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Taking a driving test marks a key moment in many of our lives, and sadly, it’s one that can cause a fair bit of anxiety filled with anxiety. Regtransfers, a leader in personalised number plates, collaborates with Sophie Stuchfield, an experienced driving instructor. With 15 years of experience and an online presence as @TheOnlineDrivingInstructor, Sophie offers invaluable insights into the most frequent mistakes encountered in UK driving tests over the last ten years.
*This is a collaborative post – for more details, please see my Disclosure Policy
Observation at Junctions
Sophie highlights the need for careful observation at junctions – the most common fault seen during tests over the past ten years. She notes, “Lack of attention to road markings or signs could lead you to miss an approaching junction.”
“In such cases, an examiner might need to verbally alert you or use the dual control brake to reduce speed or stop”, Sophie explains. She further expresses the need for thorough checks when leaving a junction: “A single glance is insufficient; you must ensure the road is clear before proceeding.”
Mirror Checking – Changing Direction
Sophie underlines the importance of mirror checks before signalling, turning, or adjusting speed. The “Mirror-Signal-Manoeuvre” practice should be instinctual to any learner driver. Common errors here, during the test itself, include ignoring or late checks of the side mirrors when turning.
On this, Sophie reinforces “this mainly applies to your wing mirrors when lane changing and moving around hazards. Before you move right, check your right wing mirror. Before you move left, check your left wing mirror. It’s something which seems very simple and obvious, but it’s amazing how many people forget this.”
She attributes this common oversight to nerves, explaining that learners on tests are often overthinking, and worrying how they would be marked rather than dealing with a hazard naturally.
Right Turns at Junctions
For right turns at junctions, Sophie advises against cutting corners. She states, “Maintain correct positioning at all times, even if other road users are absent.”
Another key area learners fault on? “Avoid drifting into the opposite lane before making your turn. Stay in your lane until you reach the turning point.”
As an instructor of fifteen years, Sophie knows that steering issues – and in fact many of the problems that pop up as a learner – often are the result of nerves.
“When nervous, our bodies tend to tense up”, says Sophie. “Combine this with the fact most drivers incorrectly believe that we are not allowed to cross arms, and suddenly steering becomes stiff – which leads to understeering with an uncomfortable and ineffective shuffling of hands on the wheel.”
Sophie, among other instructors, encourages flexible steering techniques as long as they ensure control of the vehicle: “Crossing your arm can be necessary for quick steering actions.”
Traffic Signal Responses
Sophie offers advice on responding to traffic lights, emphasising the need for constant alertness. She says, “While waiting at a red light, remain focussed to avoid missing the transition to green. This might seem like simple advice, but drivers – not just learners – can allow their thoughts to wander. Before you know it, the vehicle behind you is honking, the light has turned green, and you’re left feeling embarrassed! In a test situation, this can make your nerves worse.”
She also stresses the importance of anticipation: “You must not cross the stop line when the light is amber. When approaching traffic lights that have been green for an extended period, it is always best to anticipate that they might change”.
Move Off Safely
During a driving test, the examiner will assess a driver’s ability to move off from a stationary position. And the learner driver should expect to be asked to stop on the left at least four times during their test.
Sophie advises learners to make a full visual check. Ensuring it’s safe to proceed without forcing other vehicles to adjust their speed.
“Take your time to make sure you have the correct gear selected, the handbrake is down and you complete the six point check to ensure your surroundings are safe before moving.” She insists on the importance of not rushing and ensuring safety: “You must not cause any other cars to slow down. Wait until you have a safe gap!”
Normal Driving Position
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.”
Control while Moving Off
Stalls happen during tests, and they’re often the cause of much embarrassment in learner drivers. “If you stall while driving a manual, take a moment to catch your breath(!) before getting started again; stalling isn’t an automatic fail”.
Regarding control during the move-off phase, Sophie reiterates the impact of nerves and the need for a cool head. “As mentioned earlier, when moving off it’s important to take your time and make sure you have the correct gear selected.”
Obedience to Road Markings
The test includes assessing how candidates respond to different road markings. Sophie’s advice is to “Keep a lookout for directional signs and lane indicators.” She also reminds students to ask for help if they are unsure.
Reverse Parking with Control
In parking tasks, candidates must choose a suitable spot, align the car correctly, prepare for reversing, and keep an eye on their surroundings.
Sophie suggests, “Take your parking slowly. Feel free to adjust and use various techniques to ensure you’re parked correctly.”
Sophie identifies two main causes for failing a driving test: anxiety and haste. Her recommendation is, “Maintain a relaxed and focused mindset, akin to an everyday drive. Also, avoid rushing into your test; ensure you are thoroughly prepared and have your instructor’s agreement that you’re ready.