Last updated on January 4th, 2018
After IELTS test, if I have seen people losing their sleep over one thing – it’s the Driving Test. Not only is it as scary as IELTS, many people have to attempt it multiple times to successfully pass. Failing in a first attempt is a common thing, especially if you haven’t practised enough or didn’t take driving lessons.
6 Reasons Why People Fail The Driving Test
There are many reasons why people make mistakes during the driving test and fail. Here are top 6 reasons which you should be careful about.
Number one thing for failure is stress. Of course, you can’t help it if someone is watching over your shoulder your every action and hesitation. Many people make simple mistakes such as crossing stop sign or turning into the wrong lane, just because they get too anxious. Unfortunately, it creates a vicious cycle because you do more mistakes when stressed and that, in turn, increases your stress.
People who have driven extensively in their home country such as India where driving rules are rarely followed, it’s really difficult to shake off the bad habits. For example, honking is very common in India and is treated as a way to alert other drivers of your car’s presence. However, in Australia and other developed nations, honking is as rude as shouting at someone.
Honking is still relatively harmless, but consider failing to give way to a pedestrian. It’s a critical error and may lead to a dangerous outcome. Obviously, you will fail the test in such case. Hence, sometimes it is better to be completely new to the driving than being an experienced overseas driver.
Few or No Driving Lessons
Many people are overconfident about their ability to drive here just because they drove extensively in their home country. Sorry mate, you are delusional! Even if you are an experienced driver back home, that doesn’t make you an expert in driving in another country. If you are asked to sit for driving test, it is simply because Australia doesn’t recognise or trust driving practices in your country. Hence taking sufficient driving lessons is a must. Taking one or two driving lessons may familiarise you with driving rules in Australia but that is not enough to go for driving test.
Non-familiarity With Test Routes
Each driving test centre has their own designated testing routes. If you are not familiar with all the testing routes, chances are that you will not know the pitfalls which can cause an error.
For example, one driving test route near Heatherton centre has a road which has a constant speed limit of 40 KM, not 50 KM as usual in residential areas. Another route has an intersection where turning signal is very short.
If you don’t know these spots in advance, you are very likely to fail. Some people by reading other people’s experiences think that certain test centre is easy to pass and they opt for it despite not practising there. It’s a big mistake and can easily cost you a failed test attempt.
Not Enough Practice
Practice makes perfect. It’s a cliché but it makes perfect sense for driving test. VicRoads itself recommends that a learner driver should have at least 120 hours of driving experience to pass the test. You should practice driving in different areas such as residential area, market area, school zones, highways, freeways, hilly terrain etc.
Plus, you should practice driving in different weather conditions such as rain, fog, cloudy or sunny weather. Night driving is another useful thing to increase your road awareness. If you are not comfortable driving in all of these situations, chances are high that you will fail the test.
Taking Test In Own Car
Another probable cause of failure is taking a test in your own car. People are more comfortable in their own car so it makes sense to take the test in own car. Unfortunately, Road Transport Authorities won’t allow you to do that if your car doesn’t pass certain criteria. Below are the links for criteria given by each state’s transport authority:
Why Do You Need Driving Lessons?
Once I passed my Hazards test, the first thing I did was to book driving lessons with an experienced instructor. It’s absolutely a must to get some driving lessons from a qualified driving instructor. It doesn’t matter how much driving experience you have back home, you need to practice on Australian roads to get the first-hand experience of traffic rules, speed limits and driving conditions.
Secondly, we, human beings, are not designed to be critical of our own flaws. So while you may consider yourself an expert driver, there might be some major errors you might be making while driving which can fail you in the test. Having an experienced driver helps you correct these mistakes. He can teach you some practical tricks to simplify a difficult manoeuvre such as reverse parallel parking.
Additionally, a good instructor makes you familiar with all the different testing routes based on your test centre. As you know, each test centre has different test routes and each test route has some tricky areas which can fail you if you don’t know about them in advance. a good instructor will help you not just identify these pitfalls but also to be prepared to tackle them.
How Many Lessons Are Enough?
It depends on person to person but usually, 10 lessons are good enough for novice driver whereas 5 are sufficient for experienced one. Of course, some people might take more or fewer lessons to get that comfort level. Usually, your driving instructor can tell you if you are ready for the test.
In my case, I took 5 lessons at first. By the end of it, I felt I was not confident enough and was making minor errors. My instructor agreed too. Without rushing the things, I spent almost a year to correct my errors and build the confidence. After that, I again opted for a package which covered 3 lessons with the test. By the end of the 3rd lesson, both my instructor and I had pretty good confidence in my abilities. I still took two more lessons just to familiarise myself with all the testing routes which proved helpful.
