Practical driving test - the drive

You’ve already proved that you know your Highway Code and that you can spot hazards developing, but it’s behind the wheel that really counts. This is your chance to show that you’re a safe driver.

As you can read in our practical driving test overview, the drive is the major focus of your practical test. Lasting for around 40 minutes, you’ve got to make it good! When you start your drive, the examiner will tell you to follow the road ahead unless he or any traffic signs say otherwise.

Throughout the drive, the examiner will give you instructions to direct you, but you won’t receive any guidance – so you’ll need to know your road signs and markings plus you’ll have to be aware of other road users.

Before you start, you'll have to read a number plate from a distance of 20 metres (or 20.5 metres if it's an old-style number plate). Then test will be over before it really starts if you can't read it.

Next you'll be asked a 'tell me' safety question. For example, you could need to open the bonnet and explain how you would check the oil level is correct. There's a second 'show me' safety question, but this won't be asked until you are driving.

The drive will kick off with the examiner asking you to start off when you’re ready. Don’t fluff it this early by failing to ensure that the handbrake is on and the gear lever in neutral, before starting the engine. If you’re driving an automatic, check that it’s in Park – it probably will be anyway, as many cars won’t allow you to withdraw the ignition key if Park hasn’t been selected.

As you drive along the examiner will be marking you and making notes on their sheet. Just because they are writing it doesn’t mean there’s a problem – they may be writing complimentary things if you’re really good.

The sorts of things your examiner is looking for include:

  • Smooth use of the accelerator, brakes, steering and clutch
  • Using an appropriate speed for the conditions
  • Correct use of mirrors and signals
  • How you cope with other road users
  • How you deal with junctions, roundabouts and pedestrian crossings

At different points along your route, the examiner will ask you to stop. You’ll need to choose exactly where you stop, but there will always be a safe spot when you’re requested to pull over. These stops will include:

  • A normal stop at the side of the road
  • Pulling out from behind a parked vehicle
  • A hill start

Following one of these stops you may be asked to perform an emergency stop, which means pulling the car up in a hurry, while retaining control. Whether or not you have to do the emergency stop, you’ll have to undertake one of the following manoeuvres: 

  • Parallel park at the side of the road
  • Park in a bay – either driving in and reversing out, or reversing in and driving out (the examiner will tell you which)
  • Pull up on the right-hand side of the road, reverse for two car lengths and rejoin traffic

The test will include 20 minutes of independent driving. You'll either have to follow directions from a sat nav or traffic signs to a location. Either way, the important thing isn't following the directions without taking a wrong turn, but that you show you can continue to drive carefully and safely.

With all of these elements covered, you’ll find yourself back at the driving test centre, at which point you’ll find out whether you’ve passed or failed. Fingers crossed!