safely

There are various checks to do before moving off, including checking your mirrors, getting in the correct gear if driving a manual car, and ensuring your seatbelt is on. Run through these checks with your driving instructor before your test to make sure you’re completely confident in them.

6. Not responding appropriately to traffic lights

It may seem obvious that green means go and red means stop, but when you’re in the pressured environment of a driving test, it’s easy to get distracted by other things and not focusing on the traffic lights properly. Try to remain relaxed throughout the test, and take in all your surroundings. 

7. Poor positioning on the road during normal driving

As with steering control, good road positioning should come with practice and confidence gained through the 44 hours of lessons leading up to your test. If you don’t yet feel confident in where you should be on the road, perhaps take a few more lessons before committing to a driving test.

8. Not responding correctly to traffic signs

You should have taken a theory exam before your practical driving test, which will give you the knowledge of what the different traffic signs mean. Before taking your test, do some revision of the traffic signs and make sure you know what to do when you see each of them to avoid failing for this reason.

9. Not having control of the vehicle when moving off

Having control of the vehicle when moving off is very important. If you stall when moving off, this doesn’t mean an automatic fail, as long as you can calmly recover and move off safely afterwards. Make sure you know exactly what you’re doing when it comes to moving off, and practice a few times before the test to make sure you are fully in control.

10. Not keeping control of the vehicle during reverse parking

You’ll practice all the necessary manoeuvres in your driving lessons that you may be asked to perform in your test, including reverse parking. If you are required to do this in your test, just be sure to take it slowly and remain calm. Stay in control of the vehicle, no matter how slowly you have to do it.

The most common reason for driving test cancellations

Not all booked tests go ahead. This could be for a variety of reasons, from illness to just not feeling ready. Since 2020, a large reason for test cancellations was, unsurprisingly, recent restrictions and lockdowns. Over 823,000 tests have been cancelled for this reason since the pandemic began, but what were the main cancellation reasons before this? These are the main reasons for cancellations according to the DVSA since 2010.

Driving test centres in the last decade

There are many different driving test centres located around the UK, some in much larger cities and others in small towns. Because of this variety, there are bound to be differences in booking numbers, cancellations and success rates. We’ve looked into every registered test centre in the country to discover the busiest centres, the centres with the most cancellations and the centres with the best and worst pass rates in the last decade.

The busiest driving test centres in the UK

The top three busiest driving centres in the UK are based in London. Since this is the country’s largest city, and its capital, this probably won’t come as a surprise. Goodmayes, Pinner and Hither Green driving test centres see the most learners coming and going of any centre in the country, with Goodmayes conducting a total of 240,941 tests in the past ten years. On average, this test centre conducts 24,094 tests a year - which is way ahead of Pinner's yearly average of 13,156.

The three least busy test centres in the UK are Dunoon and Ballater in Scotland, with 171 and 163 tests completed on average per year respectively. The least busy centre overall is the Isle of Skye (Portree) centre, with an average total of 117 recorded tests taken each year in the nine years the centre has been open. A stark difference to London, so if you live near one of these test centres, you shouldn’t have to wait too long for an opening.

The test centres that are most likely to cancel your driving test

Over the last ten years, Goodmayes test centre in London has cancelled 19,250 tests - the most of any centre in the country, averaging at 1,925 a year. In second place is Cambridge (Brookmount Court) test centre, with 1,610 cancellations a year, and in third is Dudley with 1,435 cancellations a year. If your test is booked with any of these, you might want to keep an eye out for updates.

The test centre with the fewest cancellations is the Isle of Skye (Portree) test centre, which has only an average of 4 cancellations per year. The second fewest cancellations are from the Clarendon Street test centre in Nottingham, with 8 cancellations overall in the three years it’s been registered. Rutherglen test centre in Glasgow, also has 8 cancellations on average a year. 

