05:20PM, Thursday 22 April 2021
Driving tests are on the lockdown roadmap easing starting today (April 22) – and driving instructors in the borough are keen to get back in the passenger’s seat.
Tests have been suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions since January and are now available again.
However, keen learners are hitting stumbling blocks already, with testing centres mainly booked up.
For the past year, driving instructors have been unable to work and have been supported only by Government grants and funds.
Lorraine Maunder of Lorraine’s Motoring School, which operates in Maidenhead and Windsor, said times have been stressful, especially for her students – but they have keen surprisingly calm about getting back into it despite the long wait.
She also feels some apprehension herself having been unable to work for a year.
“I feel a little bit anxious about it but once I get back in the seat, I’ll be fine,” she said.
“I love my work and my students – the most difficult part was having to say no to people who want to have lessons. That’s been the hardest part of the whole thing.”
Ken Kang, proprietor of Ace Drivewise in Curls Lane, welcomed the break, which he used to do charity work in Slough and write a book on how to teach driving. He is looking forward to getting back to normal.
“Like every driving centre we’re very busy – we have got a backlog,” he said.
“We can only do limited hours – we’re having to do a two-hour driving lesson, bring the car back, sanitise it, then take it back out again as long as there’s time.
“You can’t sanitise it and take it straight back out, you have to leave it a while.”
This can cut down work hours significantly and the drop in hours means a loss of income, despite driving schools increasing their prices.
“If you used to do eight hours and now you do four, an extra £2-3 a lesson is never going to cover that,” Ken said.
Other barriers include the need to keep windows open – which in rain or cold weather can be uncomfortable for both instructor and student.
Meanwhile the problem with driving exams being booked up is likely to be ongoing.
A number of driving examiners have decided not to go back to work, as some of them have health issues that makes working as examiners during COVID-times too risky for them.
“The problem we have got now is that the driving tests won’t be available immediately. We’re hoping the list will get shorter as they hire more people,” said Ken.
Students with health problems such as asthma will also be ‘greatly affected’.
“We don’t know how it’s going to affect us,” said Ken. “It’s all about safety and there’s no other way of seeing this through – we’ve just got to cope with it.”
The candidates standing in the upcoming Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner election have outlined their priorities for policing in the region.