By Raquel Mustillo
HUNDREDS of learner drivers are struggling to book a driving test, with waitlists tipped to hit six months following the relaunch of the service due to COVID-19.
All in-car driver training and assessment services – including driving lessons, Competency Based Training (CBT) and Vehicle on Road Test (VORT) were suspended for eight weeks from April 10 under the state’s Emergency Management Act.
Driving instructors are working through a backlog of learners who had their driving tests suspended because of the restrictions, as well as managing the pent-up demand for learner tests.
Millicent residents Luis Oppelaar and Kynan Dunn are among a number of drivers across the Limestone Coast hoping to undertake driving lessons within the next few months.
The 16-year-olds, who are eligible for their P1 provisional licence in February and March, raised concerns about the backlog affecting their ability to successfully pass the practical driving test.
“The process in getting a drivers lesson has definitely been a lot slower because of COVID,” Kynan said.
“A lot of people are pre-planning and booking their lessons months ahead.
“The driving instructors are prioritising the people who are close to getting their P’s, so if you aren’t close to it, you have to wait.
“It definitely would have been harder for the people in our year who can get their license now, but have to wait for driving lessons.”
While Kynan said he was happy to wait, Luis hoped to book in for driving lessons as soon as possible.
“If I can’t get my lessons done soon, I won’t be able to get my P’s and I am worried it is going to stop me from getting a job,” he said.
“I’d like to get an electrical apprenticeship, but it will be hard if I am still on my Ls.
“I live out of town and use the bus to get to school and rely on my parents to take me to places.”
All Driver Training Solutions owner and driving instructor Shaun Wooley said drivers had been working around the clock to address the backlog.
“We are already booked out four months for cars and we have enough car work until September next year,” he said.
“We have a new driver trying to get accredited, but no-one is getting accredited in South Australia at the moment.
“There are some people who aren’t even answering their phone because they are already so busy doing driver testing they can’t take anymore clients on.”
Mr Wooley said the high demand meant many learner drivers had been unable to secure lessons, but attempted to undertake the compulsory practical on road VORT test or the competency-based training course regardless.
“At them moment we are having people who are booking in for driving tests without the training and failing because they didn’t indicate around a roundabout,” he said.
“The VORT test costs $170 so it’s great money wise, but I spend my whole day passing tissues to people who are going to lose their job because they failed to get their licence.
“I have been doing this for 18 years and the amount of kids who have anxiety because they aren’t able to get their licence is unbelievable.
“I have never seen anything like it.”
Learn to Drive with Mick driving instructor Mick Gillin said a lack of qualified instructors in the region exacerbated the backlog caused by COVID-19.
“In Mount Gambier there’s a six month waitlist, while people in Millicent are waiting two to three months for a lesson,” he said.
“There has been a bit of a wait in the past, but was not quite as bad at it is now.
“It is just unbelievable.
“We are short on instructors down here, we have had a couple retire and it is a lot of money to become qualified.
“I’d like to windback in a few years and when I do, we will be another instructor down.
“I think the State Government should do more to encourage people into the industry.”
Mr Gillin supported the establishment of a State Government loan scheme to assist prospective driving instructors pay for their training.
“It would be good if the State Government had something like HECS so people could do the training without having to pay the fees upfront, because it is a lot of money,” he said.
“Not everyone can get $12,000 together for the training and then there’s the costs of getting started and getting the upgrades you need for the car.”
The state’s Transport Department was contacted for comment.