Driving test faults: top 10 reasons for failing a driving test

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The practical driving test can be an intimidating experience - and many learner drivers, no matter how prepared they are, fail. It’s okay! It happens to a lot of people… including many of us at Cuvva! 👀

To help learner drivers, we’ve crunched the numbers to find the 10 most common reasons for failing the practical exam. Think of it as a cheat sheet for what to avoid on the big day.

What does the driving test involve?

The test is split into three sections:

  • An eye test
  • A show-me-tell-me section, where the examiner asks you things like how you’d check if the engine has enough oil
  • The driving exam

The driving section will probably last around 40 minutes. Even if you realise you’ve made a mistake, just keep calm and carry on. After all, you might not have failed because of it.

(Because we’re nice, we’ve put together a couple of other driving test guides for you that go into this stuff in a little more detail. Here’s a guide on what to expect when you take your driving test, and here’s a driving test checklist that tells you what the examiner is looking for.)

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What are the different types of driving test faults?

When you take your driving test your examiner will make a note of any mistakes you make. You’ve probably heard of ‘majors’ and ‘minors’ – get one major and you fail, get over 15 minors and you also fail. ❌

But technically, they’re not actually called majors and minors. Instead, there are actually three different category of faults.

They are:

  • A driving fault (also referred to as a ‘minor’). This is a mistake that isn’t dangerous or potentially dangerous, but that could become dangerous if you keep on making it. You can get 15 of these before you fail. But if you keep making the same minor mistake, that might also get you a fail.
  • A serious fault (or a ‘major’). This is a mistake that could potentially be dangerous. If you get just one of these, you’ll fail.
  • A dangerous fault (also a major). This is a mistake that is actually dangerous, to you, your instructor, a member of the public or a piece of property. Again, if you get just one of these, you’ll fail.

Let’s take a closer look with some hypothetical scenarios.

Driving test cheat sheet 👀
Check out what the examiner will be looking for. Read more.

Example of a driving (minor) fault

You’re driving on a quiet road and there are no cars, pedestrians or cyclists. Your instructor asks you to pull over. You check your mirrors properly. You notice there’s a car coming towards you on the other side of the road. You pull over without indicating.

This mistake isn’t dangerous or potentially dangerous. It would have been better if you’d given the driver coming towards you the heads up that you were pulling over though. So you’ve made a minor fault.

Example of serious (major) fault

Your examiner asks you to make a left turn. You do all the usual mirror checks and indicate. But you don’t brake until you’re very close to the turnoff, and there’s a car five or six car lengths behind you.

You should have started braking earlier. Driving too fast towards a junction with a car coming up behind you could potentially have been dangerous. So that’d be a fail.

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Example of a dangerous (major) fault

You’re driving on a dual carriageway and your examiner asks you to move lane. You check your mirrors and indicate but you don’t check your blind spot.

Your examiner has to grab the steering wheel to stop you crashing into a car you hadn’t seen. Yikes! This is a dangerous fault because you could have caused an accident if your examiner didn’t intervene. You’ve failed - and depending on the examiner’s confidence in you, you may even need to let them drive you home.

A single serious or dangerous fault means a failed driving test.

The top 10 reasons for failing a driving test

We’ve delved into the data to find the top 10 reasons that learner drivers fail their driving practical test. Over the years, the most common mistakes haven’t varied too much. We’ll go into the most recent data in more detail in a minute, but in general the mistakes usually fall into these categories, with slight variations:

  • Junctions
  • Mirrors
  • Response to signals
  • Control of the car
  • Moving off
  • Positioning
  • Reverse parking

If you fail because of a mistake in any of these areas you’ll get a detailed explanation from your examiner. Say you make a mistake at a junction when you’ve been asked to turn right. This would show on your results as ‘Junctions - turning right’.

Junctions and checking mirrors have actually been the main two reasons for people failing since 2009 😬. So they’re definitely worth practising as much as possible before the big day!

