Number of learner drivers cheating on theory tests triples after lockdown backlog

Driving test
Driving test

The number of learner drivers cheating on their theory tests has tripled in the last three years amid frustration over the backlog caused by lockdowns.

There were 1,652 reports of cheating at theory test centres in 2022-23, a 190 per cent increase on the 568 in 2020-21.

The freedom of information data obtained by AA Driving School also show that the number of prosecutions increased from five to 19 between those two periods.

Motoring experts said the long waiting lists that built up during the Covid lockdowns have left learners desperate to pass their tests by any means necessary.

‘The pressure to pass has increased’

“That means most learners want to get their practical test booked in as soon as possible – but they can’t do this until they have passed their theory test,” said Camilla Benitez, managing director of AA Driving School.

“This has increased the pressure to pass the theory test, and to pass it as quickly as possible.”

Approximately 850,000 tests were cancelled during the pandemic and FOI data obtained by AA Driving School show that in January this year, three quarters of all test centres had not returned to pre-pandemic waiting times.

Two fifths of all centres were also making learners wait more than five months.

Charles Moffat, chairman of the Approved Driving Instructors National Joint Council, said the most common way to cheat was to hire impersonators who take the theory test in a learner’s place.

‘Backlog is not going down’

They can earn as much as £1,500 for fraudulently taking the test, which usually costs just £23.

Otman Agha-Rida, 23, was given a suspended sentence in February for sitting as many as 55 exams in nine months across England and Wales in 2021 and 2022.

In October last year, Satwinder Singh, 34, was jailed for impersonating learners on 36 different occasions, earning up to £1,500 a time.

Mr Moffat said the market for cheating would not be resolved until the waiting lists are reduced.

“The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has done a lot to try and tackle the backlog but the reality is it is not going down,” he told The Telegraph.

“Some figures suggest it will be well into the middle of next year before any impression is made into the practical driving test backlog.”

Carly Brookfield, chief executive of the Driving Instructors’ Association, said “nefarious” criminals were preying on learner drivers’ desperation to beat the backlog and get on the road.

‘They may cheat someone of their life’

Many learners are petrified of failing or delaying any part of the process and that has combined with the huge demand yet limited supply of tests and instructors to create a market for nefarious providers,” she said.

“Some learners are prepared to take the risk but they should know that they are not only cheating themselves – they may end up cheating someone of their life in an accident.”

Rod Dennis, the RAC’s road safety spokesman, praised the Government for cracking down on “bot systems block booking test slots to sell on at a higher price” but said more action was needed to tackle the “massive backlog”.

“These long delays, combined with the rising cost and poor reliability of public transport, may be why a small proportion of aspiring drivers have resorted to trying to buck the system in a rush to get their full licences,” he said.

Ms Brookfield added: “There needs to be a stronger deterrent to stop people thinking this is an easy route in the first place.

“We are lobbying the DVSA to ban every single cheat from taking tests for at least a year and report them to insurers so they find it harder to get insured when they earn their licence.”

The DVSA has created an additional 150,000 test slots this year to reduce learners’ lengthy waits.

A DVSA spokesman said: “Driving test fraud is an extremely serious offence and we’re cracking down on those who put innocent road users at risk.

“The rise in cheating incidents is a result of improved monitoring from DVSA, which has in turn increased criminal prosecutions and licence revocations of offenders, as we continue to keep Britain’s road safe.”

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