Taking your driving test can be very daunting – so much so, that less than 50% of drivers pass their test on the first attempt. In this article we will provide you with advice on what to expect during your driving test, and tips for boosting your confidence and passing. We will also explore how the driving test has changed over the years.
How Has The Driving Test Changed Over Time?
The driving test is over 80 years old, and there have been many changes to the system over this time. Since 1935 there have been around 52 million tests and numerous changes to what’s required of the successful candidate. Some of the changes really put into perspective how times have changed:
• 1903 - First driving licence is introduced.
• 1931 – The first edition of the Highway Code is published by the Ministry of Transport.
• 1935 - Compulsory testing begins in June for all new drivers. Candidates meet at pre-arranged locations such as car parks or railway stations, because there are no test centres.
• 1969 - Several changes are made to the test, including the introduction of a ban on dual accelerator controls unless they have been disengaged. A separate category for automatic cars is also brought in.
• 1973 – Computerised driving licences are issued from March, with green paper licences replacing the old-style red booklets. A full licence is still only valid for three years.
• 1975 - Candidates no longer have to demonstrate arm signals in the test from May.
• 1976 - Full licences become valid until the holder reaches 70 years old.
• 1988 - Driving tests are now conducted under the new provisions of the Road Traffic Act 1988.
• 1996 - A separate written theory test is brought in.
• 1997 - New rules mean if a driver collects six points or more during the first two years of driving, their licence is revoked.
• 2002 - A hazard perception test is introduced into the theory test. Video clips are used to test candidates’ awareness of hazards on the road.
• 2003 - ‘Show me’ and ‘tell me’ vehicle safety questions are added to the beginning of the practical test.
• 2010 – Driving test candidates are encouraged to take their instructor with them on their test. ‘Independent driving’ becomes part of the test, with candidates having to drive for 10 minutes making their own decisions.
What Can You Expect From Your Driving Test Now?
There are five key areas covered within the time span of your practical driving test. These are:
1. An Eyesight Check - You are required to read a number plate from 20 metres for vehicles with a new style plate or 20.5 metres for vehicles with an old-style number plate. If you fail to read the number plate, your test will end.
Advice: The only thing you can do here to make sure will pass, is test yourself beforehand. So, find a car, measure out 20 metres and see if you can read it. If you can’t, get yourself to an eye exam before your driving test.
If you wear glasses, you're required by law to wear them whenever you drive, so don’t forget them!
2. ‘Show me, tell me’ Questions - You will be asked one ‘show me’ and one ‘tell me’ question during your test. These are to show the examiner that you have some vehicle knowledge.
Advice: These questions are designed to check that you have basic knowledge of how to check your car is safe before driving it. As their name suggests, one requires you to show something, while the other requires you to tell something. You can find a list of questions for this part of the test on the UK government website and your instructor should have done some practice questions with you during your lessons.
An example ‘show me’ question:
When it’s safe to do so, can you show me how you would demist the front windscreen?
An example ‘tell me’ question:
Tell me where you’d find the information for the recommended tyre pressures for this car and how tyre pressures should be checked.
3. General Driving Ability - This will be assessed throughout your test and is perhaps the most important thing to get right as you want to prove to the examiner that you are in control of the car and feel comfortable driving. Your examiner will ask you to drive in various road and traffic environments (excluding motorways). The examiner will provide directions for you to follow, sometimes on a laminated sheet and sometimes through spoken guidance.
Advice: Drive as you have been doing during your lessons and don’t get hung up on little mistakes.
You will need to carry out a simple manoeuvre at the side of the road at some point during your test. This could be making a stop at the side of the road, pulling out from behind a parked vehicle or a hill start. An emergency stop may be required, but what you are asked to do will depend on a number of things such as traffic conditions, time and your individual examiner.
4. Reversing Your Vehicle - You will be asked to either parallel park, park in a bay or reverse on the right-hand side of the road for around 2 car lengths before re-joining the traffic. Your instructor will have done these manoeuvres with you multiple times during lessons before you have to do them in test conditions.
