The dreaded driving test. Shaky knees, sweaty palms and a dry mouth!
For a lot of new drivers, the driving test is one of the most anxious 30 minutes or so spent in the car during the journey of obtaining a driver's license. As a professional driving instructor, I've assisted many students pass their driving test and have seen first hand how the pressure to perform during the on-road assessment can adversely affect otherwise competent learner drivers.
It's easier said than done, but relax, focus on the job at hand, and drive during the test as you would if you were being supervised by your parents or your driving instructor. Being a little nervous is a good thing - it heightens your senses and ensures you're not going into the test complacent or overconfident.
The RMS testing officer will assess you on 5 criteria during your drive - managing vehicle speed, positioning the vehicle correctly on the road, making correct driving decisions, recognising and responding to hazards, and using the vehicle's controls satisfactorily. In addition, you will perform several manoeuvres (eg: kerbside stop, three point turn, etc.).
Before the test
Ensure the vehicle you use for the driving test is roadworthy. The RMS testing officer will check your vehicle before your assessment, and if deemed unroadworthy you'll be failed before you have the opportunity to drive from the testing centre!
Check to ensure the vehicle's registration is current.
Clean the vehicle's windows inside and out and ensure there is no damage.
Indicators and brake lights must be operational.
Tyre tread depth must be legal.
Adjust mirrors, seat and the steering wheel position to suit you.
Ensure there are no loose objects floating around the cabin.
Top up the fuel tank.
Ensure your logbook (if applicable) is completed correctly and signed off by a fully licensed supervising driver.
Read through the RMS booklet A Guide to the Driving Test (PDF).
Arrive at the testing centre 20 minutes prior to your test. You will need to complete a license application form (PDF) beforehand or on arrival at the service centre, so allow yourself sufficient time to complete paperwork, then take a seat and try to relax before you're called.
During the test
My ultimate non-technical tip - don't dwell on any mistakes! If you continue to worry about a minor error you know you've made and how it may impact your result, you're likely to lose focus and make another error! You can't change the past, so just move on and concentrate on the remainder of the test.
Demonstrate low risk behaviour
Your testing officer wants you to display to them that you're a confident, safe, low-risk driver whom understands the road rules and has earned the privilege of being issued with a driver's license. A driver's license is a privilege and not a right.
Ensure a minimum 3 second gap when following another vehicle, and don't drive in the blind spots of other vehicles, particularly heavy vehicles.
Maintain space to the vehicle in front when stopped at an intersection. A minimum of one car length is required - I recommend being able to clearly see the rear tyres on the road of the vehicle in front.
Monitor your speed. I recommend remaining 5kph below the posted limit during the driving test to provide you with a margin for error. If you're unsure of the posted limit within your current zone, assume 50kph and ask the testing officer for clarification (they are happy to tell you). Be cautious of school zone speed limits when they apply.
Perform all required blind spot head checks
A common reason for failing the driving test is frequently not performing the required observation checks. In particular, drivers often forget to check their left blind spot before turning left off a wide road. If it's possible to fit another vehicle between your vehicle and the kerb, you must check over your left shoulder for traffic that may be on the inside of your vehicle (eg: a cyclist in a bike lane).
You must check your mirrors and blind spots in the following circumstances:
Before moving the vehicle to the kerb during a kerbside stop (left shoulder).
Before leaving the kerb (right shoulder).
Before reversing, if the front of the vehicle will swing into traffic - eg: when performing a reverse parallel park (right shoulder).
Before preparing to turn left on a wide road (left shoulder).
Before preparing to turn right at intersections where it's possible you may be overtaken (right shoulder)
Before changing lanes (left or right shoulder as appropriate).
When exiting a multi-lane roundabout from the inside lane (left shoulder).
When reversing, you must look over your left shoulder through the rear windscreen (ie: always look in the direction of travel). Using your mirrors alone is insufficient.
Scan left & right before proceeding through traffic lights if you're the first vehicle stopped at the intersection (you're checking for pedestrians and red-light runners).
It's not good enough to just flick your indicator on and drive off. You must indicate for a minimum of 5 seconds before leaving the kerb or a parked position. Don't indicate too late or too early when approaching an intersection - it can be confusing for other road users if they're unsure of your intentions. Don't leave your indicator on for longer than 5 seconds after completing a change of road position as this also may confuse other traffic.
Selecting a safe gap in traffic requires good judgement and experience. You've had a supervising driver sitting next to you in the passenger's seat assisting with gap selection up until this point, and now you're on your own. It is easy to misjudge the speed of oncoming vehicles, particularly when entering an intersection with a higher speed advisory. If a safe gap is presented, move confidently and decisively - hesitating may be dangerous.
Practice makes perfect! Practice your manoeuvres in different vehicles if possible and don't always practice in the same street. People place too much emphasis on the manoeuvres they are required to perform during the driving test, particularly the reverse parallel park. There's a perception that if they don't get it right they'll fail the test. Unless a significant error is made (such as mounting the kerb), minor errors will simply be a negative mark on the score sheet. Don't over-think the manoeuvres during your driving test and take your time.
After the test
If you pass, congratulations, and enjoy your new-found freedom! But realise you have just moved from the category of safest drivers on the road to the category with the highest percentage of fatalities. Please drive safe, particularly during your first few solo drives.
If you fail your driving test, you will be understandably disappointed. Listen to the feedback from the testing officer and take note of your areas for development. It's a good idea to have a parent or your driving instructor present during the debrief to assist with noting where you need to improve. Book another test (you'll need to wait 7 days), then try again!
The above tips are a small selection of what I coach to my students to assist them in becoming safe drivers for life.