How to Pass Your Driving Test

Posted on 26th Jul 2022 by Liz Jacques Posted in: In The Know

Top Tips for Leaner Drivers

To help as many of you as possible pass first time, we’ve identified 10 top reasons for failing, so you can be prepared for those tricky scenarios.

Here’s what learner drivers can do to make sure they don’t make common mistakes and to ensure they pass their driving test with flying colours!

Top tips to pass your driving test - illustration of a car at a junction with road signs saying pass and fail

Top Ten Reasons People Fail Their Driving Test

…And the best advice to make sure you pass!

1. Exceeding the speed limit – Speeding, adapting to conditions and general speed management are common errors

Advice for avoiding this typical learner driver error: While it’s important to drive confidently, that mustn’t translate to speeding. Simply pay attention to speed limits throughout your test as they are likely to change throughout (you may well know the area where you are going to be tested and can familiarise yourself with the local speed limits in advance). Pay extra attention to driving conditions on the day and additional hazards that might require you to reduce your speed.

While many of our tips would include ‘taking your time’ to run through observations and correct driving procedures, it is important not to hesitate beyond that. Driving too slowly is also a critical fault! So don’t take longer than five seconds to move on where there’s been a safe gap to move into, and maintain progress once you are driving as long as it’s safe to do so, being sure you are not driving over 10 km/h under the speed limit!

View from above of car in centre of lane

2. Failing to give way – Not responding to give way signs, or forgetting other scenarios where you should give way on the road could be an automatic fail

Ensuring you don’t make this common error: As we’ve explained, you must pay attention to give way signs, but there’s also scenarios on the road where giving way to other road users should be automatic for you as a driver. Generally you should give way to all vehicles coming from your right. But there are four specific give way rules to adhere to:

  • When turning, give way to vehicles going straight ahead
  • If crossing a footpath, bus lane or cycle lane, give way to pedestrians or road users on those footpaths/lanes
  • When turning right, give way to all vehicles coming towards you including the ones turning left
  • At T intersections, remember the saying ‘Top of the T goes before me’!

Car at a junction indicating

3. Failing to come to a complete stop at STOP signs – Just that!

How to ensure you pass this part of your test: This one may seem obvious, but many learner drivers slow down at stop signs without actually coming to a complete stop. Quite simply, if you fail to stop properly, you will fail your test. So this is an easy one to get right – just follow what the sign tells you! You must stop your whole vehicle, completely and behind the line at every stop sign. If you can not see beyond obstructions to pull off safely, you are allowed to move forward at an intersection, but only after having come to a complete stop first.

Illustration of a STOP road sign

4. Missing observation checks – Failing to check mirrors and blind spots

How to make sure you don’t make this mistake: Whenever and wherever you move your vehicle you must perform a head check. The old learner driver mantra of “mirror – signal – manoeuvre” will ensure you don’t make a mistake here! Literally every merge, turn, change of lanes, parking or turning manoeuvre requires you to make full observations to pass your test, so do those head checks and make it obvious you have!

View from car interior through windscreen

5. Failing to indicate – Missing, incorrect or mistimed signalling is a recipe for driving test failure!

Obvious but necessary advice for passing your test: It’s essential to indicate your intentions before any driving manoeuvre including changing lanes, diverging, pulling on or off a kerb and exiting a roundabout. But even if you remember to make all those signals, it’s the timing that’s key, as doing so too early or too late can confuse other drivers. The formal recommendation for leaving a kerb or a parked position is a five second signal, and for other manoeuvres at least three seconds, but you need to consider what action and timing will be clear to signal your intention. For example, don’t mislead other drivers by putting on your indicator if you are going to pass a turning before the one you intend to take. Also, be sure to cancel your signals once you’ve completed your manoeuvre, as they don’t always switch off automatically.  

Hands on steering wheel with an indicator light on the dash

6. Poor judgement – Making dangerous decisions when pulling out into traffic, merging, or giving way will result in a fail

Advice for avoiding this typical critical error: Leaner drivers often struggle to judge the speed of oncoming vehicles over distance and their hesitation can make the resulting manoeuvre unsafe. Our advice is to ensure you’ve had plenty of practice entering traffic, so you can feel confident in your ability by the time it comes to your test. Always take the time to ensure you are giving way to vehicles or pedestrians that have priority, enter the traffic where there is a gap where other drivers and cyclists won’t have to adjust their speed or change course to avoid you, and as you’ve decided it’s safe to proceed, act promptly! It’s important to drive confidently to join traffic smoothly and at the correct speed.

Car in wing mirror

7. Poor responses to traffic lights – It’s not only essential to adhere to traffic signals, but drivers must react in good time and avoid cutting it too fine when traffic lights are turning red

Simple advice to avoid this driving mistake: Keep your focus as you’re approaching any traffic lights. If they’ve been green for a long time you can anticipate that they may well change and don’t take any risks or accelerate through a light change. When you are pulled up at a red light don’t lose your concentration and be ready for a smooth set-off.

Traffic lights with amber lit

8. Blocking a pedestrian crossing – Stopping your car on any pedestrian crossing or area controlled by pedestrian traffic lights

A tip to ensure you don’t receive a fault on your test: This is another simple one in principle, as all you have to do is pay attention to road signs and our rather obvious zebra crossings and ensure your vehicle does not enter a pedestrianised area if it’s in use, or about to be used. The only exceptions to this are when pedestrians are being held behind a school patrol sign or they are on the opposite side of a road seperated by a raised traffic island.

It’s unlikely, but if you need to stop on a pedestrian crossing to be able to see traffic approaching at an intersection, just be sure you have given way to any pedestrians that need to cross first so you avoid an unnecessary driving test fault!

Overhead illustration of people crossing a street at a crossing with a car moving through it

9. Not responding to signs and road markings – Learner drivers will be taken on routes that test this knowledge and failing to respond will incur a critical error

Making sure you don’t tot up multiple errors: Go back to your theory knowledge and ensure you know what all road signs and markings mean so you can identify them swiftly and confidently. When you see a sign, react in plenty of time and in a safe manner. Similarly for road markings, ensure you read the road ahead. Lines and markings on the road are all used to indicate required driving behaviour and avoid illegal manoeuvres, so it’s essential you look out for any introductions or changes in road markings and drive accordingly.

Illustration of a road with chevron area in centre

10. Stalling and poor control of the car – All drivers stall occasionally, but it’s an unnerving experience for a learner and one that could ruin your cool in a test and turn into a fail

How to avoid failing your driving test: While it’s difficult in a test scenario, try to stay calm. Stalling the car doesn’t necessarily lead to a failure as long as you can re-start the car swiftly and safely without help. Re-set yourself and the car! Re-start the manoeuvre calmly and don’t forget to do all the necessary checks to be sure it’s safe before moving off.

Person's hand on key in ignition


Remember, stay calm and confident – you’ve already spent a lot of time on the road – you can do this!

If you are reading this on behalf of a learner driver, or it’s just a long time since you passed your test, you might like to read our blog on What Makes a Good Driver and see if you need to review your own driving skills!

You can book a practical driving test online on the NZTA website.

If you learnt to drive in an old clunker and it’s time to get a new motor, find our how much your learner wheels are worth with our instant quote service.

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