What is the practical driving test?

By Chris Haycock     24 August 2015

A million people take the dreaded driving test each year. We take a look at what's involved in the test, what you'll need to know and how to prepare yourself for the big day.

Every year in Britain more than a million learner drivers take their driving test. That's one million people nervously anticipating their encounter with the dreaded driving test examiner. If you're one of them, keep calm and inform yourself with details of what is expected of you.

Everyone who drives a vehicle on the public roads is required to have passed a test to demonstrate that they have the required skills to be safe. This test is called the Practical Driving Test.

You wouldn't expect to be given permission to fly an aeroplane without having the necessary skills to fly it, and neither should you be allowed to drive a car on public roads without the required skills. Although safety features in cars are getting better every year, they have the potential to be highly dangerous machines for the unskilled, and the Practical Driving Test ensures that you are qualified and skillful enough to take your car on the road.

During the test, there are several questions about safety, as well as an eyesight test to ensure that you can read a number plate a certain distance away from you. The eyesight check will often be taken prior to the actual driving section to ensure that your visibility of the road ahead is adequate enough.

Vehicle Safety Questions

Before you set out in your vehicle, you will be required to undertake several basic safety checks on your car to make sure that it is safe and roadworthy. Some of the checks may involve you having to open up the vehicle bonnet to show the examiner that you know where some of the main engine features are, or how to perform safety checks (such as oil levels). You won't actually be required to undertake these actions - just identify them to show the examiner that you know what to do.

Make sure you know how to check your oil levels, top up the windscreen washer etc., as one driving fault will be marked on your test sheet if you fail to show to the examiner that you know how to perform basic maintenance tasks.

The Physical Driving Test

Once the examiner is confident that you are ready to drive the vehicle, they will ask you to take a test-drive. The examiner will inform you of his selected route, or give you directions which you will need to follow as you're driving. The route you undertake will often include a range of traffic and driving conditions, such as primary routes, secondary routes, dual carriageways or country roads. You will need to demonstrate that you are comfortable and confident to drive all types of road and conditions.

Throughout the driving test your examiner will ask you to perform set exercises, such as reversing, parallel parking or emergency braking. Making a mistake is common, so don't panic if you mess things up. Sometimes minor faults won't affect your overall test result, so keep calm and carry on following his instructions at all times.

If the instructor deems a mistake to be either dangerous or serious, they may fail you automatically. Don't dispair - this is for the safety of other road users, so don't take it personally. If you're unsure whether you've made a serious mistake, carry on following your examiner's instructions unless you are told otherwise. It may not be as serious as you think.

The amount of faults is quite forgiving - you can make up to 15 driving faults on your test. Any more than this and you will fail. Just remember to stay calm and in control of your car at all times.

Independent Driving

During the driving test your examiners will require you to conduct some independent driving, which demonstrates to them that you can make your own decisions whilst driving, in a safe and controlled manner.

Don't confuse this part of the test with knowing your way around the local area - it's not a test of whether you know directions or navigation.

You'll be asked to either observe traffic signs and signals, follow their directions or perhaps a bit of both. Don't be scared to ask for confirmation of the directions if you forget. If you leave the route that you're given they will help you get back to the original route.

Good luck with your driving test. Before you take the test, try to remain calm and confident (but not overly so). Breathing exercises can really help control the nerves. If you don't pass your test, then don't dispair - there's always next time around.