Scheduling The Test
By the end of the second lesson, after confirming date and time with my instructor, I booked my driving test online. Usually, due to a high number of applicants, you will get the date that is at least a month away. So, it’s important to book early. When you schedule the test with VicRoads, you are free to select any centre in Victoria. Select the one where you have practised the most. I chose mine to be Heatherton.
While scheduling driving test, choose the time slot which doesn’t collide with rush hour and school timesAussian
Another important thing to consider when scheduling test is the time. You should choose a time slot which has less traffic and no special rules. For example, morning 8 AM to 9:30 AM is pretty bad time to schedule a test. First, it is the busiest time of the day due to rush hour traffic. Plus, during this time speed restrictions apply to school zone areas. For example, a road with a usual speed limit of 60 KM goes to 40 KM in a school zone area during that time. If you are not alert enough, you will fail the test for overspeeding. Same is the case from 2:00 PM to 4:30 PM. In my experience, 10:30 AM till 1:30 PM is pretty good time for the test as there are little traffic and no special speed limits.
If you want to minimise the risk, you might also want to pay attention to the weather. Taking the test on a clear sunny day is far better than a rainy winter day. First of all, the visibility on the road is great. Secondly, the number of controls you have to operate during summer time is far less than during rain or winter such as the heater, front and back wipers, demister, fog light etc. Though you might be familiar with these controls, stress during the test can make you fumble and make errors on the road.
Driving Test Format
Once the appointment was confirmed, butterflies started to fly in my stomach slowly. Now it was a done deal. There was no turning back. I reminded myself that it’s just another test and I have to face it. I had already waited long enough and if I delayed any more, I had to sit for Road Law Knowledge Test and Hazards Perception Test again as the results are valid for 12 months only. So procrastination was not an option anymore. It was now or never!
The test itself consists of three stages.
Before the driving test begins, the examiner will meet you in the parking lot and call out the names of various controls and ask you to use them or point them. For example, when she calls out “headlights”, you need to turn them on. When she asks “handbrake”, you need to point at it.
The tricky ones are demisters, high beam and windscreen washers, especially the rear one if it is present. But usually instructor will make you aware of all those controls, so this part should be pretty easy. It takes about 2-5 minutes to finish this part.
Driving Stage 1 – Residential Area
In the first part of the driving test, the examiner will take you to the residential areas with less traffic. The examiner will ask you to perform various manoeuvres such as turning left/right, give way, stopping at stop sign, changing lanes etc. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to finish the first part.
You will be asked to perform either the Three-Point Turn or Reverse Parallel parking in Stage 1. You need to practice both, but try to focus more on Reverse Parallel parking.Aussian
It also includes one parking exercise. If you are lucky, you can get away with the three-point turn which is nothing but a U-turn on a single lane road. On a bad day though, the examiner might ask you to do the “dreaded” reverse parallel park. It’s not an easy task to achieve in one go on a normal day. Imagine how stressful it would be on a test day when somebody is watching your every movement. Shudder!
Driving Stage 2 – Busy Area
If all goes well in the first part, then you progress to part two of the driving test.
In the second part, the examiner will take you to the busy areas as well as high-speed areas such as highways. The examiner will ask you to change the lanes, do the merge, cross the busy intersections and so on. You will be judged on how safely you can drive on a busy route.
Most of this is pretty straight-forward but you need to be very alert. If you are unlucky, you might find some cyclist driving next to you which you didn’t see when turning. Or maybe you are behind a huge truck who obstructed your view of signal and you jumped a red signal. These things happen and all you can do is to be extra careful about your surroundings.
Be alert but not slow, keep 5km under the limit but never exceed it, check the mirrors but don’t overdo it and relax a bit; that’s the mantra of success.Aussian
However, if you are too cautious and slow down the traffic behind, someone behind you will honk and usually, that doesn’t go well with the examiner. As I said, you need a little bit of that Felix Felicis (the lucky potion from Harry Potter) to get through the driving test successfully.
This stage usually takes about 15-20 minutes to finish. At the end of this stage, you will drive back to the test centre parking lot. Please remember that the test is not over until you park your car and turn off the engine. Many people do mistakes in these last moments thinking that test is over.
Driving Test Criteria
During the test, you are judged based on 11 points:
At all times, you must be aware of road condition, fellow drivers on the road, road signs and traffic condition. You must frequently check mirrors, look ahead to see changes in traffic condition, do head checks when changing lanes or merging, watch for road signs etc.
How early you signal your intention to turn and how long you keep the signal on is assessed here. You must signal for at least 5 seconds before pulling out from parking and 3 seconds before turning. Please remember that you should not signal too early either.
