The Driving Test - What Happens on the Day

What to Expect during the UK Driving Test

A lot of learner drivers preparing for the driving test seem to think that there are some kind of special driving test secrets that they need to know in order to please the DSA examiner and thus pass the UK practical car assessment, or that what goes on in the car during the driving test is something they haven't done before. I'm going to use this article to go through exactly what happens during the 40 minutes of the DSA car driving test.

It is a good idea to arrive at the test centre about 10 minutes before your appointment time, reverse into a parking bay if the centre has them, and try and get yourself relaxed either in your car or in the waiting room. It is natural to be nervous, but don't allow the nerves to get the better part of you.

At the appointed time, the DSA examiners will come into the waiting room, call your name out, and check your driving licence or identification documents to make sure they are in order. You will be asked to sign an insurance declaration to say the vehicle you are presenting for the driving test is properly insured and that you are eligible to take the test by virtue of your residency in the country. Once this is complete, the examiner will ask you to lead the way to your car. Before you get to the car, the DSA driving test examiner will stop you and ask you to read a number plate of a car at the required distance of 20.5 meters for the old-style number plates, or 20 metres for the new-style number plates. The new style number plates were first issued on 1st September, 2001 and are easily identifiable because they start with two letters ie UK51 ADI.

If you fail this test, then you will not be allowed to get into the car for the practical bit of the driving test (you will be asked twice to read the number plates, then the driving test examiner will actually use a tape to measure the distance before terminating the test).

If you pass the eye test, you will go to your car and the examiner will then ask you the two basic car maintenance show me tell me questions. This may or may not include questions that would require you to open the car bonnet.

The driving examiner will ask you to get into the car while he takes details of the car being used for the driving test, if you are using your private car on the driving test, make sure it meets all the DSA requirements, as I have heard of and seen tests being terminated because cars being presented for the test were faulty in one way or the other.

The practical part of the Driving Test

If your car is roadworthy, then the driving examiner will get into the car, give you a brief idea of what is going to happen during the practical part of the driving test, including if you might be asked to do the emergency stop.

During the practical part of the driving test which will last between 30-35 minutes you will be taken on a test route that was pre-chosen before the driving examiner met you, and will cover a wide variety of roads and driving conditions to demonstrate that you can handle a car safely and carry out all the pre-set exercises. Out of the four pre-set exercises(turn in the road, reverse parking, bay parking, reverse round a corner), you will usually be asked to carry out 1, and you might also be asked to perform the emergency stop. You will also have to do a 10 minute independent driving section where you will follow signs or a series of directions.

As long as you have prepared properly for the driving test, you might start off a little nervous, but as you start to do what you have done so many times before with your instructor (ADI or PDI) or supervising driver, you should be able to settle down and concentrate on the tasks at hand. Many pupils fail the driving test because they have not had enough practise, and are hoping to pass either because they get an 'easy' driving test route or a lenient driving examiner.

Driving Test Routes

A lot of pupils preparing for the driving test like to go over the test centre routes until they have memorised them, thinking that this will ensure they pass the test first time, but the truth is there are a lot of things that you can fail on during the 30 minutes or so that you are driving with the DSA examiner. Remember the DSA want to see a safe drive, and not just being able to get from A to B (something many foreign licence holders don't realise), so just knowing a route doesn't mean you will have the required skills to deal with every single thing that might happen on the road. What happens if an accident occurs, and diversions are in place, will you be able to cope with the additional traffic and narrow roads? I like to vary the routes my test standard candidates use by going on un-familiar roads checking to see how they use their anticipation and planning skills, know their road signs, and are able to meet traffic, etc.

To summarise, the DSA driving test examiner is in the car to check that you have reached the required standard to be allowed to drive on UK roads unsupervised, and that you are not a danger to other road users. They will not trick you just to fail you, and as much as you may think, they do want you to pass the driving test and do not have any quotas that get filled up.

If you are in the UK, you might be interested in Focus Media's Driving Test simulator for the PC, which has a virtual driving test simulator.

More Reading
Using your own car on the driving test


  1. Anonymous11:26 am

    When any person sit his practical test the Driving Test Examiner will say his loaded command which he/she always says (please follow the road ahead unless I tell you or road signs, marking indicate otherwise)

    This loaded command from the Driving Test Examiner causes so many people throughout the country to fail their driving test which is unfair.

    In my last failed driving test when approaching a road with no entry sign in the end of it and there was a road to the right and I was waiting for the Driving Test Examiner to tell me turn right he never uttered a word.

    I turned right eventually but in the end of the test he failed me for not recognising the no entry sign although I did recognise it and turned right but according to him it was too late.

    I learned later that the Driving Test Examiner will not give you any direction if the situation in the road left the driver with only one option due to road sign like turn right only or left only or no entry sign or no through road sign in the end of the road or for example when you approach a junction and the left lane is for turn left only and the right land for going ahead in this situation the Examiner will not give any direction because he said it in the beginning of the test (please follow the road ahead unless I tell you or road signs ,marking indicate otherwise) therefore he expect you in this case to indicate right to move to the right lane to fellow the road ahead and of course to cancel your indication

    This seems to me that the Driving Test Examiner he is out there to fail you by choosing a driving test route with design and planted situation ( like an ambush )in which to see if candidate will recognise it and if he didn't examiner will fail the candidate on the spot

    That is seem to me that the candidate is sitting a tricky driving test planted by the Driving Test Examiner rather than examine the candidate ability to drive and control a vehicle which it should be the main purpose of the test

    If you don't mind would you mention to me some situation like I mentioned above where the driving examiner would not give any direction and expect the candidate to act alone.

  2. Anonymous11:52 am

    For the practical DSA driving test, you are expected to be able to identify, understand and follow road signs/markings, which is why many driving instructors also use that 'loaded command' as you put it at the beginning of their driving lessons. I use it, because it allows me to get pupils used to reading signs and planning accordingly as shown in my driving school video.

    The examiners are not out to fail you, but you must be prepared to a particular standard to pass the driving test, and planning your driving is one of them.

    The best thing to do is practice this especially in unfamiliar areas until you are confident that you can read road signs/markings and plan your driving route to accomodate these.

    I wish you well on your next driving test.




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