Months of closures for examination centres during the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns have resulted in long delays for people hoping to take their driving test.
Some people who make an appointment with an examination centre are given a date as far off as February due to the backlog, according to reporting by De Standaard.
During the two different lockdowns in Belgium, the 31 driving test centres (16 of which are in Flanders) were closed for over four months.
Despite being fully operational again since mid-January, the backlogs are expected to persist until at least the spring of 2022.
“People whose provisional driving licence is about to expire are given priority now,” Steven Raes of Goca Vlaanderen, the umbrella organisation for car testing and examination centres, told De Standaard.
Between now and the end of September alone, some 30,000 provisional driving licences will expire in Flanders.
The majority of their owners will actually want to take a driving test in the coming weeks.
“These are often people who were unable to take their driving test last year because of the forced closures,” said Raes.
“There is enough capacity in the examination centres for them in the coming months, but that means that far fewer other candidate drivers can be helped in the meantime. So there will be a backlog.”
Raes expects the backlog to begin to gradually disappear in autumn, both because autumn tends to be quieter at the examination centres, and because additional staff are being hired.
A dozen additional examiners have already begun working, and more will join them in the coming months.
The first half of 2021 already saw 40 percent more driving tests than the first half of 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic began.
“It remains difficult to make predictions as long as the coronavirus crisis continues, but without new closures we should be able to clear all backlogs by the end of March,” said Raes.
Not every candidate will have to wait until spring for their driving test.
Driving schools can book a certain number of exams at the examination centres during time slots allocated in advance.
If a driving school has spare places, their students will be able to take the exam sooner.
Due to the mandatory closures of the examination centres, the validity of provisional licences that were due to expire before 1 October has now been extended until 31 December.
Licences that would expire between 1 October and 1 January were extended until 31 March 2022.
Raes urged hopeful new drivers looking to book an exam to make sure they were as fully prepared as possible before requesting an appointment, both in terms of their ability and their paperwork.
“Too often the exam has to be cancelled before it has even started because a candidate forgot his car papers at home,” Raes said.
“Then a new date has to be found, and the queue gets even longer.”
The Brussels Times