The 10 most common reasons for failing your driving test

Written by Steve Cook

Published on

According to data from the DVSA, more than half of learner drivers in the UK fail their practical test on the first attempt. In fact, the pass rate was just 48.4% in 2022-23.

Driving tests are considered harder than they used to be, with younger drivers having to navigate busier roads and stricter rules.

So, to help you get prepared for your driving test, here are the top 10 reasons learner drivers fail their practical exams.

The 10 most common reasons for failing your driving test

1. Checking at junctions

Failing to check in all directions before setting off at a junction is the number 1 reason for a test fail. Candidates often misjudge the speed of approaching vehicles, or pull out into oncoming traffic without realising it. So, always check thoroughly before moving off, even at quiet junctions.

If you reach a junction where your view is obstructed, remember to use the 'creep and peep' method. Slowly inch forward until you can see clearly in both directions, then make your final checks before emerging when it's safe. Look out for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists who may be harder to spot than larger vehicles.

Repeat your observations if you have to wait for a gap in traffic — don't just rely on your first glance. By making regular checks a habit on every journey, you'll be well-prepared to demonstrate this key skill on test day.

2. Use of mirrors when changing direction

Not checking mirrors before signalling, changing lanes or turning is another top cause of failure. It’s important to always make full use of your mirrors and check blind spots, especially when changing lanes on dual carriageways.

Get in the habit of the 'mirror, signal, manoeuvre' routine for every change of direction. Check your mirrors first, then signal if necessary, before making your move. This should be a continual process — for example, when you’re approaching a roundabout, you should be checking mirrors and blind spots as you signal and change lanes in preparation for your exit.

Remember that mirrors alone have blind spots, so also glance over your shoulder to check you’re safe before committing to changing lanes or overtaking. Under test conditions, make sure your head movements are obvious so the examiner can see you're observing properly.

3. Lack of steering control

Many learner drivers fail their tests for things like not steering enough around bends or when turning, or repeatedly mounting the kerb. That’s why it’s important to always keep a firm grip on the wheel, and try to steer smoothly and accurately when you take a corner.

Understeering, where you don't steer enough to follow the curve of the road, can cause you to drift towards the oncoming lane — a serious fault that could result in a collision. Equally, oversteering and mounting the kerb is a dangerous error that risks injury to pedestrians and damage to your vehicle.

Aim for a balance, taking bends at a careful speed and following the natural curve of the road. Keep both hands on the wheel at all times (unless changing gear), and avoid crossing your hands over each other as you steer. If you find any particular type of bend or corner challenging, ask your instructor for extra practice and guidance.

4. Wrong positioning when turning right

Using the wrong lane at roundabouts or junctions, and obstructing traffic when waiting to turn right, are other common reasons for failing the test. Try practising good lane positioning when you can, and keep as close to the centre line as safely possible when turning right.

One typical mistake is staying too far to the left while waiting to turn right, blocking following traffic that could otherwise safely pass you. Position your car just to the left of the centre line and keep your wheels straight, so you're not pushed into oncoming traffic if hit from behind.

Make sure you choose the correct lane as you approach junctions and roundabouts by observing road markings and signs in good time. Avoid switching lanes at the last minute, as this can cause confusion and frustration for other road users. If you realise you're in the wrong lane, it may be safer to stay in your lane and go the wrong way than risk swerving dangerously to correct your route.

Roundabout sign

5. Moving off unsafely

Mistakes like pulling out from behind parked cars into approaching traffic, or moving off from the side of the road without checking blind spots, can cause many learners to fail. Always make your visual checks in all directions before moving off.

Practise the 'prepare, observe, move' (POM) routine until it becomes second nature. Prepare the car first by putting it in gear and finding the bite point. Then observe by checking mirrors, blind spots and the road ahead in a 360° sweep. Only move off when you're sure it's safe to go.

If you're setting off on a hill, make sure you use the handbrake to secure the car and give yourself time to find the bite point before releasing. Repeated rolling back at hill starts is a common reason for failure. If it happens more than a couple of times, you'll probably pick up a serious fault. Practice hill starts in a quiet area so you're more confident on test day.

6. Failing to respond to traffic lights

Driving through red lights, stopping after the advanced stop line, and failing to move off promptly when lights turn green are common mistakes in this category. Only go on green if your path is clear.

While waiting at a red light, keep your wheels straight and your brake firmly applied. Too many candidates allow the car to creep forward, overrunning the first stop line and encroaching on the advanced stop area for cyclists. Unless the junction is fully clear, wait until the light turns green before releasing the brake.

Amber means stop, unless you've already crossed the stop line or you're so close to the line that stopping may cause an accident. Never accelerate to beat the amber light — this is really dangerous and will likely land you with a serious fault on your test. Only proceed on green when you've scanned the junction and you're certain it's clear.

