DRIVING instructors in the North-East have slammed the driving authority for “unfair” rules as learners face expired theory tests after nearly a year of Covid measures restricting the industry.

Bosses at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) stopped tests and lessons during the three coronavirus lockdowns, resulting in a huge backlog of students waiting to pass.

After nearly a year of changing rules, instructors have hit out as learners are left unable to book practical tests before theories run out, which expire after two years.

Learners must then fork out an additional £23 to retake the test and continue lessons until a practical is available.

The industry is calling on DVSA to extend the expiry dates of theory tests for those that have run out during the pandemic, as thousands of learners are unable to pass “through no fault of their own”.

Jonathan Hudson, 42, who runs Ambition driving school in Darlington, is “concerned” for his pupils.

The 42-year-old, who has been an instructor for 16 years, said: “I have students with tests booked in, which are already rescheduled dates, whose theories expire in the months after.

“There’s a high chance tests in February will be cancelled and won't be available again until after theories run out. It's a waiting game to get booked in for both.

“This is no one’s fault but something must be done.”

Mr Hudson is calling for an eight-month extension to theory certificates. He said that free retakes would not help, instead “just adding to the backlog”.

The move is not unheard of, with Northern Ireland implementing an extension for learners.

Mr Hudson added: “It is doable. I do not see how or why they haven’t done it already.

“This really impacts people’s future, they might want to pass before going to university or need to for job prospects."

“The DVSA say it’s a safety issue but I don’t agree."

In England, all cars, vans and motorcycles received a six-month extension on MOTs expiring in April and May last year.

"There could be unsafe cars on the road," Mr Hudson said.

"Instructor’s cars have dual controls, for example, and knowledge is picked up and reinforced while on the road. If it wasn’t, learners wouldn’t pass their tests.

“It’s safer doing this than allowing people to make journeys with parents in private practice, which they can in lockdown for essential reasons.”

The Northern Echo: Olivia Adams, 18, with her theory certificate that is due to expire Olivia Adams, 18, with her theory certificate that is due to expire

Olivia Adams, 18, has her practical test booked in February, with her theory due to run out in May.

Despite feeling “very confident” she will pass first time, she could be left waiting months if the test does not go ahead and her theory expires.

The Teesside University student said: “I will be so disappointed and upset if it's cancelled and I have to resit my theory.

“I would understand if we never had this lockdown but it’s just completely out of my control.

“Knowing how to drive would help my mental health massively after all of this time stuck indoors, I’ve struggled but like so many people am pushing through.”

Judith Atkins, also an instructor in Darlington, says hopeful drivers who have not yet had lessons are “panic buying” tests because of the long wait, then looking for instructors.

Ms Atkins, 48, said: “This is making the wait worse for pupils who need to rebook their theory.

“One of my pupils has her test in March and her theory expires in March. I had more in the same position last year.

“It’s very frustrating, they understand road safety. There needs to be some leeway.

"It’s making others put in for their tests early, I’ve just had one rescheduled from Friday to June. That’s months away, there is just no availability.”

For one of Ms Atkins’ learners, it has been one bump in the road after another.

The woman's original test was booked in spring last year and cancelled due to the pandemic. Her theory test expired in summer, which was resat in autumn while she waited for a new practical test date.

Finally being allocated a test for December 31, it was then cancelled as the North-East was placed under Tier 4 coronavirus restrictions.

Instructor John Morton, secretary of Darlington Driver Instructor Federation, is urging others in the industry to speak out and “make noise” about the “snowballing” situation.

The 66-year-old said: “We are getting a lot of questions from pupils, they are looking to us for help.

“This is the virus’ fault, no one else’s. If they can do it for MOTs surely they can do it for us.”

A DVSA spokesperson said: “It is vital that a candidate’s road safety knowledge is up to date when they take their practical test and the longer the gap between the theory and practical the greater the risk that knowledge diminishes. We continue to keep the situation under review.”