Driving Test Failures
Top 10 and How to Avoid Them

With the help of extracts from www.Lofaway2Pass.com by kind permission Diane Hall, DVSA(ADI), TFT-Alg. (Author).

The current overall pass rate for the Driving test is just 47%
and the first time pass rate is even lower!

Failing to look properly at junctions and not using mirrors effectively are the top reasons people failed following changes made to the driving test in 2017. Driving Standards Agency has published a list of the top ten reasons for failure, However, the majority of test candidates who fail do so because of a lack of planning and judgement. You may be physically able to drive to a high standard, but this is not enough to ensure a test pass.

As well as being able to drive, you have to have an awareness of what's happening around you, and to act accordingly. However, this is where the problems arise during the test, because nerves can play such a large part on how you are able to perform on the day. So many people say after their test: 'but I never do that normally!'

A recent survey* showed that over half of the people questioned thought that they would fail their test because of 'doing something silly' on the day that they wouldn't normally do on a driving lesson. Furthermore, ninety percent believed that their negative thoughts and resulting nerves would have an impact on their test result.

In the same survey, ninety-five percent of people said it would be wonderful if they could go for their test feeling: 'excited because I have absolute belief and confidence in my ability to pass'. My belief is that if you work through the various exercises and techniques in this book, you can have this feeling, and if you go for your test feeling this confident in your ability, then you will have the best chance possible of passing your test on the first attempt.

Although your instructor will teach you the physical driving skills to enable you to pass your test, the standard method of learning to drive does little to increase your confidence in your own ability, reduce your nerves on the day, and therefore mentally prepare you for your test; that is why the exercises in this book are so useful.

Here are the Top Ten reasons for failure according to Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) latest figures

Take a few minutes to look through the list and note which ones you identify with. You may find it helpful to think back to your driving lessons and ask yourself which driving skills your instructor needs to keep practicing with you. When you have done this, you will have an accurate idea as to where your strengths and weaknesses lie and, if you haven't done so already, you can then use the relevant exercises and techniques in the book to help you.

nerves The 10 most common faults made during driving tests between 4 December 2017 and 3 December 2018 were:
  1. Junctions – observation - not checking or not acting on the information.
  2. Mirrors – change direction - ineffective observation and judgement.
  3. Control – steering - steering too early or leaving it too late.
  4. Junctions – turning right.
  5. Move off – safely - not checking or not acting on the information.
  6. Response to signs – traffic lights.
  7. Move off – control.
  8. Positioning – normal driving.
  9. Response to signs – road markings.
  10. Reverse park – control - ineffective observation or lack of accuracy.

Mirror, mirror on the wall…

As you look through the list, you will see that the reasons for failure fall into two basic categories: observation and judgement, and physical ability. Ask yourself how difficult it is to look in your mirrors whilst driving. When you go on your driving test, does a neck brace mysteriously appear around your neck as the examiner gets into the car, which prevents your head from moving, or do your eyes suddenly start to hurt as soon as you look in the mirror, or perhaps your elaborate hairstyle prevents you from turning around to check your blind spot? Of course not, but look again at the list of reasons for failure:

Six out of ten of them are attributable to lack of use of mirrors and observation

So why do so many people fail their test for these reasons? If it were so easy to make sure that you use your mirrors effectively, act on what you see, check your blind spots when necessary and keep good all round observation, then the pass rate would be much higher. At least, that is the theory.

How many people do you know who have failed their test because of lack of use of mirrors or observation? Perhaps you have even done so yourself. However, why do people fail their driving test because of a failure to do correctly something so obvious and easy to learn? It is because when you are feeling nervous you forget the most basic skills. I have thought about this issue a lot and I have a theory why people miss basic mirror checks on their test and that theory is that people learn from their mistakes. If you lift your foot off the clutch too quickly, the car stalls, so you learn to take your foot off more slowly. If you try to go up a hill in a high gear, the car struggles, so you learn that you need a lower gear going up hill.

These two errors have a tangible, physical consequence. Therefore, you learn from your mistake. However, a missed mirror check during a lesson or test may have no physical consequence, but when it does, the physical consequences can be fatal: swapping lanes in front of another car, or braking harshly so that the car behind runs into you, or not checking a blind spot and knocking a child off their bike. However, these events are highly unlikely to occur during a lesson or test as your instructor (or accompanying driver) will prevent them from happening, as they will be more aware and experienced than you about what is happening around the car. You may never get the opportunity to learn from such mistakes until you've passed your test because it would obviously put people's lives at risk (and let's hope that you never do get that opportunity). There can be no controlled errors where mirror checks and observation are concerned.

'I always know what's happening around me, check my mirrors, and act on what I see.'

If you can say the above with total conviction, then you do not need to read this section. However, if your instructor has to keep reminding you to check your mirrors and blind spots, then read on. It's very simple; all you have to do is:

Look in the appropriate mirrors before
  • Signalling
  • Changing Speed
  • Changing Direction
As we have already said if it were that simple then no one would fail their test due to observation errors and missed mirror checks, or acting inappropriately on observations made. In the survey mentioned earlier, seventy percent of people said that their instructor has to prompt them on a regular basis. It is hard to understand why pupils need reminding to check their mirrors, knowing that they are aware that there can be fatal consequences of not doing this.

'I'm sorry that your child is dead, but I just forgot to check my blind spot.'

I'm using shock tactics but I think they are necessary as death is the potential consequence every single time a driver forgets to check their mirrors or blind spot. If the police visited your house to advise that a close relative had been murdered, perhaps shot or stabbed, how would you feel towards the murderer? Imagine instead that this relative had been killed by a driver swapping lanes in front of them. How would you feel towards the driver of that car? Would you feel the same as you would feel towards the murderer? Even though the intention is completely different, the outcome is still the same. The scenarios described above should be enough to ensure that you are always aware of what's happening around you, and that you take full responsibility for your actions.