The test centres where you are most likely to pass your driving test

Some test centres have much higher pass rates than others - perhaps down to the sheer volume of learners taking their tests in some of the larger centres. The test centres with the highest pass rates are all much less populous areas, Ballater test centre has the highest pass rate, with 72%. The Isle of Skye (Portee) test centre is in second place, with a 70% pass rate, and Llandrindod Wells test centre is third with a pass rate of 69%.

Test centres in Birmingham and London have the lowest pass rates overall. Birmingham’s The Pavilion test centre has a pass rate of 29%, South London’s Belvedere test centre has a pass rate of 32% and the third lowest pass rate is tied between Birmingham’s South Yardley and London’s Erith test centre, both of which are at 35%.

The six most popular driving test apps

When it comes to your driving test, the theory part in particular, there are plenty of apps to help you revise and learn the rules of the road. Some are much better than others, so we’ve compiled a list of the eight most popular driving test apps so you can skip straight to the good stuff, and not waste any phone storage on an app that doesn’t work. Here are the highest ranked and rated driving test apps on the App Store.

Tips for how to pass your driving test

While not everyone passes the first time, and this is nothing to be ashamed of, there are some things you can do to maximise your chances of success when taking your driving test - no matter how many times you’ve done it before. Here are our top five tips for passing your driving test.

1. Use your instructor’s car

Doing your driving test in a car you’re comfortable and familiar with driving is one of the most important things to do. Almost all of the time, your instructor will allow you to use their car for the test, so you don’t have to worry about getting to know a new vehicle as well as everything else. 

2. Have a lesson beforehand

Have an hour before your test with your instructor going over everything you need to know. It will make you feel much more confident going into the test if you’ve had some practice that very day, and you’ll be even more relaxed about it. And the more relaxed you are, the better you’ll drive.

3. Get to know the test route

In your lesson beforehand, as well as some other lessons previously, have your instructor take you around the test route you’ll be using on the big day. That way, you can familiarise yourself with the roads and any potentially difficult areas with your instructor there with you to talk you through it. On the test day, the roads won’t seem so intimidating after this dry run.

4. Ask the examiner to repeat requests if needed

Don’t be afraid to ask the examiner to repeat themselves if you didn’t catch the request. They’ll be much more impressed by you wanting to get the correct information than if you just panic and guess, causing you to lose focus and potentially make a mistake.

5. Exaggerate safety and mirror checks

Your examiner will be looking out for you performing all the necessary safety checks - and this includes mirrors. It may feel unnatural to turn your whole body to look in your mirrors before a manoeuvre, but it just makes it certain to the examiner that you know exactly what checks to do, and when.

Recently passed your test? 

According to a study co-conducted by RED Driving School, 44% of drivers hitting the road for the first time are over the age of 25[3]. If you have just passed your test, or are thinking about getting your first car, many drivers choose to lease their first vehicle. Please note that in order to lease a vehicle through Nationwide Vehicle Contracts, you must be over 18 years old. 

Have a question about car leasing? Visit our ‘How Leasing Works’ page to find out more about leasing a vehicle, or call Nationwide Vehicle Contracts today on 0345 811 9595 to speak to one of our experienced leasing consultants.

Methodology

The team at Nationwide Vehicle Contracts calculated the price of driving tests in the UK’s major cities by analysing data from British School of Motoring, PassFaster and The AA. This was then combined with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) data and historic data to reveal the average cost of learning to drive and the inflation rate per city. 

Data from the DVSA was used to discover the number of Approved Driving Instructors (ADIs) per region, pass rates, common reasons for failing and cancellations, as well as regional test centre data. When analysing regional test centre data, only test centres with over 1,000 completed tests in the past 10 years were included. 

Sources

[1] “Driver and rider testing and instructor statistics” (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), 2021)

[2] "Driving test system backlog is causing months of delays for learner drivers in the UK" (Sunday Times Driving, 2021)

[3] "Average age to start driving now 26, as younger adults put off learning and car buying" (Auto Trader and RED driving school, 2016)

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