Something I’m often asked is “What things do most people fail their tests on?”. From my own experience with people I’ve taught, the number one reason is nerves. They get in the way of clear thinking, make us question our decisions, the things we know to be right, and we do daft stuff as a result.
Nerves aside, here is a list of the main reasons through which I see people fail their tests. Naturally, nerves is often a huge factor in making these mistakes in the first place.
1: Mirrors. You’ve practiced to within an inch of your life, your instructor has helped you get your mirror-checks near perfect. Yet on the day you stop checking before signalling, changing speed or direction, when changing signals on a roundabout, or sometimes just altogether.
2: Observations when setting off. Call it a blind spot check, or a lifesaver, either way you need to be checking that shoulder nearest the middle of the road for any other road users who may be there. Miss a couple of them without consequence, you may just get away with it. Miss a few more, or move off when you’ve missed something in that blind spot, and you’ll fail.
3: Lane discipline. Failing to keep your car tidily within your lane on a regular basis, or moving into a space where there’s another road user, or perhaps moving across without looking. Even failing to use the correct lane at the right time (sitting for too long in the overtaking lane of a dual carriageway when not overtaking).
4: Speed limits. Going above the speed limit either by too much or for too long. Staying too far below the speed limit without picking up on road signs to correct your mistake, and/or causing a delay to other road users. Failing to pick up on temporary speed limits, or responding appropriately to advisory speed limits.
5: Gears. Being in the wrong gear at the wrong time; spending most of your test in too low a gear, making the car work too hard and making everything much harder than it needs to be, or just forgetting to change down when a junction calls for it .A single incident may not cause a fail, but keep doing it and you’ll pick up an “habitual serious fault”. If a single incident causes a major headache, like stalling when moving into a major road or roundabout, that could create a situation where you pick up a serious or dangerous fault. But hey, these won’t be an issue for my automatic learners!
6: Control when setting off. Also known as stalling. You won’t fail simply for stalling, and it’s nonsense to say that 3 driver faults for stalling get turned into a serious fault. However, if you’re stalling too many times for a single reason (gears or clutch control) you may be upgraded to a “habitual serious fault”. It’s the examiner’s discretion how many it takes for this to happen. Another way for stalling to cause a fail is if you’re not fixing the cause of your stalling, and begin to cause a delay to other road users.
7: Response to signs and signals. See that stop sign? It means you come to an absolute full stop, even if the road you’re joining is clear as a bell. You don’t need to apply your handbrake, but the car must completely stop. How about those traffic lights turning amber or onto red? You need to respond to that – don’t be an “amber gambler”. Look out for one way signs, directional signs (e.g. “keep left”, traffic calming priority signs, etc), and road markings (lane arrows, keep clear, etc).
8: Hesitance. Missing more than one significant opportunity to emerge onto a roundabout or junction, typically in a way that causes a delay to the journey of other road users. One good way to work out if you could emerge is to imagine this… Could you walk across the road? If you could, then usually you could drive out. If you’d need to get a wriggle on, then you’d have to drive out a little faster. If you’d need to run – not worth the risk.
9: Observations during reversing manouevres. Staring in your mirrors and failing to check elsewhere? Forgetting to check blind spots when you’re done? This may cause you to fail. A great way to fix this is to split your observations into two. Mirrors and windows are used for both safety and position observations. Use your mirrors mainly for judging your position first, and through the windows – especially the rear windows – to judge safety first. If you’re moving backwards, examiners like you to be looking backwards through the windows. Stop frequently, check in your mirrors that you’re on track, and then go back to checking your surroundings through your windows as you move. Once you’re done reversing and about to move off, check through 360-degrees before you set off.
10: Planning and awareness. Not responding to the things you see. For example, you’ve seen someone near a zebra crossing and haven’t shown any signs of slowing down, or checking your mirrors to plan your approach. Failing to leave adequate clearance to other vehicles, or meeting other road users unsafely; for example the road has parked cars either side and you’re ploughing through without a thought for the cars coming the other way, or you aren’t leaving a safe enough gap to parked cars for the speed you’re travelling.
Bonus ball: Position at junctions. You’re turning left but didn’t follow the shape of the road, ending up at a give way line as if you’re turning right – or perhaps pushing wide away from the pavement before you turn left into a side road. Maybe you’re waiting to turn right but didn’t adopt a suitable position near the centre line, and blocked traffic trying to pass you on the left from behind.