Taking a driving test becomes a memorable experience for many – sometimes for positive reasons and sometimes, unfortunately, not. It’s a life event that’s often accompanied by considerable stress, but in a bid to reduce this anxiety, Regtransfers, a provider of personalised number plates, partners with Sophie Stuchfield, a driving instructor with 15 years of experience teaching students. Known online as @TheOnlineDrivingInstructor, Sophie provides her insights into the most common faults seen in the UK’s driving tests over the last decade.
Observation At Junctions
Sophie emphasises the importance of thorough observation at junctions – the lack of which leads to the most common error in driving tests over the last ten years. “If you don’t pay close attention to road markings or road signs, you may be completely unaware that you are approaching a junction,” she warns.
Missing these junctions can cause the need for the examiner to take control of the car. “In this instance,” comments Sophie, “an examiner may have to either verbally warn you or apply the dual control brake pedal to slow down/stop”. She also reinforces the importance of double checking when emerging from a junction: “only looking once is never enough, you must double check when emerging to make sure the road is safe.”
Mirror Use When Changing Direction
Sophie stresses the vital habit of checking mirrors before signalling, turning, or changing speed. Committing the “Mirror-Signal-Manoeuvre” technique to memory is an essential tool for all learners that will help with this. Typical mistakes during the test include failing to use or late usage of side mirrors before turning.
Sophie advises, “This especially refers to your wing mirrors when changing lanes or navigating around obstacles. Always check the mirror corresponding to your intended direction.” She connects these frequent lapses to the pressure felt during tests, where learners often concentrate more on wondering if their test is going well, rather than focusing on natural hazard handling.
Right-Hand Turns at Junctions
Sophie advises maintaining proper lane discipline for right-hand turns at junctions. “You must not cut the corner when turning into a road on your right. Even if the junction is completely clear of other road users, you must use correct positioning at all times.”
She further explains the importance of learner drivers taking up proper positioning: “Approaching the turn, if there is no oncoming traffic, drivers will often drift to the wrong side of the road before turning. It’s really important to stay on your side of the road until you reach your point of turn”.
With her extensive teaching background, Sophie understands that steering issues, like many test difficulties, often originate from nervousness.
“Nervousness can lead to tension in the body, causing us to stiffen up,” Sophie notes. “This, coupled with the mistaken belief that crossing arms while steering is not allowed, often results in rigid steering and ineffective hand manoeuvres.”
Sophie, along with other instructors, promotes flexible steering techniques, provided they maintain vehicle control: “Crossing your arms can sometimes be necessary for swift steering responses.”
Response To Signals (traffic lights)
Sophie offers guidance on dealing with traffic signals, focusing on the importance of constant vigilance. “Stay attentive at red lights, so you don’t miss the shift to green. Though it may sound basic, it’s easy to get side-tracked, especially in a test, leading to missed changes and heightened anxiety.”
She also underlines the need for foresight: “Do not cross the stop line at an amber light. If you’re approaching a green light that’s been on for a while, it’s best to prepare for a possible change.”
Move off (safely)
In the test, examiners assess the driver’s capability to move off from a stop. Learners should expect multiple instances – at least four – where they will stop on the left and then resume driving.
Sophie suggests conducting an extensive visual check, ensuring it’s safe to proceed without impacting other traffic.
“Make certain you’re in the right gear, the handbrake is released, and complete a thorough check of your surroundings before moving off,” she counsels. Focusing on safety, she adds, “Ensure your actions don’t cause other vehicles to reduce their speed. Wait for a clear space.”
Positioning (normal driving)
For regular driving positioning, Sophie’s guidance is straightforward: “Do not use the right hand lane unless you are overtaking or turning right. If you’re an international driver who is used to driving on the right, make sure you get enough practice driving on the left so it feels more natural and normal to you.”
Move off (control)
Sophie addresses the issue of stalling during tests, a common source of learner frustration. “Stalling in a manual car doesn’t mean automatic failure. Just take a moment, then restart; staying composed is key.”
On the topic of control during the initial move-off, Sophie revisits the need for calmness – it’s clearly something that a lot of learners struggle with under test conditions. “As mentioned earlier, when starting to move, it’s important to be deliberate and ensure you’re correctly geared up.”
Response to Signals (Road Markings)
Throughout a test, the examiner evaluates the candidate’s appropriate responses to all road lines and lane markings, including stop and give way lines, box junctions, and traffic calming measures. Faults include driving in bus lanes, not stopping at stop markings, and stopping in “keep clear” zones.
“Always read the road”, comments Sophie. “This means keeping an eye out in advance for any arrows which will help you to select the correct lane for your direction at all times.” She also advises that if road markings (or signs) are poor, an examiner will direct test candidates. “Remember, you can always ask for clarification if you need it, provided you ask in plenty of time.”
Reverse Park (Control)
During parking, learner drivers will need to select a suitable space, position the vehicle correctly, prepare for reversing and observe the surroundings – both before and during the manoeuvre. The parking should be executed with control, precision, and awareness.
“Take your time when parking”, comments Sophie. “You can make adjustments, dip door mirrors, open windows to see and even get out and check that your position is correct.”
Sophie identifies two primary factors leading to test failures: anxiety and rushing into the test. Her guidance is, “Keep a composed and focused demeanour, akin to a normal driving situation. Also, don’t hurry into your test; make sure you’re thoroughly prepared and aligned with your instructor’s assessment that you’re ready.”