Test Tips

Tips on passing the practical driving test

During the test, the driving examiner will assess and mark your performance. Driving faults are recorded by the examiner in 3 categories: minor, serious or dangerous. If you make just one serious error, or perform a dangerous or illegal manoeuvre, you are likely to fail the test. The good news is that you are allowed to make up to 15 minor faults and still come away with a pass.

Minor faults are those that do not cause any immediate danger. If a minor fault is repeated more than twice, or if it leads to the confusion of other road users, it can be marked as serious. An example of this, is the late cancellation of signals. If there has been no effect on other road users, it will be marked as a minor fault. If the error could potentially lead to a collision, it would be marked as serious. If the examiner has to take physical action, to prevent a crash, it would be recorded as dangerous.

Below is a list of common driving faults. Explanations are given for why the faults typically occur and how to avoid them.

1.) Moving off safely

Fault: Pulling out into another vehicle’s path.

Causes

Not making proper use of the mirrors.

Incorrectly judging speed and/or distance.

Forgetting to look over your shoulder, to check the blind spot.

By taking too long to move away, you fail to see another driver appear.

Not acting upon what you see in the mirrors.

Failing to realise that the door mirrors are ‘convex’ and that traffic appears further away than it is.

Solutions

Check the interior and exterior mirrors more frequently and for longer, to judge speed.

Compare what you see in the interior mirror with the image in the door mirror.

When looking over your shoulder, look for vehicles emerging from side roads/entrances.

Just after moving away, re-check the interior mirror and if necessary get up to speed quickly.

Note: One of the basic rules of the road is not to cause another driver (or rider) to alter speed/direction – if they have the right of way (i.e. if you are joining or crossing their path). The public highway is constantly changing – it may be clear one second but not the next. New drivers may take longer to pull out than more experienced drivers, so always re-check as you start to move off.

2. Use of mirrors when signalling

Fault: Not looking in the appropriate mirrors before signalling.

Causes

Not trained in the mirror-signal-manoeuvre procedure.

Not understanding why the mirror-signal-manoeuvre routine is important.

Failing to follow the procedure or doing it in the correct order.

Not being corrected when you forget to check the mirrors.

Having lots of private practice, without regular professional tuition.

Solutions

Ensure that the intended manoeuvre is safe, before signalling.

Avoid changing position or speed, until you have signalled your intention.

Do not signal and change lane simultaneously.

Act upon what you see in your mirrors and give others time, to react to your signal.

If you see an emergency vehicle behind, give way to it before signalling to turn right.

Re-assess how others have responded to your signal, before carrying out the manoeuvre.

Look – Assess – Decide – Act.

3.) Use of mirrors when changing direction

Fault: Not looking in the appropriate mirrors before changing direction.

Causes

Not realising what the dangers are, or what it is that you are looking for.

Not knowing which mirrors to check, or what is the correct order.

Not realising that another vehicle could be beside you, or about to overtake you.

Inability to properly assess the speed or distance of traffic coming up from behind.

Solutions

Your main attention should be on the road ahead, so that you notice obstructions in good time (e.g. cyclists or parked cars).

Check the interior mirror first, to see what is behind.

Then look in the appropriate door mirror to see what is alongside your car.

Give a signal when a lane change is required.

Check your mirrors again and only then move out when it is safe to do so.

On busy roads, you may have to adjust your speed, to join the outer lane, either by accelerating or slowing down (taking care to keep within speed limits).

When you give an early signal to move out, a courteous driver may hold back to let you out.

If all else fails and you are unable to move out, then the only remaining option is to stop behind the obstruction and wait until it becomes clear.

Try to avoid gazing in the door mirror whilst changing lane. Look first, then look ahead as you alter direction.

4. Use of signals

Fault: Not giving correct signals

Causes

Giving unnecessary or misleading signals.

Not cancelling signals after completion of manoeuvre.

Not switching signals back on again when they self cancel.

Solutions

Where possible, avoid giving signals to pass stationary vehicles, especially if there is a side road to the right, as this would be misleading or ambiguous.

After a gradual left turn or exit slip road, make sure the left signal has cancelled.

If you intend to take the 2nd road on the left, don’t signal until passing the 1st.

When getting into position to turn right, or when negotiating roundabouts, the indicator might cancel itself prematurely. If it does, it is important that it is switched back on again. Listen out for that ‘click.’

5. Positioning
Fault:
Not keeping to the left in normal driving.

Causes

Not staying in the left lane on a multi-lane dual carriageway.

