Wait times for ICBC road tests soar as new drivers show up unprepared

On a crisp but sunny morning on Vancouver's West Side, about a dozen people are waiting outside in some semblance of order.

They're not there for a sale on electronics, or to get their hands on the new Beaujolais — they're waiting at an ICBC branch on standby to take a road test so they can get a driver's licence. 

Some of them have been waiting since 5:30 a.m., hopeful someone with a reserved spot won't show up. Susanna Miller, 25, arrived about an hour before doors open at 8:30 a.m. She thinks she's about fifth in line.

"I feel confident to pass. I just don't think I'll get to take it," she said, bundled in a puffy jacket.

Maryse Zeidler/CBC

ICBC made its road tests more challenging in 2016. Now, wait times to take one to get a Class 5 or 7 driver's licence in the Lower Mainland have risen to 58 days, compared to 48 last year. But the corporation says the main factor driving the problem is people showing up unprepared to take the test, not a lack of driver examiners. 

Miller recently got a job but she can't start until she has a Class 5 driver's licence — the full licence as part of B.C.'s graduated licensing system. 

The first road test appointment she could book online in Vancouver wasn't until January. So she decided to hedge her bets and wait on standby.

"This is my fourth day coming. Some days I just call it after a little while because I can tell it's not going anywhere," she said.

"It's just a complete unknown as to whether I'll be able to get it anytime in the next few weeks."

More repeat customers

ICBC spokesperson Joanna Linsangan says wait times are long because of a percentage of drivers who clog up the system by failing the test over and over again.

"Unfortunately we're seeing a growing number of people coming in unprepared and essentially treating their road test as a driving lesson," Linsangan said.

In the Lower Mainland, eight per cent of drivers needed four or more tries to pass their test in 2015, Linsangan says — taking up nearly a quarter of ICBC's total testing time in the region. 

ICBC data from that same year shows that only 62 per cent of customers passed their Class 5 or 7 test on their first attempt. And Linsangan says that number has shrunk by about five per cent since 2016.

Maryse Zeidler/CBC

"The main message that we're trying to get out to new drivers wanting to get their new licence is to study, get those hours in practice on the road," she said.

Lee Ollie, ICBC's director of driver testing, admits that part of what's driving the increased failure rates is the test itself. 

The corporation reviewed its test routes in 2016 to include more challenges like left-hand turns at intersections, Ollie said, where crashes are more likely to happen.

"At the end of the day, I think our focus is to make sure we're putting safe drivers on the road," Ollie said. 

More examiners coming

ICBC did hire 18 new driver examiners across the province last year to help deal with the backlog, and Ollie says the corporation intends to hire more.

He says driver examiners were also retrained to apply test criteria more consistently across the province. 

But for now, the bulk of ICBC's focus is on easing the number of repeat offenders.

Maryse Zeidler/CBC

Last June ICBC implemented longer wait times between tests for people who fail the first time. The goal is to hopefully get drivers to practise more before taking the exam again. 

Ollie said the corporation is also working toward improving the educational portion of its website, and is working more closely with driving schools to ensure they're teaching according to ICBC's standards.