7. Poor positioning during normal driving

Many candidates fail for driving too close to parked cars, weaving in their lane, or staying in the right lane when not overtaking on dual carriageways. Aim to drive in the centre of your lane and avoid these mistakes whenever you can.

Maintain a safe, equal distance from the kerb and the centre line while driving. Driving too close to parked cars is a common fault — not only does it limit your view and stopping distance, it also puts you at risk of hitting an opening car door or a pedestrian stepping out.

On dual carriageways and multi-lane roads, avoid staying in the right-hand lane any longer than necessary for overtaking. 'Hogging' the outside lane is not only inconsiderate to other drivers, it's also illegal and could land you with a hefty fine as well as a failed test.

8. Not responding to traffic signs

Ignoring road signs like speed limits, bus lanes or box junctions is also a common reason for test fails. Make sure you know the common road signs, and can quickly and safely react to them when they appear.

Exceeding the speed limit, even temporarily, will land you with a fault on your driving test. Even worse, travelling well over the limit is classed as a serious fault and means an automatic fail. Similarly, driving in a bus lane during its hours of operation or blocking a yellow box junction are both serious faults you should avoid.

Pay close attention to road signs throughout your test route. Whenever you see a new sign, be sure to visibly check your speedometer and mirrors and adjust your driving accordingly.

9. Lack of gear control

Repeated stalling, rolling backwards or trying to move off without selecting a gear will rack up the faults in this area. Make sure you’ve mastered your clutch control before taking your test, and always apply the handbrake when stopped on a hill.

Moving off smoothly requires balance between the clutch and accelerator pedals. Spend time practising in a quiet area until you can consistently pull off without stalling or lurching the car. Get used to finding the bite point first, then slowly raise the clutch as you gently apply the gas.

When you stop on a slope, secure the car with the handbrake before selecting neutral. Don't allow the car to roll backwards, even slightly. When you're ready to move off again, find the bite and add a little extra on the accelerator before releasing the handbrake gently — this will stop you from rolling back.

Manual car gearstick

10. Parking and reversing

Many learners dread the reversing manoeuvres, and for good reason — struggling with reverse parking, ending up outside bay lines or on the kerb are fast ways to fail your test. But they're a mandatory part of learning to drive, and manoeuvres you must master.

The key is to practise each one repeatedly until you can get it right every time. Break each manoeuvre down into individual steps and reference points that you can follow easily under pressure.

Ask your instructor to show you the most effective method for each one, be it the 'pull up on the right', parallel park, or bay park. Take your time, focusing on accuracy over speed. Make full use of your mirrors and observations out of the rear window. And don't panic if you get it slightly wrong — as long as you don't mount the kerb or touch another car, you can reposition safely to complete the manoeuvre.

How can I avoid making these common mistakes?

As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. In addition to your driving lessons with an instructor, try to get as much private practice as possible with a qualified driver like a parent or other relative. Experiencing driving in different weather conditions, at night, and on a variety of roads will improve your confidence and help you handle test day nerves.

Don’t be afraid to ask your instructor to spend part of each lesson practising the skills and manoeuvres you find hardest. For example, if hill starts are one of your weak points, ask your instructor to take you to a quiet road on a gradient to practise at the end of each lesson. Most instructors will be happy to tailor lessons to your needs.

How many minors can you get and still pass a driving test?

You're allowed up to 15 minor faults when taking your practical test, as long as you don't commit any serious or dangerous faults (known as majors). Getting 16 or more minors is an automatic fail.

While getting zero faults is impressive, it's important not to panic if you know you've made a couple of small mistakes. The examiner will give you a minor fault for things like stalling, hesitating, or cutting a corner if they don't deem it dangerous. Keep calm and focus on driving to the best of your ability for the rest of the test. Rest assured that most learner drivers pass with at least a handful of minor faults.

However, be aware that making the same mistake repeatedly or in a potentially dangerous situation can escalate a minor fault to a serious one. So even if you think you've just clipped the kerb or not quite checked a blind spot, avoid doing it again to stay in with a chance of passing.

What happens if I keep failing my driving test?

There's no limit on how many times you can take your practical test, but you have to wait at least 10 working days between attempts. Use the wait time to get in more practice, and ask your instructor for advice on areas you need to improve. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself — nerves can lead to more mistakes.

If you've failed your test more than once, it's natural to feel frustrated and anxious. Try to turn that anxiety into determination ready for your next attempt. Ask for detailed feedback from your examiner so you know which areas to work on. Then draw up an action plan with your instructor to work on those specific faults.

If you find yourself feeling deflated, try taking a short break from lessons to clear your head. Learning to drive can take it out of you, so it’s important to rest and find some balance. When you do get back behind the wheel, try to put previous fails out of your mind and just focus on driving to the best of your current ability. With persistence, practice and support from your instructor, you’ll get there!