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Want to get your driver’s licence? Prepare for a longer wait as driving schools work through Covid-19 backlog

A general view of a driving school in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur March 31, 2022. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

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KUALA LUMPUR, April 7 — One of the many businesses changed by the last two years (of the Covid-19 pandemic) is driving schools.

On top of the sudden increase in students (yet another instance of dealing with backlogs), there are also Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) that each school has to incorporate into their teaching modules.

“This is the first time I’m experiencing such a situation where everything came to a stop and there was nothing we could do about the situation but wait.

“Even after we reopened, things did not immediately return to normal and even right now we are still recovering from the long shutdown,” said a staff at Sekolah Memandu Malaya Tengah.

All driving courses had to stop abruptly when the first movement control order (MCO) took place in 2020, forcing all services industries among others to stop operations.

At that time, only essential services industries were allowed to continue operating.

“When we could finally reopen, we had to first address students who had their lessons cancelled due to MCO, but at the same time, we had new enrollments.

“It was quite a mess if you ask me, but there was nothing we could do about it,” said the staff.

At the same time, driving schools were facing a shortage of instructors and vehicles available for driving lessons, due the sudden increase in demand.

Standard operating procedures

Whether it was for driving (cars) or riding (motorcycles) lessons, a backlog of students was faced by all driving schools.

“The SOPs are one of the main reasons why it is taking longer than usual to complete the entire course.

“Prior to Covid-19, there were certain regulations which already caused a slight inconvenience in conducting driving lessons.

“With Covid-19 SOPs, it made things even more complicated,” said the staff.

He was referring to students who are today taught on a one on one basis as compared to previously where an instructor was allowed to bring along one or two other students for driving lessons.

This is also part of the reason why more instructors are needed, he added.

Still recovering

The owner of Sekolah Memandu Gombak agreed that Covid-19 SOPs were part of the reasons for a backlog of students.

“We need more classes to accommodate more students, since we can only have 20 to 25 students in one class now (theory class) compared to previously where one class could fit 50 students.

“This is why the duration to complete a driving course now takes much longer,” said Kevin (he only wanted to be identified by his first name).

He added that due to the loss in income during the MCO periods, he also could not afford to hire more instructors.

“We definitely need more vehicles so that we don’t have delays, but more vehicles means more instructors, and that is something I can’t afford now.

“We made a loss in the past two years since the first MCO and we just can’t afford to fork out additional expenditure,” he said.

He added that so far there have been minimal complaints about how long it takes to complete a driving course and students are still coming in.

“We are thankful that people are understanding. Yes some do complain but most are willing to wait,” he said.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Kevin said the average time taken to complete a driving course would be between two to three months, while today it could take as long as eight to nine months.

“This is not even a fixed timeline, there is no way we can guarantee given the ever-changing climate now.

“Eight to nine months is a rough estimation, it could even take longer,” he said.

Kevin also pointed out that the waiting time to get enrolled into a driving course is now approximately two years.

“Previously before the Covid-19 pandemic, the waiting time was already about a year… so because of the pandemic, two years is not surprising,” he added.

Another driving school — Sekolah Memandu Rakyat — also had some issues with backlogged students but have managed to clear most of them.

According to a staff member, the driving school did not do what some driving schools did, that is to open up online registration during the lockdown period.

“So when the driving schools could finally reopen, they had an influx of students, both from online and walk-in registration.

“We didn’t do that, so we can still manage with our backlog of students who were students who could not complete the course due to the pandemic,” he explained.

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