British Columbia

High demand for ICBC road tests, driving lessons lead to long waits to get behind the wheel

Testing centres were closed for five months due to COVID-19 and now the crown corporation and driving instructors are slammed.

Wannabe drivers are facing month-long waits to get tested for a licence

Sean McDonald has been a driving instructor for 23 years and has not had a day off since early February due to high demand for road tests and lessons following COVID-19 closures. (Matt Meuse/CBC)

It could be a long road ahead if you're hoping to get a driver's licence in British Columbia right now.

Road testing centres across the province were closed for five months during the pandemic and when they reopened last summer, had a backlog of about 55,000 road tests that needed to be booked. 

Now, as British Columbians look optimistically toward a summer with some semblance of normalcy, there are still wannabe drivers still facing months-long waits to get tested. 

And if you want to take lessons beforehand, at least one Vancouver driving instructor says it could be the end of summer before you can take his car out for a spin, depending on scheduling.

Lessons in patience

Sean McDonald, who has been teaching people to drive for over 20 years, hasn't had a day off since early February and has been pulling 12- to 14-hour shifts to try to clear the backlog of people seeking his help.

"You just get the widest range," said McDonald, about the people requesting lessons. A lot of his customers are young drivers and people who can drive elsewhere but need certification after relocating to B.C.

McDonald said the pandemic shutdown exacerbated a problem — not enough available road tests— that already existed pre-pandemic. Now, he said, the amount of people waiting are adding fuel to the fire because many fail their test when they do finally get one, and then go back into the system.

"The backlog would work a lot better if everybody was passing," he said.

The people who will have the hardest time trying to secure lessons before their test are those who work 9-5 and can only be available evenings and weekends, McDonald said.

People with less flexible schedules would have to wait until late July if they wanted to book a lesson with him.

ICBC, meanwhile, has opened testing sites on Saturdays to chip away at the backlog. 

Masks are mandatory for everyone in the vehicle during lessons and testing. Vehicles are cleaned before and after each user.

As for McDonald, it looks like he might get a day off at the end of this month.

"Looking forward to that," he told CBC's The Early Edition on Thursday morning, before buckling up for another day of working off the backlog.

With files from The Early Edition