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Learning to Drive Essentials - Instructors, Theory Test and Booking a Practical Test


(First published March 2022, updated October 2023)

If you have a young person about to embark on the joy of learning to drive, you’ll want to take a look at our listings for local Driving Instructors.  You may need to try a number of different instructors to find someone with availability at the right time, and if at first you don't succeed you do need to just keep persevering and checking back. If your child can take lessons during the day during a school study period this will help, but not all schools allow this.

One of the first things your young person will have to do is study for and pass the theory test, as this is a pre-requisite for booking the practical driving test.  So you’ll want to know that library members can get free access to Theory Test Pro.  You just need to register here using your library card number.  Making use of a service like this is invaluable, especially to practise the hazard perception part of the test, which you can’t learn from a book. You can't book the theory test until you turn 17 and in the past there has also been a bit of a backlog with booking the theory tests too, but if you can take a weekday slot you will have more choice (e.g. perhaps aim to book it during a school holiday).  You don't need to have had any driving lessons to sit the theory test, though some practical experience of being behind the wheel may help.

It is also worth knowing that when it comes to booking the practical test there is currently a huge backlog for these in certain areas of the country including St Albans.  New test dates are released by the DVSA 24 weeks ahead at 6am on Monday morning.  So, if you can log on early, it is possible to secure a test date at the St Albans Test Centre (I can vouch for this!), but it will be almost 6 months away. However, you will have at least secured a date and you can always keep checking for earlier cancellations.  You can change the date of your test up to 6 times for free.  You can cancel with a full refund as long as you cancel with 3 full days of the test.

The problem with checking for cancellations is that it requires time and dedication and when they do come up they get snapped up very quickly, mostly by automated cancellation services that use bots to check the system hundreds of times an hour and offer them to people who have signed up to their service. As a result, many people are resorting to booking a slot at any test centre in the country where they can find availability and then using a cancellation service to look for a slot at the local test centre. Whilst it seems like these services are exacerbating the availability problem, it is understandable why people are finding that the only way to get an earlier date at the centre they want is to sign up to one of these services to do it for them! There are many out there and they typically charge a one-off fee that is only paid if they successfully find you a new date. We must point out though that the DVSA are asking people not to use these services and they say they are actively trying to block them.  Please be aware of companies who are booking up tests and selling them on for hundreds of pounds!

Of course there’s nothing that says you have to sit your test in the same place you have been taking lessons and some people have also been taking their test elsewhere. It may be possible to find test availability at another centre nearby if the instructor is happy to travel there (assuming you are planning to use their car on the day) and your young person doesn’t mind sitting the test somewhere unfamiliar.

Good luck to you and your young learner!

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