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Learner drivers heading out of lockdown areas to take tests in Highlands


By Ian Duncan

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Driving instructor Lawrence MacLean says people from as far away as London are rearranging their driving tests to be taken in Inverness to beat the lockdown. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Driving instructor Lawrence MacLean says people from as far away as London are rearranging their driving tests to be taken in Inverness to beat the lockdown. Picture: James Mackenzie.

CHEEKY learner drivers from across the UK are flouting lockdown rules and coming to the Highlands to take their tests.

A number of local driving instructors have hit out at the practice which was also roundly condemned by the region’s politicians.

One Inverness instructor said he had taken calls from people as far away as London trying to buck the system.

Lawrence MacLean, of Oldtown Place, said these selfish people were denying his own students test appointments – as well as breaking current travel advice relating to unnecessary journeys.

Last week alone he took calls from London and Newcastle which are both under England’s strictest lockdown rules.

And on Monday he was contacted by someone in Glasgow which is currently in tier three of the Scottish restrictions.

The 70-year-old, who runs Driving Lessons With Lawrence and has up to 15 years’ experience as an instructor, said: “I had one where somebody phoned up saying they were wanting to fly up and get a couple of hours in before their test. I said to them ‘no you shouldn’t be coming here’. I’ve had other calls as well.

“They are breaking lockdown – I am very opposed to it. I am quite sure they will find somebody that will take them but I think it is wrong, totally wrong.”

He said one of his local students had recently been told that the earliest they could take a test was February.

He has also raised the matter with an examiner. He said: “He nodded to the person who was in the other car and said ‘that’s what they’ve done’. It must be rife. It doesn’t seem right and I don’t know how many others have done this.”

Stephen Laing, who runs Aries Driving School, said he knew of other driving instructors who had received similar calls from England and he had taken a call from someone living in Orkney.

He said this could be because both Inverness and Alness test centres were still open at the moment.

A spokeswoman from John Finnigan Driving Tuition said they had noticed an increase
in calls from outside the Highlands since driving tests resumed in September but their policy was not to take on anyone they did not know so close to their test.

Inverness and Nairn SNP MSP Fergus Ewing said: “It is vital for all of us to try and suppress the spread of Covid-19 and part of these suppressing measures are that no unnecessary travel takes place from areas where high numbers of people may be carrying the virus.

“If people don’t abide by the travel guidance set out here, there is a risk that the virus will spread to areas where it is less common, such as the Highlands, and we may have to return to national restrictions.”

John Finnie, the Scottish Green MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said: “The rules are very clear that, save in exceptional circumstances, travel from tier three areas to the Highlands is not allowed.

“The measure of cynicism being exercised by those greedy folk is deeply depressing.

“I applaud those instructors declining to give lessons and will write to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) to have them look at this matter with a view to them not allowing tests to be taken in these circumstances.”

Regional Labour MSP David Stewart said: “It is very concerning that there are reports of people flouting coronavirus restrictions because our test centres are still open.

“With driving tests are currently suspended in England until December 1, the UK and Scottish governments need to look at this reported loophole as a matter of urgency and ensure that local test centres and regulatory bodies are given guidance as to what action they can take to ensure the safety of local staff and the community.”

And Skye Lochaber and Badenoch SNP MSP Kate Forbes said: “There is no excuse for not knowing and not following the guidelines. It is clear that at a time when the prevalence of the virus is lower in the Highlands, there should not be travel from places with higher rates like the places mentioned here.

“As such, it is pretty clear that people should not be travelling to the Highlands purely for driving tests as that isn’t an essential reason for travel.”

A DVSA spokesman said the English lockdown rules were clear and it was important to prevent the spread of Covid-19. He added: “We trust people will be observing the lockdown. There are legitimate reasons why somebody has taken a test in Scotland and has an English address – such as going to university.”



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