‘Hopefully I’ll come back with my Ps’: Bela faces a six-hour trip just to take a driving test

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Bela East, 21, has been trying to book a driving test since February, but due to a massive COVID-related backlog, she’s hit roadblocks at every turn.

Ms East, who has exceeded her 120 hours of driving practice, lives in the small town of Denman in the Upper Hunter and is keen to get her Ps so she can have more independence. 

But when she went to the main Service NSW office in nearby Muswellbrook she was told there was little chance of getting a driving test anytime soon.

“The lady helping us looked up all the available appointments for the next month because I need my Ps as soon as possible for work,” Ms East says.

“She goes, looks there’s a booking in Gunnedah or there’s a booking in Mudgee. And that’s it.”

Ms East decided to take the appointment in Gunnedah in the North West, which is a two-and-a-half hour drive one way.

She’s made plans for a full-day road trip, allowing for the five-hour round trip and an hour to take the test, and is getting her partner to drive her there.

It’s already hard to stay calm for a driving test but Ms East says there’s even more pressure to avoid failing so the road trip isn’t wasted.

“I know of two other ladies who went to Gunnedah and unfortunately one of them actually failed,” she says.

“So hopefully I go well and the six hours is worth it.”

a driver behind the wheel at sunset

The pandemic has created a backlog for driving tests.(Supplied: Unsplash)

Clearing the backlog in regional NSW

A Service NSW spokesperson says the availability of driving tests at the office in Muswellbrook has been affected by COVID-19, with staff needing to take sick leave.

They say they are working to increase appointments in the area, and they are also recruiting 100 new test drivers around the state to help meet demand.

Jacinda Silva from Scone is considering whether to take her 17-year-old son, Dylan, outside the Hunter for a driving test, but is worried a long trip will put too much pressure on him.

“Obviously, they don’t have their licence so we’d have to take time off work to be able to drive them. Not fun,” she says.

“After them driving for two or three hours to somewhere else regionally, they’re actually not at their best.

“It’s a bit ridiculous … [not having a licence] restricts their ability to go to school, or if they want to go to TAFE somewhere else they can’t go, or get a job.”

A mobile Service NSW centre visits Scone once a month and can offer driving tests.

The spokesperson says the mobile centre will visit the town for two consecutive days in June and offer six tests per day.

Ms Silva says she is continuing to ring around and is looking online for bookings every day.

“They need to offer the regional people more options, so then it’s equal for all people who are trying to get their licence,” she says.

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