Learner drivers may face up to six-month wait as coronavirus stalls tests


Perth 6000

Driving instructors have been told to keep giving lessons despite licence tests being cancelled across most of the country, sparking concerns around coronavirus transmission and warnings of a backlog of applicants once the testing ban is lifted.

Key points:

  • Instructors can still give lessons even though driving tests are banned
  • They are worried about the risk of transmission of COVID-19
  • A backlog of learner drivers could take six months to clear once tests resume

Driving tests are cancelled across every state and territory except the NT, in a bid to protect public servants from the risk of being unable to maintain social distancing rules — such as staying far enough apart from someone in an enclosed space.

Instructors say many students have cancelled their classes, resulting in income drying up.

They are also predicting nightmarish backlogs for learner drivers looking to trade their L-plates in for P-plates when this is all over, given the already long queues in many jurisdictions.

Year 12 student Amy Carter was just hours away from being eligible to get her provisional licence, but like thousands of West Australian teens that milestone is on hold because of a State Government ban on non-essential driving tests.



Photo:

Amy Carter says the delays are upsetting after all the hard work she had put into learning to drive. (ABC News: Evelyn Manfield)

The 16-year-old had 10 hours of supervised driving remaining, but expected it would now be months before she was able to sit her examination.

“It’s a bit upsetting, all the hard work that’s gone into it, like stressing to get it done on time and being told that I might have a couple more months until I can actually sit it,” she said.

Wait times likely to top six months, instructor warns

As of April 15, the decision has resulted in 5,185 C-class driving tests in Perth’s metropolitan area being deferred, and there are fears once tests reopen, the wait for drivers hoping to earn their provisional licence will be lengthy.



Photo:

Sean Conroy says the backlog of drivers wanting their provisional licence will be “insane”. (Supplied)

Positive Driving School owner and instructor Sean Conroy said the backlog of drivers would be “insane” and could take up to six months to clear.

“The wait times are going to be forever. I mean, you can imagine as soon as they go ‘you’re allowed to do a test’, every single student is going to jump online looking for a test,” he said.

Mr Conroy said even before coronavirus restrictions, some testing centres around the state had waitlists that stretched for months.

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The WA Department of Transport could not provide figures on how many people would be waiting to for a test once they reopened, but conceded it was likely to be thousands.

On average, more than 95,000 C-class driving assessments take place each year in the Perth metropolitan area.

The Department of Transport said currently there were about 74,000 C-class learner drivers in Western Australia.

The department said when current restrictions were lifted it would prioritise testing drivers whose assessments were cancelled, before opening bookings for new candidates.

Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said she hoped to have extra assessors working to clear the backlog, but had no plans to privatise tests.

‘You’re as close as you can get’

While all states and territories except the NT, where it is up to the instructor to decide whether they continue running tests, banned non-essential Practical Driving Assessments (PDA), driving lessons with an instructor in some jurisdictions are still allowed.

It is a move that has perplexed First Choice Driving School owner, Rosemarie Husband.

“If they [assessors] won’t sit in a car for 35 minutes with a student, we shouldn’t be giving an hour’s lesson,” she said.

“You’re side-by-side, you’re as close as you can get,” Ms Husband said.

She was teaching up to nine students a day, and said the risk of spreading the virus among her students was not worth taking.

“I would hate to get in touch with a parent and say ‘I’m sorry, unfortunately one of the students I had today has been in contact with somebody with COVID-19 so get yourself tested’,” she said.



Photo:

Rosemarie Husband was teaching up to nine students a day before the coronavirus pandemic. (ABC News: Evelyn Manfield)

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Mr Conroy has also cancelled his lessons because of virus concerns.

“I just think it’s crazy. We’re supposed to isolate and stay a metre and a half away. It’s kind of impossible to do that in a car,” Mr Conroy said.

Ultimately, he said he felt he made the best decision but it was a struggle.

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“It’s pretty hard when you’ve gone three weeks without pay, you’ve got a mortgage, bills, four kids. It all adds up,” he said.

Ms Husband said the decision had strained her financially too.

“It has had a massive financial impact on us, but I’d rather be poor and safe than rich and not,” she said.

But Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said professional driving lessons were similar to on-demand transport, which could continue, provided hygiene precautions were practiced.

The Department of Transport was allowing essential tests to be taken, primarily for those who need a licence for work, but said obtaining a licence to travel to and from work was not considered critical.

Exceptional circumstances includes:

  • Freight work and mining
  • Medical reasons
  • Primary care
  • Emergency services
  • Court-ordered
  • Permanent Residency Conversion Requirement

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news