The already mentally taxing experience of driving tests is becoming nothing short of a nightmare for learner drivers and their driving instructors.
For months now, testing officers have been crying out for changes at the Licensing Authority in order to ease the pressure on students, but to no avail.
The driving instructors maintain that a shortage of testing officers was leading to long lines, lengthy waits and postponements, placing added pressure on already nervous learner drivers.
When Barbados TODAY visited the Licensing Authority in The Pine, St Michael shortly after 9 a.m. Tuesday, a large number of vehicles had already queued up on the compound, with instructors gathered outside, while impatient learners either were asleep in the vehicles or sat snacking. Some had even left, clearly convinced that they would complete their assignments and be back in plenty of time.
Veteran driving instructor Erskine Cumberbatch vented his frustrations, as he pleaded with the authorities to be considerate of the learners, and to do whatever was possible to ease the stress on the students.
“Think about the students when you are making decisions. It’s alright to sit down and waste time but put yourself in the position of a student. It’s not easy and it’s very hard on the driving instructor as well. But my main concern is the students.
“If I’m up here for an entire day to do one test, I’m going to be tired and can’t do anything else for the rest of the day. The student would be frustrated. Anyone would get frustrated. You build up yourself to get this thing, you build up yourself for a particular day then to be told you have to wait again or you might have to come back,” he said.
Cumberbatch explained that having just three testing officers operating daily was not working out, with back ups within the system causing a trickle down effect.
“There are only three testing officers at present and that is a result of other persons going off on retirement and so on. There used to be about seven or eight. There are no replacements up to now and that’s why the situation is where it is right now.
“It’s putting a strain on the entire process. It puts a strain on the testing officers because they have to fill the void and it will put a strain on us the driving instructors. For instance, my student was here since 5:30 a.m., it’s now minutes to ten and he hasn’t even left the yard as yet. I’m not even sure it will be done today because they may do about ten or 12 and call it quits,” he said.
The driving instructor added that in the past, about 40 to 60 tests were done daily, a far cry from what pertains today.
“Having to wait so long affects the students tremendously as well. I had a student last week who came at ten minutes past six and I sat down here until 3 p.m. to be told they have to come back in June.
“You have a permit that expires in six months, you might have had a date for March or April and you cannot do that test because you aren’t capable enough as yet of handling the road. You are going to get a reschedule for another four or five months down the road, that means you have to renew that permit in order to get a date on it. And you aren’t going to get that date unless it’s renewed. So it’s almost a year you’re dealing with that,” he lamented.
Another driving instructor, who asked not to be identified, spoke of the ineffectiveness of the scheduling system, saying appointments meant little in the current circumstances.
“[It] doesn’t make sense having timed tests anymore. If your test is April 18th there is no guarantee that you would be able to do it that day. Sometimes you would come mentally prepared to do your test and get turned back and get rescheduled for two, three months later. I have students who came in last month and get rescheduled all in August. They really need to hire more testing officers, its about time,” he said.
Barbados TODAY spoke to one student who had done the test, albeit about five hours later than scheduled, and after a rush to get papers in.
“I left home that morning around 6 a.m. as instructed by my driving instructor in order to be early in line to hand in my permit at the front desk. While there, the line was long and once the door was opened and the gentleman collected the papers, I had to push my way to the front of the line, in order to get my papers in. I passed my test that day, thank God, because that was a long and stressful day which I would not wish for anyone,” she explained.
In a brief comment to Barbados TODAY Tuesday evening, Minister of Transport and Works Michael Lashley said he was aware of the ongoing problems and was working to have the vacant positions filled.
He asked driving instructors and testing officers to be patient in the interim.
“We are aware of it because some testing officers have left. We are actually waiting for the posts to be filled. We have made the request and the situation is being handled. I won’t be able to say when they will be filled but I will check on it,” Lashley said.