Advice: Make sure you follow the advice your instructor gave you during your lessons and go at your own pace. There are only three potential manoeuvres that could be asked of you, and you can practise your technique with your instructor until you feel happy doing them. The instructor will make everything really clear, so there is no need to worry.
5. Independent Driving - The final section of the test is independent driving for roughly 20 minutes; you will be following either a sat nav or traffic signs to navigate.
Advice: The main thing to remember is to forget that the examiner is sat next to you and to focus on your driving.
This is not a navigation exercise; the priority is to drive safely and well at all times as you would when driving once you have passed. It doesn't matter if you go the wrong way; the examiner will help you get back on route and if there are any covered signs or discrepancies in the sat nav instructions, the examiner will provide directions.
Tips For Passing Your Practical Driving Test
• Plan Your Time – Giving yourself sufficient time to learn how to drive so that you feel ready to take your test is so important. Don’t try to rush the process, as many skills are developed through experience and you don’t want to take a test when you aren’t ready.
• Regular Lessons – Having weekly lessons will help you progress consistently and boost your confidence.
• Record Your Progress – Most instructors will create a progress log that will help you both keep track of where you are. This is very useful to look back on and learn from.
• Practice - Once you’ve gained some experience with an instructor, if possible, get a friend or relative to take you out for extra practice on the road. However, you must remember that you have to have the relevant insurance in place and that there are rules about who can accompany a learner; they must be over 21 and have had a full licence for over three years. Some insurers may apply stricter terms than this, for example requiring the accompanying driver to be over the age of 25.
• Take A Mock Driving Test -It is likely you will do at least one mock test with your instructor to help enlighten you on what to expect.
• Use The Instructor’s Car – When taking your test the best car to use would be your instructor’s as you will have spent a lot of your time practising in that car and should know it well.
• Forget About Mistakes – Mistakes happen and dwelling on them during your test will not help anyone. Always remember that the examiner wants you to pass and you just have to do your best.
• Exaggerate Mirror Checks – Something that examiners always look out for are your mirror checks. This is because you always need to be aware of your surroundings in all aspects of the test and driving in general.
• Stay Calm- Remember to concentrate on your breathing and take a few deep breaths. Don’t dwell on the past and focus on the next instruction. Remember, any mistake you feel you’ve made may only be minor, in which case you can still pass your test. And don’t feel shy if you didn’t understand something - it is perfectly okay to ask your examiner to repeat any instructions.
Pass or Fail?
There are many reasons why people do not pass their driving test. Some of the most common mistakes include poor observation at junctions, incorrect signal use, failing to check blind spots during reverse parking, incorrect positioning on the road and driving at the wrong speed. If too many smaller mistakes are made you will likely not pass.
There are three types of faults you can get during your practical test:
• A driving fault (a minor)
• A serious fault and (a major)
• A dangerous fault (a major)
During the test you can accrue up to 15 driving faults and still pass. When it comes to serious or dangerous faults, however, as a rule, it is 'one strike and you're out'.
If the examiner thinks you're a danger to other road users, they will stop the test immediately. And if you forget to bring all of the relevant documents to your test, the test will not take place to begin with.
Otherwise, you'll be able to complete the test and return to the test centre where you'll be told whether you've passed or failed.
After You've Passed Your Test
Driving is an ongoing learning experience and lessons do not have to stop once you’ve passed your test. Most instructors will be happy to teach you to drive on a motorway, at night and in poor weather conditions so you can improve your skills. It is completely your choice and depends on your confidence levels.
Further opportunities to have your driving monitored are taking ‘Pass Plus’ or getting a black box fitted. This will help lower your insurance costs and ‘Pass Plus’ is great for further advancing your skills.
After your first year of having an insured car, you are likely to be rewarded with cheaper insurance for being a sensible driver.