3. Gap selection
How well you select a gap in traffic to merge or turn is assessed as a part of this. As with signalling, you should be careful not to be too cautious. If you wait too long even when there is a safe gap, you delay road traffic and that can be recorded as an error by the examiner.
You should not exceed the speed limit by more than 5 km for more than 5 seconds continuously. You also should not drive 10 km below the speed limit. Also, you must stay below the speed limit in school zone area during school times.
5. Maintaining the Distance
You should maintain a driving distance of at least 2 seconds or more from the vehicle in front of you. That means if you need to suddenly stop the car, you should give sufficient time for your car to completely come to halt. In case of bad weather conditions, the gap should be more. The general rule of thumb is that you should be able to see the rear wheels of the vehicle in front of you whenever you stop to maintain sufficient distance.
6. Lateral Position
This has to do with the lane discipline. You must drive in your lane and should not wander. While turning, you must stay as left as possible of the centre line marking. While driving, you must keep a distance of 1.2 meters from the parked cars whenever possible. Also, you must not hit the curb while turning or at the roundabout.
7. Parking Observation
Whenever you are reverse parking, you must look into the rear window before reversing.
8. Parking Movement
This criterion is specific to the reverse parallel parking. When reverse parking, you must complete it in maximum 4 movements and within 2 minutes. Also, the wheel should not be more than a 30 cm away from the curb when parked and you should not hit the curb when reversing.
9. Leave the Parking
You must head check, indicate and signal long enough before moving out of parking.
10. Turning movement
This criterion is specific to the three-point turn. You must complete the turn in less than 2 minutes and in 3 movements. After finished, you should not be more than 30 cm away from the curb and you should not hit curb either.
When speeding, you should increase or decrease the speed smoothly. In other words, you should not accelerate or break so hard as to cause discomfort to the passengers.
Before The Test
I shrewdly booked the test for 11:30 AM avoiding school times as well as busy rush hour traffic. That also meant my last lesson was just one hour before the test to warm me up for the test. I already took a planned leave from work to avoid any distractions. By 10’o clock I was all set and ready for the lesson and test.
More than the test and its outcome, it was the anxiety that was killing me. I mean I practised driving every day for the last one year but my mind was playing weird scenarios that were freaking me out.
What would happen if I couldn’t hear the examiner’s instructions or not able to understand the accent? What if signal turns red when I am turning? What if I hit the curb while parking? What if I exceed the speed limit while coming out of parking? What if my instructor forgot that I had scheduled the test that day? What if this, what if that?
My mind was a mercilessly scaring me but trust me all those scenarios were possible. A lot of people fail the test within a minute just because they pulled out too fast. Or because they didn’t signal long enough before pulling out. Or just because they didn’t wear seat-belt before starting the car.
Fortunately, my instructor arrived on time. All that anxiety quickly vanished once I entered the car and started driving. It actually helped me relax and put the worries away. My instructor covered two routes that day that he thought were little tricky and likely candidates for the test. As it turned out, he was absolutely right.
The Test Begins…
After I drove to VicRoads office in Heatherton, I went inside along with my driving license. Once my identity was confirmed, a pleasant young lady told me that she will be my examiner for that day and asked me to wait for few minutes.
My heart started pounding hard now. The anxiety which was gone during the driving lesson started to resurface. My palms got sweaty again. “Oh no! I am going to fail” was what I started hearing in my mind.
Pre-Drive Check Panic
After a few minutes which felt like years, the lady asked us to get to the parking lot. Once I got inside the car, she stood near the driver seat window and asked me to turn the window down so she can call out controls.
As a first thing, I put on the seat belt and turned the ignition key. I pressed the button to turn down the window, but it didn’t budge. I pulled the button thinking I might have pressed the wrong way. Nope! No luck. After a few panic-filled moments, I realised that I turned the ignition key only slightly because the examiner asked me not to turn on the car. So there was no power and hence the window was not operating. I quickly turned the key to turn on the power (but not the engine) and pulled the window down. Phew!
The examiner thankfully didn’t notice my blunder as she was talking to my instructor. Then she called out controls one by one and I correctly indicated them. In a couple of minutes, the pre-drive check was over. I relaxed a bit. Now it was time for the real fun!
Stage 1 Driving
I slowly pulled my car out after sufficient signalling and plenty of head checks.
Head check means turning in your seat to see that the area outside the passenger side of the car is free from any hazards. It’s especially important to do plenty of head checks when pulling out, changing lanes and merging in the traffic.Aussian
I reminded myself to go very slowly till I was on the centre campus. Once we were near the main intersection, the examiner instead of taking the usual right, asked me to steer left. As he told me, it was very rare for the examiner to take that route. And boy, would you believe me what route was that?
