Practical test for cars explained
The practical driving test (car)
The Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA) is now able to offer tests outside the normal test times at a number of test centres. This provides customers with a wider range of appointments over an extended working day.
Practical tests are generally available at all permanent test centres. Saturday and weekday evening tests (May to September only), subject to resources being available, are offered at a premium rate.
Non-premium rate tests are available at various times between 8.50 am and 3.50 pm Monday to Friday. The driving test is straightforward and has been designed to see if you:
- can drive safely
- know the Highway Code and can demonstrate this through your driving
Adverse weather conditions
The DVA do not conduct driving tests in adverse weather conditions for the safety of the candidate and the examiner.
Practical driving tests are managed locally on a test by test basis, subject to local conditions which are reviewed regularly throughout the day. All attempts will be made to cancel tests in advance; however this is not always possible as local conditions can change quite quickly.
You can get contact details for your local test centre at the link below:
In the event that your driving test is cancelled, another appointment will be arranged automatically at no further cost, but compensation is not payable. You will be contacted with a new appointment date as soon as possible.
Taking someone with you on your driving test
The DVA encourages you to take someone with you on your driving test. This will usually be the person who has taught you to drive, but it could be a relative or a friend. They must be over 16 years old and cannot take any part in the test.
The person who goes with you will be able to see how you perform during the test. To get the most benefit from this, it would be sensible to ask your instructor to go with you. They can then give you advice on how to improve your driving, whether you pass or fail.
Observer on Test
The DVA has made a policy change to the practical driving test in Northern Ireland (NI) by actively promoting the benefits of candidates having an ‘observer on test’. This involves an Approved Driving Instructor (ADI), parent or friend sitting in on the test to observe and listen to the examiner’s feedback – all with a view to providing critical support for the learner and newly qualified driver’s ongoing development and lifelong learning.
The examiner will ask you if you wish to have an accompanying driver to sit in on the test. If you decide that you do not want to be accompanied you will, at the end of their test, be given the opportunity to have your accompanying driver present for debrief at the conclusion of the test. This policy change will also allow an ADI to act as an interpreter on the test for their own pupil.
Using an interpreter
You may bring your own interpreter for your practical test as long as they are over 16 years of age
You will be responsible for arranging your interpreter and for any necessary fees.
What will the test include?
The test will include an eyesight check (if you fail this, your test will not continue). The eyesight test requires you to read a number plate that is a certain distance away. For more information about the eyesight check please use the 'Driving eyesight requirements' link below.
After the eyesight test you will be asked two vehicle safety check questions.
Vehicle safety questions
These are basic safety checks that a driver should carry out to ensure the vehicle is safe for use. Although some checks may involve the candidate opening the bonnet to identify where fluid levels would be checked, pupils will not be asked to touch a hot engine or physically check fluid levels.
The examiner will ask you one 'show me' question, where you'll have to show them how you'd carry out a vehicle safety check. You'll also be asked one 'tell me' question, where you'll have to explain to the examiner how you'd carry out the check.
For example, the examiner might ask you to identify where the windscreen washer reservoir is and tell them how you'd check the windscreen washer level.
If you give the wrong answer for one or both questions, you'll be marked with one driving fault.
As vehicle technology advances, more and more vehicles are being equipped with electronic diagnostic systems. These inform the driver of the state of the engine fluid levels and tyre pressures. It will be acceptable for a candidate to refer to the vehicle information system (if fitted) when answering questions on fluid levels or tyre pressures.
You can find source material in the Driver Standards Agency (DSA) publication 'The official DSA guide to driving - the essential skills' and 'The official DSA guide to learning to drive', available online via the link below:
Advice and information on how to carry out vehicle safety checks can also be found in the manufacturer's handbook. Candidates will be asked two questions, one 'show me' and one 'tell me'. One or both questions answered incorrectly will result in one driving fault being recorded.
If you plan to use your own vehicle at the practical driving test, there are some vehicles that can't be used for safety reasons. You'll need to check that a recall or safety notice doesn't affect the vehicle.
What happens during the test?
During the driving test the examiner will give you directions which you should follow. Test routes are designed to be as uniform as possible and will include a range of typical road and traffic conditions. During the test, the examiner will ask you to carry out set exercises.
Throughout the test you should drive in the way your instructor has taught you. If you make a mistake, don't worry about it, it might be a less serious driving fault and may not affect your result.
You will then be examined on your general driving and on one reversing exercise. The reversing exercise will be chosen from:
- reversing around a corner
- turning in the road
- reverse parking either on road or into a parking bay
You may also be asked to carry out an emergency stop exercise.
The examiner will be looking for an overall safe standard of driving. You can make up to 15 driving faults and still pass the test (16 or more results in failure). However, if you commit one serious or dangerous fault you will fail the test. If at any time your examiner considers you to be a danger to other road users your test will be stopped.
Independent driving explained
Examiners give candidates step-by-step instructions during the test. apart for a section where the candidate will be asked to drive independendly. For all other parts of the test, candidates will still get step-by-step instructions.
In the independent driving section of the test, you'll have to drive independently by either following:
- traffic signs
- a series of directions
- a combination of both
To help you understand where you are going when following verbal directions, the examiner will show you a diagram.
Click on the link below for more detailed information about independent driving:
After the practical test
When the driving test is over, you can call your instructor over if they didn’t go with you on your test so that they can hear the result and feedback with you. This feedback is beneficial for your ongoing development whether you have passed or failed.
Driving test standards
All examiners are trained to carry out the test to the same standard, they do not have pass or fail quotas. So as long as you demonstrate the standard required you will pass your driving test.
Weather conditions/mechanical problems
The DVA do not conduct tests in bad light or in adverse weather conditions for the safety of the candidate and the examiner. Another appointment will be arranged at no further cost, but compensation is not payable. Candidates should call the phone number quoted on the appointment letter to check whether their test will go ahead. If the driving test is not completed for reasons attributable to you or your vehicle, you will have to take another test at your own cost.