Top 10 Reasons Why People Fail Their Driving Test

The current overall pass rate is just 42%, and the first time pass rate is even lower!

Why is the failure rate so high? Driving Standards Agency has published a list of the top ten reasons for failure, and not surprisingly, every manoeuvre features on this list. However, the majority of test candidates who fail do so because of a lack of planning and judgement and according to the Driving Standards Agency (DSA), those candidates were not yet ready.

As well as being able to drive, you have to have an awareness of what’s happening around you, make the correct descision and to act accordingly. Most candidates fail their test and say ‘I wouldn’t normally have done that.’ The truth is that they probably would have done that, it’s just that their instructor would have prompted them not to do it. This results in over instructing at a critical stage of their progress and rather than helping them, they are setting them up to fail, even though the instructor may not realise this.

At IQ Driving, we will ensure that you are 100% ready on the day of your test. After all, it is one of the biggest days of your life. We will work through every detail with you, not just your driving, but all aspects from your mental attitude to any doubts you may have. As you will find below, every manoeuvre is featured in the list, this needn’t be the case. This probably stems from a mindset from the outset of your lessons. At IQ Driving, we have not had a fail resulting from a manoeuvre for over 3 years and hundreds of tests.

Here Are the Top Ten Reasons for Failure According to DSA:

  1. Observation at junctions – ineffective observation and judgement
  2. Reverse parking – ineffective observation or lack of accuracy
  3. Use of mirrors – not checking or not acting on the information
  4. Moving away – ineffective observation or control when moving away
  5. Use of signals – not given, not cancelled or misleading signals
  6. Incorrect positioning – at roundabouts, lanes and bends
  7. Reversing around a corner – ineffective observation or lack of accuracy
  8. Lack of steering control – steering too early or leaving it too late
  9. Turn round in road – ineffective observation or lack of accuracy
  10. Inappropriate speed – travelling too slowly

Every Single Manoeuvre Featured in the Top Ten Reasons for Failure as Published by Driving Standards Agency

If you can perform all the manoeuvres accurately, with good observation and control, with no input from your instructor,  then great. Getting a manoeuvre right nine times out of ten is really good but not good enough if the one you get wrong is the one you do on your driving test. At IQ Driving, not only will you practice till you get it right, but till you can’t get it wrong. This includes when things go wrong. It may go right on every occasion during the lesson, but if it going to go wrong, it’s normally on test. At IQ Driving you will know how to put it right and why it went wrong. You will feel supremely confident at  every manoeuvre.

I have spoken to some examiners who really try not to fail pupils on just manoeuvres, but they have a job to do, and if the manoeuvre is not up to the required standard then just a single mistake such as missing a look out of the back window or lack of accuracy is enough to result in test failure. As far as they are concerned, if you don’t look properly on your driving test, you sure are not going to look properly after your test. This will result in ultimately hitting something or someone!

Six Out of Ten Fails are Due to Mirrors or Observations

As you look through the list, you will see that the reasons for failure fall into two basic categories: observation and judgement, and physical ability. Ask yourself how difficult it is to look in your mirrors whilst driving or look where you are going?

The pass mark for an A* student is around 90%, an exceptional achievement by any standards. However, in driving terms this would result in certain failure every time on the driving test. If you only checked mirrors or had effective observations at junctions 90% of the time, this is no-where near good enough. this means for every ten junctions you pull out of, you are prepared to pull out without looking at one. Clearly not acceptable.

So why do so many people fail their test for these reasons? If it were so easy to make sure that you use your mirrors effectively, act on what you see, check your blind spots when necessary and keep good all round observation, then the pass rate would be much higher. At least, that is the theory.

However, a missed mirror or poor observations check during a lesson or test may have no physical consequence, but when it does, the physical consequences can be fatal: swapping lanes in front of another car, or braking harshly so that the car behind runs into you, or not checking a blind spot and knocking a child off their bike. However, these events are highly unlikely to occur during a lesson or test as your instructor (or accompanying driver) will prevent them from happening, as they will be more aware and experienced than you about what is happening around the car. You may never get the opportunity to learn from such mistakes until you’ve passed your test because it would obviously put people’s lives at risk (and let’s hope that you never do get that opportunity). There can be no controlled errors where mirror checks and observation are concerned.

‘I always know what’s happening around me, check my mirrors, and act on what I see.'

Can you say the above with total conviction. However, if your instructor has to keep reminding you to check your mirrors and blind spots, then read on. It’s very simple; all you have to do is:

  • Look in the appropriate mirrors before
  • Signalling
  • Changing Speed
  • Changing Direction
  • When you see a hazard

As we have already said if it were that simple then no one would fail their test due to observation errors and missed mirror checks, or acting inappropriately on observations made. Seventy percent of people said that their instructor has to prompt them on a regular basis. It is hard to understand why pupils need reminding to check their mirrors, knowing that they are aware that there can be fatal consequences of not doing this.

Getting the Right Perspective

For most learners, the bench mark for a good lesson is based on the number of times they stalled. The fewer the stalls, the better the lesson. At IQ Driving, clutch control will be mastered, but it will never be an issue if you stall. Almost every driver stalls at some point during driving, so why should a learner driver be any different? People don’t seem to consider errors made in checking their mirrors as important or worthy of comment as they do errors made stalling their car. This is incredible. If you are more concerned about how many times you stalled, rather than your mirrors and awareness, then I think that you need a lesson in perspective. At IQ Driving your lessons will be structured in such a way that you will not judge the lesson on how many times you stalled but how well you done overall.