It was one of the two routes we had practised earlier that day before the test. Can you believe it? Out of 5-6 different routes, she picked the one that I just practised on. I was just lucky, I guess.
Next 15 minutes, I drove cautiously and confidently as per the directions by the examiner in the residential area. It was fairly easy because I was well aware of all the pitfalls. Still, I reminded myself not to be overconfident as one serious mistake can lead to a failure.
At the end of stage one, she asked me to park the car while she recorded her observations on the paper. After few minutes of break, she asked me to pull the car out and do a three-point turn. Lucky again! Three-point turn is a fairly easy manoeuvre compared to the reverse parallel parking and that’s what I got.
Due to my haste though, I didn’t signal long enough before turning (even though I thought I did). But so far that was the only mistake I did. I did head checks to make sure area was free of hazards and carefully completed the three-point turn without hitting the curb or turning in someone’s driveway.
Stage 2 Driving
Next, she asked me to drive on a highway with 80 KM speed limit. After changing lanes a few times and crossing a couple of intersections, I again drove back to a less busy area with 60 KM speed limit.
On that route there was only one pitfall: the road suddenly lowers the speed limit to 50 KM even though it’s a 4-lane highway.
As I was already aware of that, I kept my speed under check and finished that section of the road carefully. After doing a few more rounds in the residential area, we again went back to the VicRoads centre.
The test is not over until you parked the car and turned off the engine.Aussian
As my instructor once told me, the test is not over until the car is parked at VicRoads office. So I drove back carefully, parked in an empty slot perfectly, shifted in the parking gear, pulled the handbrake and killed the engine. It felt like someone lifted a bag of rocks from my head. Phew! It’s over, finally.
Once the test was over, I walked back to the VicRoads office. Once inside, I was asked to wait for few minutes. After the wait, the lady called me and said those amazing words “Congratulations, you passed the test!”
I felt like I should dance then and there. I never imagined that I would sit for the driving test in Australia one day and pass it, let alone in just a single attempt. But that’s exactly what had happened.
When the lady handed me the evaluation sheet, there was only one error recorded which was not signalling enough during a 3-point turn. Of course, I was extremely lucky that I drove on the same road which I practised on earlier that day. But still, not having any remarks about head checks, speed limits, road signs etc. was significant enough.
I thanked my instructor profusely for his instincts to choose that route. After making the payment for the license, the officer gave me the acknowledgement which I could use until the time actual license arrived at my address by post a week later.
I was lucky that I did all the right things on the driving test and things worked as planned. But here are few things which I understood from my instructor as well as during my driving practice which usually cause failure. I am sharing them here with the hope that they will help new drivers.
More than 1 critical error during stage 1 and more than 2 critical errors at any time are counted as a failure. Some of the common ones are:
- Driving too slow
- Not doing enough head checks and mirror checks
- Not following the sequence – mirror-signal-head check
- Not checking mirrors and not doing head check when pulling out from parking, merging or changing lanes
- Signalling for a very short period of time or not signalling at all, before turning or pulling out
- Hit or mount the curb
- Not completely stopping the car at the stop sign
- Not stopping at yellow signal even when you had sufficient time to do so
Immediate Termination Errors
If you do an error which causes dangerous situation on the road, it is marked as immediate termination error. As the name suggests, it means the test is over when you do immediate termination error. Below are some of the common ones:
- Failing to use appropriate controls. For example, if it is raining and you don’t turn on the wipers unless told, you fail the test.
- Not stopping at red signal or stop sign or any other place where you are supposed to
- Exceeding the speed limit for more than 5 seconds
- If the examiner or instructor has to intervene or assist the driver in any way, it’s a sure-fire way to fail. For example, if the hand-brake is on and you are wondering why the car is not moving, Fail!
- Not obeying examiner’s instructions more than 3 times. Note that if you don’t understand or remember, you can ask the examiner to repeat the instruction any time. So there is just no excuse for this one.
- Hitting a pedestrian or colliding with other vehicles.
- Not giving way to a pedestrian or other vehicles when you should.
- Stopping in the line of traffic causing others to navigate around your car
- Exceeding speed limit in school zone area during school times
- Any of the critical error which can cause danger to other road users
That’s all, folks! That ends my(hopefully :D) exciting story of getting the Australian driving license.
One last parting tip – blindly follow your driving instructor’s advice, even if it doesn’t make sense to you.
For example, I found it difficult to follow the sequence of the mirror-signal-head check. But as I practised on busier roads, it made sense to first check the mirrors before indicating and then do a head check to see the blind spot. As I said, an instructor is there to help you pass the exam, not to fail you. So trust him and you should be good. Good luck and share your experiences in the comments below.