The number of young people qualified to drive has fallen to the lowest level on record as driving lessons and tests have been suspended and financial pressures have increased as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Just 2.97 million people aged 16 to 25 in Great Britain hold a full licence, down from 3.32 million in March 2020 and the lowest number in records dating back to 2012, when there were 3.42 million.
The decline is sharper relative to the total number of young people, which has risen over the same period. The drop emerged from analysis of data from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) by the PA Media agency.
The AA president, Edmund King, said it was partly as a result of the prohibition of driving tests and lessons for much of the past 12 months because of the pandemic. “This has been a very stressful time for many learners and indeed their instructors who were unable to work,” he said.
King said the disruption had been made worse by the government’s refusal to extend the maximum two-year period between passing the theory exam and taking a practical test. There was “massive pent-up demand for both lessons and tests,” he said, and bookings were expected to “skyrocket when instructors can teach again”.
Driving lessons could restart from 12 April in England and Wales, but learners in Scotland must wait until 6 May.
Steve Gooding of the RAC Foundation said the appetite for driving had not diminished among young people, and pointed to recent rises in the number of people holding provisional licences.
“Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by this fall in the number of full licence holders aged 25 and under in a year when the Covid-19 pandemic increased financial pressures for many, meant driving lessons and driving tests had to be suspended, and resulted in more young people being locked down in their family home,” he said.
A Department for Transport survey in 2019 found that the most common reasons for 17 to 20-year-olds in England not trying to get on the road were the costs of learning to drive (41%), buying a car (31%) and insuring it (30%).
Fewer than one in five (19%) of respondents said they were not interested in driving, and 12% cited the availability of other forms of transport.
People who did not renew licences that expired between 1 February 2020 and the end of the year had their eligibility to drive extended by 11 months because of the pandemic. They were not included in the latest DVLA figures.
The drop in the recorded number of young licence holders is around six times larger than the overall decrease, however, indicating that the number on the road has fallen, PA Media reported.