Oxfordshire's learner drivers are travelling as far as Wales for their tests because of the "nightmare" backlog in the county.

Learners are taking exams hundreds of miles away as they struggle to book slots at test centres in Oxford and Banbury.

It comes as the driving test backlog in Oxfordshire has reached record levels, according to new data.

READ MORE: Learner drivers arrive for pre-booked tests to find centre CLOSED

Thousands more people are waiting to sit tests - and are waiting longer - than before the coronavirus pandemic, which is believed to have caused the backlog.

Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) figures from September show more than 15,000 people had tests booked in the county – compared to fewer than 400 in February 2020.

The stats - obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Oxford Mail – also show the average time between booking and sitting a test in Oxfordshire has risen from four weeks to five months.

While a national issue, the driving test backlog is more severe in Oxfordshire than elsewhere, the data reveals.

Learners and driving instructors say it is an “absolute nightmare” to pass a test in the county.

The demand for tests is so high that many people are forced to wake up early to secure their slots online.

Peter Brooks, an instructor in Carterton, is on his computer at 6am every Monday to book tests for his students.

“By two or three minutes past, all the test slots are gone at Oxford,” he said.

“Within half an hour, they are all gone at Banbury.”

Such are the difficulties, some of his students have been forced to sit tests in Cheltenham and Herefordshire.

Oxford Mail: Tony Fixter runs Fixit Driving School in WallingfordTony Fixter runs Fixit Driving School in Wallingford (Image: Tony Fixter)

Fellow instructor Tony Fixter has seen learners travel to Wales, Manchester and Winchester for their tests.

Mr Fixter, who runs Fixit Driving School in Wallingford, said: “The main problem is the lack of examiners at test centres in Oxford.

“Unless they radically employ more driving examiners then the backlog is going to continue for many years.”

Mr Brooks said his students were more nervous in tests because they feared waiting another five months if they failed.

“If they have been waiting so long for a test, then it puts an added pressure on them,” he said.

While the backlog grows, pass rates in tests have plummeted over the last three years in Oxfordshire.

READ MORE: Oxford weather: Met Office issues yellow warning for rain

DVSA figures show they reached their lowest recorded level at the Oxford centre in 2022-23 - when just 46 per cent of tests were passed.

The fall off is even worse at the centre in Banbury, where just 44 per cent of tests were passed between April 2022 to March 2023.

Before 2021-22, it had never dropped below 50 per cent.

Former-learner Jessica Hibbert, 40, from Oxford, said she failed two tests because of the pressure of the backlog.

She said: “I failed those tests because I was so nervous about having to wait another five months.”

She passed on her third try in November but described the times she had failed as an “absolute nightmare”.

“It means you have got to pay more money on driving lessons and tests, and it is also very frustrating,” she said.

“I was looking for a job at the time and they all said that I needed a driving licence.”

READ MORE: Dive team joins River Windrush search for Witney woman

The test backlog has grown worse in Oxfordshire than elsewhere in England and Wales after the pandemic.

Oxford Mail: The DVSA test centre in OxfordThe DVSA test centre in Oxford (Image: Google Maps)

DVSA figures show a 1,353 per cent rise in test bookings in the county from February 2020 to September 2023.

The national increase was just 153 per cent in the same period.

Wait times have also gone up more in Oxfordshire, where there has been a 347 per cent rise compared to 107 per cent nationally.

Mr Brooks said the issue was more acute in the county because it had a “large population” with just two test centres.

He claimed the Oxford centre, in James Wolfe Road, had a “massive catchment area” which it couldn’t cope with.

The DVSA said it was “taking all the measures it can” to reduce driving test waiting times.

Spokeswoman Gemma Berry said: “The work we've been doing to date, along with our examiner recruitment, is already creating over 40,000 extra tests every month (nationally).

“We strongly urge learners only to book their driving test when they are ready to pass.”

The test backlog has coincided with a rise in the number of drivers caught by police without a licence in Oxfordshire.

An FOI request to Thames Valley Police revealed 505 people were stopped without a valid licence between March and September 2023.

In the same six month period in 2019 - before the pandemic and test backlog – just 326 people were stopped.

A police spokesman would not comment on whether the rise was linked to the test backlog.