Teenagers are paying out costly sums for extra lessons due to pandemic disruption to the driving test.
Due to the risk of Covid-19 infection, all driving lessons and driving tests were cancelled during Northern Ireland’s lockdown, which began on December 26.
Driving instructors have to sit inside a vehicle with a learner and would be a close contact should the young person be diagnosed with coronavirus.
Natasha, 18, from Killyleagh, said: “It is an absolute nightmare.
“You are spending money then on more lessons to play catch up, because you have obviously forgotten all your manoeuvres or not had time to practise.”
She has had four appointments cancelled.
Originally she was booked for November and now has a date in April.
She added: “If you live in a rural area driving is so important because there are very poor buses unless you are in the city, unless you are in Belfast or Lisburn or Derry/Londonderry.”
She also said there were delays to the system for booking tests.
“Last time it took me an hour and a half to rebook it,” she added.
She said learning to drive was exciting and important when you reach age 17.
It is pretty much a rite of passageNatasha
She said: “It is access to freedom, to be able to go out without having to ask parents for a lift or wait for a bus.
“It is pretty much a rite of passage.”
Driving instructors have sought clarity on how the test backlog will be tackled once restrictions ends.
Close contact services have been suspended a number of times since the pandemic began.
Customers with theory test pass certificates due to expire will be given priority access to the booking system by the Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA) when practical driving tests are able to resume.
The Infrastructure Department said: “Those customers whose tests were cancelled due to Covid restrictions have already been contacted by the DVA and have had the opportunity to reschedule their appointments.
“The DVA has already created additional test slots for February, March and April for those customers.
It said the DVA continues to increase its capacity by recruiting additional examiners and will be offering evening appointments as we move into spring and the brighter nights.
“The DVA will continue to offer driving tests on a Saturday and driving tests for Heavy Goods Vehicles on Sundays where it is suitable to do so without compromising the integrity of the test.
“The DVA will also use overtime to rota off-shift dual role driving examiners to provide further capacity.”