Bosses at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) have confirmed their intention to close the facility, at Bede Industrial Estate, in Jarrow, in April.
The decision has prompted concerns about the knock-on effect it could have on businesses, with one estimate suggesting it could hit the borough’s economy to the tune of £2 million.
And driving instructors have united to show their anger at the move, leading a protest convoy from the threatened test centre to South Shields Town Hall to raise awareness of the proposals.
“The DVSA says people shouldn’t have to have their lessons in Sunderland, that they should continue learning to drive in South Shields and just have their driving test in Sunderland,” said Vikki Holt, a driving instructor who has campaigned against the changes.
“It’s constantly said that people don’t understand the road markings [in South Tyneside], they’re in poor condition and we have low winter sun so people can’t see them.
“Road safety is an issue and if we stop teaching people in South Shields the correct way to do these roundabouts it’s only going to get worse.”
A petition calling on the DVSA to reverse the decision has collected almost 5,000 signatures, with campaigners warning the closure to lead to an exodus of driving instructors from South Tyneside.
If it goes ahead, it is feared waiting lists for lessons could surge, along with the cost, with many learners forced to travel to Sunderland or other areas instead.
And the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak has also prompted concerns the reduction in test centres could have if examiners are forced to self-isolate.
Tracey Dixon, leader of South Tyneside Council, joined protesters at the town hall to show her support for the campaign and is due to meet DVSA bosses with Jarrow MP Kate Osborne to try and persuade them to reverse the decision.
She added: “We’re trying to get the message out about how important the test centre is to our residents and businesses - moving or closing it without any conversation is just unacceptable.
“It isn’t a council decision and we need to support our driving instructors and residents over this.
“The worry I have is that driving schools will decide South Tyneside isn’t worth it, that businesses will suffer and it will affect our recovery [from the coronavirus pandemic].
“It’s a ludicrous decision, it’s a decision which should not have been taken.”
The DVSA has insisted testing capacity will not be affected by the closure, with demand expected to be handled by Sunderland’s test centre, raising concerns of an exodus of instructors from South Tyneside.
Ahead of the protest, a spokesman for the regulator said: “We have made the decision to close the South Shields driving test centre, as there are other nearby centres where the same services can be relocated.
“We understand this change may cause an inconvenience for some, but we have worked hard to ensure that there is no change in the number of tests provided to local candidates, and no tests were lost as a result of the closure.”