Not returning to the left lane after overtaking stationary or slow moving vehicles.

Failing to leave a roundabout in the left lane.

Turning right onto a dual carriageway into the right hand lane, instead of the left.

Causing other drivers to pass you on the left because of poor positioning.

Solutions

Know the Highway Code – the first rule of the road is to keep to the left.

Understand that overtaking on the left (undertaking) is illegal, unless in slow or one-way traffic.

When there is a choice of lane, or when in doubt – keep left, unless signs show otherwise.

If you consider moving into, or staying in the right lane, you must have a reason.

6. Use of speed

Fault: Driving too fast for the prevailing conditions, or the speed limit.

Causes

Not observing the speed limit signs.

Not realising how fast you are going or checking the speedometer enough.

Not being aware of the hazards/potential dangers ahead.

Not taking account of the weather conditions.

Inadequate caution when near potential danger, e.g. pedestrians, children & horse riders, etc.

Failing to recognise the risks, where there is restricted vision (hills, parked cars, bends etc) or available width.

Solutions

Get into the habit of observing all road signs, especially those relating to speed and schools, etc.

If there is street lighting (a built up area), the speed limit is 30 mph, unless signs tell you otherwise.

Don’t drive faster than 30mph, unless you have seen a sign allowing higher speeds.

When you are in a 20 or 30 zone, there will not always be repeater signs (to remind you what the limit is).

Keep within the zone limit, until a new speed limit is signposted.

Look out for those increasingly common 20mph signs. The examiner will expect compliance.

Where there are continuous ramps along the road there is often a 20mph limit, unless you know otherwise, don’t exceed this – particularly in the Tolworth test area.

Speed signs may be placed just before turning into a new road or just after turning into it. Keep a look out for them.

The closer you are to stationary vehicles, pedestrians and shopping areas, the slower you should drive.

Always be ready to stop, in the event of someone stepping out into the road.

Frequently check your speedometer, especially after leaving a fast road or when driving downhill.

7. Making reasonable progress

Fault: Not driving at normal traffic speed, or driving too slow for the speed limits.

Causes

Failing to notice the speed limit signs or know what the national speed limit is.

Due to inexperience or lack of confidence, there is a reluctance to keep up with the traffic flow.

Not realising that you are impeding the progress of others – causing them to dangerously overtake.

Not realising just how slow you are going.

Solutions

Get into the habit of noticing speed limit signs.

Look at the speedometer more frequently.

Know that the national speed limit is 70mph on dual carriageways and 60 on single carriageways.

Make sure you know what the national speed limit sign looks like.

Not all country lanes with de-restricted speed limits will suit high speeds. Use common sense in these roads.

The key to good driving is in finding the right balance; not too fast and not too slow. The ultimate aim should be to drive smoothly, safely and efficiently, taking into account the prevailing conditions.

8.) Observation at junctions

Fault: Emerging into a major road and causing an approaching driver to brake harshly.

Causes

Failing to notice the give way signs or road markings.

Not understanding the junction layout or system of priorities.

Approaching the junction so fast, that you don’t have enough time to assess the situation.

Not stopping at a ‘STOP’ junction or a ‘blind’ junction, before emerging, leads to you failing to see a car (or bike) coming towards you.

Stopping short of the give way line results in the ‘sight lines’ being too narrow. You emerge blindly rather than ‘inching’ forward for a better view.

Stopping on the line and not inching forward to see around the parked cars, which block your view.

You don’t look left before turning left and then meet an (overtaking) bus on your side of the road.

You ‘stare’ to the right for too long (on the approach), neglecting to observe your direction of travel, consequently going astray.

You see that it is clear, but by the time your car actually moves away, a fast car appears. You don’t see it and fail to stop.

You are focused on looking for cars and consequently fail to see an approaching motor cyclist or pedal cyclist.

After emerging safely you are slow to build up speed and consequently obstruct the traffic flow.

Solutions

Get as much practise as much as you can, on a variety of busy roads, as emerging skills will take time to develop.

Observe the junction signs and road markings, assess the layout and approach at a manageable speed.

After you have decided to go, look again just as you start to move, there will still be time to stop again, if necessary.

There will be a ‘point of no return’ beyond which, quick acceleration may be the better option.

Consult your interior mirror after turning and adjust your speed to avoid obstructing those behind.

Differentiate between ‘open’ junctions and blind junctions. Stop unless the view is open and clear. Choosing the right speed and gear (on the approach) in good time, is key.

9.) Safety Margins
Fault:
Driving too close to parked cars or cyclists.

