A driving licence gives you the freedom of the road. But, before you can head out as a fully qualified driver, there are two major steps to take.
First, you must learn how to drive, then you need to take the driving test. The whole process can be daunting, time-consuming and financially draining.
Every year around 1.8 million people take their driving test in the UK, and the average pass rate across the country stands at around 50%.
You can take your test in an automatic or manual car, and an electric vehicle (EV). However, it's worth noting that driving tests in EVs currently follow the same rules as tests for cars with an automatic gearbox. This means that if you pass your test in an electric car, your licence only covers you to drive conventional automatic cars.
One thing is for sure, there’s no secret to passing your driving test – it’s the combination of a lot of factors including hard work, practice, determination and experience.
What happens during the driving test?
There are five parts to the driving test:
1) An eyesight check. You must read a number plate from a distance of 20 metres for vehicles with a new-style number plate or 20.5 metres for vehicles with an old-style number plate.
2) Two ‘show me, tell me’ vehicle safety questions. You’ll be asked the ‘tell me’ question at the start of your test and a 'show me' question while you’re driving. A 'tell me' could be how to check your engine oil level, while a 'show me' might be how to switch on your dipped headlights.
3) General driving ability. You’ll drive in various road and traffic conditions, but not on motorways. The examiner will give you directions that you should follow.
4) Reversing your vehicle. The examiner will ask you to either parallel park at the side of the road, park in a parking bay or pull up on the right-hand side of the road, reverse for around two car lengths, and then re-join the traffic.
5) Independent driving. You’ll have to drive for about 20 minutes following either directions from a sat nav or traffic signs (the examiner tells you which ones to follow).
How long does the driving test last?
The driving part of the tests takes around 40 minutes. Before taking a practical driving test, you will need to have passed the theory exam.
The theory test can be taken from your 17th birthday onwards and it quizzes you on your knowledge of the Highway Code, traffic signs, driving skills and road hazards.
How much does a driving test cost?
A theory test costs £23 for cars, and the driving test costs £62 (£75 if you take your test in the evening or at the weekend).
However, the driving test fees are just the tip of the financial iceberg because the average person needs around 45 hours of in-car tuition to learn to drive.
The cost of lessons varies depending on where you live, but you can expect to pay roughly £25-£30 per hour.
Read more: Learner drivers overpay for tests and struggle to find teachers after lockdown
10 tips for passing the driving test
Practice makes perfect. The more driving experience you get, the quicker you’ll get the hang of it. If possible, find an experienced family member or friend to take you out for extra practice in addition to regular driving lessons with a qualified instructor.
Don’t be in too much of a hurry to book your driving test – your instructor will know when you’re ready. Too early and you may as well be throwing your test fee away.
When you’re ready to take your test, talk through your test centre options with your instructor. For instance, you might want to avoid a busy city centre or choose a time when the traffic is not too busy - so avoid morning and late afternoon rush hours. Once you’ve booked your test, make sure you have lessons in the area, preferably on the test routes, so you’re familiar with the roads on your test day.
Take mock driving tests with your instructor in the run up to your test day. Also, refresh your memory of the theory (you may have taken the test many months before).
Take your driving test in a car you know well. Most candidates take their test in their instructor’s car for that reason. There are other advantages too because the car should meet the examiners’ standards. For example, it must be roadworthy and insured for a driving test. Also, make sure you know the mechanics of the car, otherwise you may struggle during the ‘show me, tell me’ section of the test.
On your test day, make sure you’re on time. The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) recommends turning up at the test centre 10 minutes before the start of your driving test. Candidates have been known to have their driving tests cancelled without a refund, due to their late arrival. Also, dress comfortably, have your provisional driving licence to hand and don’t forget your glasses if you use them for driving. They may be essential for the eyesight test.
It’s only natural to feel nervous before your driving test. Get a good sleep the night before and book a driving lesson before the test to calm your nerves and put you in the right frame of mind. During the test, drive just like you would with your instructor sitting beside you.
During the test, there’s no harm in ever-so-slightly exaggerating certain actions, such as regularly using mirrors and checking for blind spots, but don’t go overboard. Examiners are looking for natural, safe and confident driving, plus a general awareness of the often fast-changing environment. Also, always be alert for cyclists and pedestrians.
You can talk to your examiner during the test, but be aware that they may not say much because they want you to concentrate on the road. If you’re unsure about anything the examiner has asked you to do, don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat or clarify. Better that way than to make an error.
If you make a mistake during your driving test, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have failed – keep calm and carry on as though it never happened. There are three types of faults you can make:
A dangerous fault - this involves actual danger to you, the examiner, the public or property.
A serious fault - something potentially dangerous.
A driving fault - this is not potentially dangerous, but if you keep making the same fault, it could become a serious fault.
Just remember, you’ll pass your driving test if you make no more than 15 driving faults (sometimes called ‘minors’) and no serious or dangerous faults (‘majors’).