If you miss a mirror check, you can potentially kill someone; however, the usual consequences of stalling are that you will hold a few people up for a few seconds.

Stalling may have serious consequences, especially if you stall in the middle of a roundabout, or at traffic lights just as they are about to change, but I don’t understand why people place much more emphasis on this than missing a mirror check. Ask yourself how many times you keep thinking about the few times that you stalled on your lesson, compared to the many times that you missed a mirror or blind spot check. Pupils often get very nervous and panic when they have stalled because they feel embarrassed and are worried about what the other drivers around them are thinking, or that they are holding people up, and annoying other drivers. They aren’t unduly concerned when they have missed a mirror check and they should be.

If you refer back to the top ten reasons for failure, surprisingly the physical skill of driving doesn’t feature very highly. Only ‘moving away under control’ and ‘lack of steering control’ find their way into the top ten.

You have probably realised by now that the physical ability to drive is the easiest bit to master, and that the hardest part is the thinking behind it. Driving is an activity that probably requires 10% physical ability, but requires 90% thinking. At IQ Driving, we will show you how this is achieved through our structured driving program. When you start thinking for yourself about what, where and what are you going to do about the dangers around you, the closer you are to being the complete driver.

No good instructor will let a pupil take their test before they are ready, as it’s very demoralising to fail your test. Furthermore the current test fee is £62.00, add this to extra lessons you will need to put things right, failing your test can prove very costly indeed. At IQ Driving, you will know yourself when you are ready for test, the driving program teaches self analysis, so you will know when you have done well, and what requires further improvement. At IQ Driving, the vast majority of learners pass first time, many with fewer than a couple of driver faults.

Many learners ask me, ‘when are we going to do hill starts?’, my answer is always the same. ‘You do them on every lesson!’ Hill Starts are nothing special, it’s all in the mind. If I told my students to do a hill start and made a big fuss of it, they will think its hard. However If I stopped on a hill and had a brief chat then asked them to drive off again, they wouldn’t think twice. At IQ Driving, whatever demands that will be placed on you for you driving test, you can be sure that not only have you done it before and at Test Standard, but you have done to IQ Driving standard, which will be much  higher.

Fail to Prepare - Prepare to Fail

You probably heard that from school or college many times over. You will hear it again on your driving lessons. Look again at the top ten reasons for failure. Which ones do you think are related to planning and decision-making? I think that the following reasons for failure could be prevented, or at least reduced with more thought:

  • Observation at junctions
  • Incorrect positioning
  • Inappropriate speed
  • Use of signals

How many times have you said ‘If only…’ followed by a range of comments, such as, ‘I’d seen that car at the roundabout’, ‘remembered to turn my signal on/off’, ‘stayed in the correct lane’, ‘spotted the speed limit sign’ etc.? At IQ Driving you will know what the speeds limits are and why. Thousands of drivers are caught speeding every month, many because they don’t know the speed limits. We believe this to be an essential part of your training, not just speed limits but the right speed for the right situation.

As far as signals are concerned, not only will you give the correct signals, but how to read the road up ahead. At IQ Driving, we believe this to be an integral part of any driving, whether it be for your Learner Driving Test, Advanced Driving Test, or the Special Test. We will show you how to give and receive the correct signals at the correct time.

Awareness and Planning

Awareness and Planning. These items are on the top ten reasons for failure, such as making sure you are in the correct lane on a roundabout, a bus is up ahead and pulls in at the bus stop, using your signals correctly and cancelling them, making sure you notice all the changes in speed limits and other appropriate road signs are easily dealt with. At IQ Driving, as mentioned before, we will show you how to take effective planning and show you how to read the road up ahead to avoid being stuck behind that bus.


This is the difficult area for many people because a lot of judgement is about common sense, and it is very hard to teach common sense. Whilst waiting at a junction and there is a large truck coming towards us, how do you know if you can go.  Many people also have a problem with spatial awareness. They may try to fit through a gap that a motorcycle wouldn’t attempt, or wait when there’s a gap that a bus could get through. At IQ Driving, these exercises will be practiced until you are completely at ease with any situation.

A good exercise to try when you are a passenger is to imagine that you are driving and see if the driver makes the same decision to wait or go as you would have done if you were driving. Maybe the driver is in a meeting situation, see how early they slow down. You may be very surprised. At IQ Driving, you will become confident you can make the right decision at the right time.

Often, when you watch a good driver, they will go for a seemingly impossible gap on a roundabout that you wouldn’t even consider. You must remember that they have experience behind them, and are very competent at clutch control. An experienced driver will have pulled out and away. You will have the same confidence when you go for your driving test

Therefore, although judgement can be taught to a certain degree, for example, if you could walk across a road as a pedestrian, then you have time to go in the car, it’s ultimately a matter of experience.

When Can I Take My Driving Test?

If you are in any doubt, then look no further than the advice from DSA: ‘If you’re not getting it right all of the time without your instructor’s help, then you’re not ready to take your test’. Just think back to your last lesson; how often did your instructor have to help or remind you about something? To be ready for your test, you need to be able to drive for the whole lesson with no help or advice from your instructor other than your instructor giving you directions. At IQ Driving you won’t need us to tell you you are ready for your test, you will know.

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