Causes

Not realising how close you are or what the dangers are.

Not anticipating what could happen.

Limited spatial awareness.

Lack of professional guidance with an experienced instructor.

Solutions

Be aware of the risk of car doors opening, people stepping out or drivers pulling out, etc.

Anticipate that cyclists may wobble, swerve unexpectedly or be blown by the wind.

Give the amount of clearance that would allow for the worst case scenario.

If you cannot give enough clearance because of oncoming traffic, hold back until it’s clear.

If oncoming traffic prevents clearance to stationary vehicles, slow right down and stop if necessary.

Fast and close is a recipe for disaster. So, the closer you get, the slower you should go. As a rough guide, allow at least 1ft of clearance for each 10 mph of speed. Allow yourself more clearance, where the road is wide enough, but not at the expense of endangering oncoming traffic. When in doubt, hold back.

10.) Zebra Crossings

Fault: Approaching the crossing too fast when pedestrians are near, or not stopping when necessary.

Causes

Not being trained to notice pedestrian activity and pedestrian crossings.

Not looking out for pedestrians when approaching the Zebra crossing.

Not reducing speed enough, in relation to the distance of pedestrians from your car.

Not slowing down or stopping, if pedestrians are waiting at the Zebra crossing or have started to cross the road.

Failing to anticipate a pedestrian stepping out, when the view is blocked by stationary traffic.

Solutions

More town driving will be necessary, during busy periods, whilst under professional supervision.

If the windscreen pillars block your view – move your head to see around them. If stationary vans or buses block your view, slow to a crawl, so that you can stop, when a pedestrian suddenly appears.

Realizing that, where pedestrians are involved, getting it wrong is not an option.

Note: Never beckon a pedestrian to cross, (let them decide) other drivers may not see them.

11. Pelican Crossings

Faults

When the light changes to red, managing to stop, but overshooting the ‘stop line’.

Not moving on when the amber light begins to flash and the crossing is clear.

Moving on when the amber light is flashing (when a pedestrian has already started to cross).

Stopping for a pedestrian who is on the pavement, when the amber light is flashing, (they should wait and you should proceed).

Causes

Not anticipating the lights changing, when a pedestrian has clearly pressed the button.

Not having the necessary control or quick thinking to react appropriately.

Not recognising when there is insufficient time to stop and consequently overshooting the stop line.

Approaching too fast and being unprepared.

Inadequate knowledge (or understanding) of the Highway Code.

Solutions

Observe and anticipate the road well ahead. Make sure you notice all hazards, particularly activity at crossings.

Ensure that you have lots of practice in town driving and sufficient professional guidance.

Always be prepared for any eventuality. Consult the interior mirror before sudden stops.

When you are trained to observe and anticipate, harsh braking is rarely necessary.

You need to read the Highway Code to understand what the legal requirements are.

Driving lessons are about putting the theory into practice. Reading will speed up the learning process.

12. Judging oncoming traffic

Fault: Crossing the path of oncoming traffic without due care (when turning right from major road to minor).

Causes

Not understanding who has the right of way or forgetting to look for oncoming traffic.

Not judging speed/distance correctly – causing an oncoming driver to brake.

Not planning ahead to either turn efficiently before oncoming traffic reaches you, or to hold back.

Failing to look to the right just before turning right, to check if the side road is clear of people crossing.

Due to an unusual junction layout (e.g. bend on major road), you did not look left for the oncoming traffic.

A driver in the (oncoming) right hand lane beckons you to go. You fail to see the driver in the left lane (on the inside of the driver who beckoned you).

Solutions

More varied driving experience needed to fully understand the system of priorities & junction layouts.

If an attempt at being efficient went wrong, utilise your speed of approach to your advantage next time.

Much can go wrong when turning right from major to minor roads, so don’t be hasty. When in doubt, wait until you know it is safe to go!

Look to the right for pedestrians crossing, before turning right.

Obstructing oncoming traffic is unsafe.

When turning right at a green traffic light, still be prepared to give way to oncoming traffic. Wait in the middle of the road – unless there is a green filter light (arrow) favouring your right turn. Be extra careful when another vehicle blocks your view of the road ahead.

Note.

The centre line separates you from oncoming traffic. If you have to cross it to turn right (or to overtake) always do so with extreme caution, especially when your view ahead is obscured by another vehicle. Where there is no centre line you should draw an imaginary one in your head. If 2 vehicles meet head on, each travelling at 30mph the impact will equate to a 60mph collision!

Helpful Links

Official DSA car practical test – Are you ready?