Put yourself in the position the ICBC vice-president responsible for driver testing in B.C. There have been almost 60,000 practical driving tests cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Roughly 5,000 on Vancouver Island. Motorcycle tests and Class 1 through 4 practical professional driving licence exams are now being conducted. All theory tests are by appointment only (at the time of writing).
Class 7 and 5 road tests are problematic. The delay in acquiring the proper masks has hampered the return to active testing of these classifications. The initial order from China was lacking in the quality of protection requested. In short, they were defective. A new supplier has been engaged.
The sheer magnitude of the problem is not yet appreciated by the public. Those affected by the unforeseen delay are in a very dubious position. It has been just over three months since tests were discontinued. This presents a prolonged rescheduling nightmare never experienced by the testing stations.
The infrequent strike and lockout experiences of the past are nothing in comparison.
The time needed to clear the backlog is threatening to ruin the credibility of the driver-testing function at the corporation. Students hoping to get their licence six months early, having taken the Graduated Licensing Course, are now wondering how this will possibly be accomplished. Some were going for a road test in the last half of March. These road tests have been cancelled. They have waited the necessary 12 months for the privilege of qualifying for their N phase. Normally, this N phase would last two years, but for these Graduated Licensing Course students the time frame is reduced to 18 months. This continuing delay in road test bookings has now cost them three months (and counting) so far. Some Graduated Licensing Courses involve a documented 40 practice session with a co-pilot, 12 hours instruction behind the wheel and a minimum of 18 hours of theory work.
All candidates looking to get rid of their L and proceed to the two-year N phase and those with an N are similarly affected.
Seniors needing a 90-minute road test time are in the same boat.
This unprecedented problem deserves an equally unprecedented solution.
Here are some suggestions that could alleviate this growing problem.
When driving tests resume, those with previously cancelled appointments should be first to re-book their road test.
The GLC students who have successfully completed, with documentation, their 70 hours of instruction, should be able to forgo the road test, with the qualification that if a blamable crash or driving infraction should occur, a road test will be mandatory. These students have a much higher pass rate and correspondingly lower crash rate than other new drivers.
Likewise, all senior road tests should be suspended. These 90-minute ordeals should be based on near-term performance. If a blamable crash or ticket is issued in the upcoming year, then require a test.
There should be consideration for the time delay, due to the pandemic, to book a driving test. Perhaps a subtraction from the 2-year N phase, equal to the months of delay in gaining a test time, should be mandated by the Minister responsible. There could also be a forgiveness of this second N road test when no infractions or blamable crashes have occurred during the phase.
Many people need a driver’s licence. Some for employment opportunities, others for their education commute, and still others for family responsibility. The time for action is now.
Perhaps weekend test times and extended day test times should be offered to driving examiners, with significant pay incentives to match.
Our B.C. government and health authority’s stellar performance during this pandemic should be matched by bold provincial action to alleviate the ICBC driver testing backlog predicament.
Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island. He is a former vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas, a registered B.C. teacher and a University of Manitoba graduate.