Getting the right perspective

When I was learning to drive, I was a student and my fellow students and I would often discuss how well our driving lessons had gone. The question most often heard was: 'So, how many times did you stall?' When I talk to my pupils now, they still ask the same question of their friends. I don't remember ever saying: 'It was brilliant, although I stalled a few times, I never missed a mirror check!' People don't seem to consider errors made in checking their mirrors as important or worthy of comment as they do errors made stalling their car. This is incredible. If you are more concerned about how many times you stalled, rather than your mirrors and awareness, then I think that you need a lesson in perspective.

If you miss a mirror check, you can potentially kill someone;
however, the usual consequences of stalling are that you will
hold a few people up for a few seconds.

I'm not suggesting that stalling is a good thing to do; I am saying that if you are more concerned with stalling the car than with your mirror checks then you need to get things into perspective. Stalling may have serious consequences, especially if you stall in the middle of a roundabout, or at traffic lights just as they are about to change, but I don't understand why people place much more emphasis on this than missing a mirror check. Ask yourself how many times you keep thinking about the few times that you stalled on your lesson, compared to the many times that you missed a mirror or blind spot check. Pupils often get very nervous and panic when they have stalled because they feel embarrassed and are worried about what the other drivers around them are thinking, or that they are holding people up, and annoying other drivers. They aren't unduly concerned when they have missed a mirror check and they should be.

Promise yourself that from this moment on you will never again miss a mirror check and will always be aware of what's happening around you.

I hope that this section will have shown you the importance of mirrors, blind spots and observation, but I suggest you work through Chapter Six, 'The basics' to ensure that this is firmly entrenched in your mind for good.

Remember, a car is a potentially a lethal
weapon and you are in control of it.
It takes less than a second to check your mirrors,
but if you don't, you will regret it for the rest of
your life if you cause a fatal accident.

Don't fail the physical!

If you refer back to the top ten reasons for failure, surprisingly the physical skill of driving doesn't feature very highly. Only 'moving away under control' and 'lack of steering control' find their way into the top ten.

You have probably realised by now that the physical ability to drive is the easiest bit to master, and that the hardest part is the thinking behind it. However, what can you do if on your test, the nerves get the better of you, and the physical ability to drive seems to leave you temporarily? So many people drive really well during their lessons, and then go to pieces on their test. What maybe of little consequence on your lesson can turn into a catastrophe if you let it get to you on your test.

If you usually drive well on your lesson, then remember,
you can also do it on your test as well; you just may not think that you can!

As you learned earlier, no good instructor will let a pupil take their test before they are ready, as it's very demoralising to fail your test. Your instructor wants you to be as prepared as possible, so you don't have to go through the upset of failing. Therefore, it's in everyone's interest to make sure you are fully prepared.

Only clutch and steering control feature in this section, and if you have difficulty in these areas, please don't put in for your test until you feel totally confident in your ability. When you have to do an uphill start, if you are scared that you may roll back and feeling nervous about it, then trust me, you are not ready for your test.

So, ask yourself (and your instructor) if your physical driving ability is up to test standard. If it isn't, carry on working on it until it is; but if it is, and you are concerned that nerves will get to you on your test and prevent you from driving as well as you normally would, then make sure you work through Chapter Thirteen, 'Test day stress-busters'. You will find that so long as your drive is up to the required standard, then you will not suddenly lose your ability to drive due to nerves.

Perfect planning and execution

I suggest that you now look again at the top ten reasons for failure. Which ones do you think are related to planning and decision-making? I think that the following reasons for failure could be prevented, or at least reduced with more thought:

Observation at junctions
Incorrect positioning
Inappropriate speed
Use of signals

How many times have you said 'If only…' followed by a range of comments, such as, 'I'd seen that car at the roundabout', 'remembered to turn my signal on/off', 'stayed in the correct lane', 'spotted the speed limit sign' etc.?

After the event, it's very easy to be full of remorse, bitterness, anger and a range of other emotions, but that just makes you feel worse about failing your test. How much better would it be to say: 'I drove to the best of my ability, and was really in the “zone” and was aware of everything happening around me.'? If your physical drive is up to the required standard, then how frustrating would it be to fail on something as simple as missing a speed limit, or forgetting to cancel your signal?

Prior planning prevents poor performance

Remembering this statement is all very well when preparing for an examination; all you have to do is know what's on the syllabus and revise accordingly. However, when talking about driving, we are talking about making instant judgements and decisions that can affect lives; a split second decision that could result in life or death. Perhaps this sounds a bit heavy. But consider this: so is a car when it hits you at 70mph! Therefore, it's imperative that your judgement is sound and that you always drive with utmost concentration and thought. This is perhaps the hardest part of all when learning to drive.

Awareness and planning

I once taught a pupil who was meant to be taking her test in two weeks. We were on a wide, straight country lane, doing about fifty mph with several cars approaching from the opposite direction. Up ahead there was a tractor travelling at about ten mph, and we were rapidly getting closer and closer to it. My pupil asked: 'Shall I slow down?' This particular pupil frequently didn't judge situations very well and tended to rely on me for everything. I had been trying to get her to think for herself a little more. Therefore, instead of telling her to slow down, I said: 'no, that's fine, keep at fifty mph', to which my pupil replied, 'but if I do, I'll hit it!'. To this my reply was: 'Well, stop asking silly questions then!'

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