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Driving examiner checking the physical provisional driving licence ahead of a testAs you might know, the high waiting times for driving test appointments have led to a rise in the use of automated bots that exploit the driving test booking service. This can result in the reselling of appointments, often at inflated prices.

In this blog post, I want to explain what bots are, the challenges they pose, and the steps we’re taking to deal with this issue.

Understanding bots

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, ‘bots’ are automated software programs that perform specific tasks over the internet. They’re designed to mimic human behaviour and can be programmed to carry out various actions – including searching for and reserving driving test appointments.

Bots are developed to work at a much faster speed than humans, so they’re an attractive tool for people who want to exploit our systems.

Using bots, organisations can swiftly find and secure available slots more quickly than individual customers.

These organisations will hold on to these test appointments until they can resell them at a higher price. This means that those who are ready to take their test can struggle to find one at a date and time of their choice.

This practice makes it harder for everyone and can lead to people resorting to pay over the odds for an appointment. While this is unfair, it’s not illegal.

Finding ways to stop ever-advancing bot technologies

The challenge for us is to find ways to stop bots from accessing the booking site without affecting genuine learners and ADIs trying to use the service.

We do some basic things that you’d expect, like using a CAPTCHA test to check if a user is human if we suspect it might be a bot.

Example of the CAPTCHA test on the online driving test booking service

We also use other more advanced bot protection measures. We’re not going to go into details of what those are, as that information could help people get around them.

But as we step up our measures, the technologies the profiteers are using continue to advance. They can often be adjusted to get around changes we make.

It’s a difficult balancing act

We work hard to stop bots, and it’s very technical work.

Due to the complexities involved in differentiating between bots and genuine users, there can be times where the steps taken to prevent automated access result in inconveniences for our customers.

A recent change to the service did just this and we know that some of you will have received an ‘error 15’ message when trying to book a test. We are sorry for any inconvenience this caused.

Example of error 15 message from GOV.UK

If you’re experiencing any problems accessing the booking service, there is a list of workaround published on GOV.UK. These are updated if any new errors are reported.

If these workarounds do not help there are details about what to do next on the GOV.UK page.

More protection is coming

We do have some more changes up our sleeves that will support our efforts in making sure the booking process is fair for all.

Again, we’re unable to go in to too much detail as it will give the game away. But please be reassured we are constantly looking for ways to disrupt organisations and people who are using the system unfairly.

Education and communication can help

We understand why people will resort to using services that offer to find cancellations. But we also know that some of these services might collect personal data that learners might not expect or be comfortable with.

It’s important for you to remain vigilant about sharing information as well. The recent phishing email being sent to ADIs shows that you are being targeted as well.

Remember to only share your information if you are 100% certain the person asking for your data is who they say they are. You can find more information about spotting scam emails on the action fraud website.

So it’s really important that learners check the terms and conditions about how their data will be used.

To help raise awareness of the dangers we are:

  • providing comprehensive information and guidance on our official channels, including GOV.UK and our social media platforms through our ‘Ready to Pass?’ campaign
  • working with other organisations such as driving schools, regulatory bodies, and social media influencers to circulate information about the risks of third-party services
  • encouraging learner drivers to report any misuse of their details related to driving test bookings to our data protection manager or the Information Commissioner

By educating learner drivers about the risks of using third-party services, we aim to empower them to make informed decisions and avoid being exploited.

Example of social media messages educating learner drivers about how to book their driving test safely
Example of social media messages educating learner drivers about how to book their driving test safely

We have focused on promoting the use of official DVSA channels for driving test bookings, which ensures a safe and secure process for all learners.

Stopping exploitation of the service for ADIs to book and manage tests

We know that some businesses exploit the system that was designed for ADIs to book and manage driving tests for their pupils.

On 9 January 2023 we introduced stricter terms and conditions for using the service.  We’ve also tightened up the way we monitor the usage of this system.

We’re going to be making some more changes to the terms and conditions soon. These will include:

  • stopping users from using the service if they cancel 20% or more of their tests in the 10 working days leading up to the test (those who cancel in the 3 working days before the test will also continue to lose the test fee)
  • making sure that accounts have an ADI linked to them – if they do not, the account will be suspended

We’ll confirm when these changes will take affect nearer the time and will contact all users of the service to keep them informed.