Here’s the top 10 reasons people failed their tests in 2020 and 2021:

1. Not making the proper observations at junctions This means failing to look around properly when you’re turning at a junction. A few examples of this kind of mistake are:

  • Not looking to see if there are any cars coming when you turn a corner, enter a roundabout, or go over a crossroads
  • Not judging the speed of a car coming towards you very well – like if you go to join a roundabout even though a car’s coming around from the right fast enough to hit you
  • Entering a dual carriageway without looking properly
  • Not looking left when you go to turn left

2. Not using mirrors properly when changing direction This is where you don’t check your mirrors properly when you need to change direction. Examples of this kind of mistake are:

  • Not checking your mirrors when you go to exit a roundabout
  • Not checking your mirrors when you change lanes on a dual carriageway
  • Not checking your mirrors when you change lanes on a roundabout

3. Not positioning properly when turning right at junctions This is where you don’t position the car properly when you need to turn right. A few examples of this kind of mistake are:

  • Not positioning the car far enough to the right on the road when you’re waiting for oncoming traffic to clear so you can turn right. So you get a build up of cars behind you waiting for you to turn, because they can’t get around your left side
  • Going in the left hand lane on a roundabout when you actually need to turn right
  • Positioning yourself to the left side of a lane with no markings when you need to turn right

Driving in snow can be tricky but our tips will help

4. Not responding properly to traffic lights This is where you don’t get things right at traffic lights. A few examples of this kind of mistake are:

  • The obvious one – driving through a red light
  • Stopping after the first white line at traffic lights when there are separate stop lines for cyclists
  • Not turning right at a traffic light junction when there are no cars coming (so you block traffic)
  • Not going ahead when the lights say you can – so when there’s a green light or green filter light
  • Going ahead when there’s a green light but there are still cars coming (meaning you should actually wait)

5. Not having proper control of your steering There is where you don’t have proper control of your steering while you’re driving. Some examples of this kind of mistake are:

  • Not steering enough around a bend, so the wheels of the car go up on the pavement
  • Repeatedly not following the curb well when you turn left, so you don’t leave much space on the road for cars coming from the right
  • Steering too late when you’re turning right, so you end up veering onto the wrong side of the road
  • Repeatedly steering too late when you want to go around a parked car, so you end up getting too close to the car

6. Not responding properly to traffic signs This is where you don’t react properly to traffic signs. Some examples of this kind of mistake are:

  • Going to the wrong side of a ‘keep left’ sign
  • Driving on even though there’s a ‘stop’ or ‘no entry’ sign
  • Driving in a bus lane
  • Going in the wrong lane at a roundabout when there are signs to say which lane you should go in
  • Not changing your speed when there’s a new speed limit sign, or not changing it quickly enough

7. Not responding to road markings properly This is where you don’t respond to the markings that are on the actual road properly. Some examples of this kind of mistake are:

  • Driving in a bus lane
  • Stopping in a box junction
  • Stopping in an area where it says ‘keep clear’ on the road
  • Parking on double yellow lines
  • Parking on zigzag lines

8. Not moving off safely This is where you don’t move off safely from being in a stopped/parked position. Some examples of this kind of mistake are:

  • Moving off from being pulled over behind a parked car, even though there’s another car coming up behind you
  • Repeatedly moving off from the side of the road without checking your blind spot
  • Moving off from being pulled up on the right hand side of the road even though there’s a car coming towards you
  • Not checking your rearview mirror when you’re moving off after an emergency stop

9. Not positioning the car very well in general when driving This is where you don’t keep the car in a good position when you’re driving around in general. Examples of this kind of mistake are:

  • Repeatedly driving too close to the curb or the middle of the road
  • Driving in the right hand lane of a dual carriageway when you don’t need to – so if you stay in the right hand lane even though you’re not overtaking
  • Not following the bend of a roundabout – so, driving kind of straight across the lanes rather than around with the curve

10. Not having control of the car when moving off This is where you don’t have good control of the car when you’re moving off. Examples of this kind of mistake are:

  • Stalling or rolling back when you try to move off
  • Repeatedly stalling when you move off
  • Trying to move off without putting the car into gear, so the car rolls back

Driving tests can be nerve-wracking, for sure. But we reckon if you get plenty of practice in for these common tricky areas, you’ll feel much more confident 💪.

Get insured

By the way – if you’re planning on getting a few extra hours of practice with a parent or someone else, our learner driving insurance is worth checking out.

It’s super flexible, and you can manage it all on your phone through our app – so you’re only covered for the exact amount of time you need. Nice.

If you’ve got your full driving licence and you’re looking for cover - from one hour to rolling monthly policies with no nasty extra fees or tie-ins - getting a quote only takes a few minutes.

Updated on 30th May 2022