Driving tests

How much practise is necessary before taking your driving test?

To get your full driver’s licence you will need to take both a theory and practical test. They require completely different skills as one is a multiple choice test administered in a testing centre on a computer and the other is driving or riding your vehicle. The chances of you passing without practising are very slim, but how much practise should you do before you go for your test?

A number of factors affect how easy or difficult you will find the tests:

  • Your age – younger minds tend to adapt and learn more quickly
  • Your personality – eager, willing people will apply advice more readily than stubborn people
  • Your natural aptitudes – some people are naturally initially better at controlling a vehicle
  • Your previous experience – if you’ve grown up on a farm and thrashed a car around a paddock then you’ll have a better understanding of how a vehicle handles than someone that has never sat behind a wheel, but bear in mind that driving on the road avoiding other road users is much different to driving in a field avoiding what the cows have left behind
  • Your commitment – committing to go through the process of learning to drive in a reasonable amount of time rather than letting it drag on for ages will allow you to acquire good habits early on.
  • Your choice of driving instructor – a good driving instructor will match your requirements and will be able to give you the confidence you need more quickly than a bad one.

Theory test

You must take a theory test before you can drive legally on the road – choose from car, motorbike or heavy vehicle to practise. The theory test is a mixture of memory and understanding. Just practising by using the questions on this website and reading the supporting information will give you the majority of what you need to know. Make sure you also read the Road Code for your vehicle (car, motorbike or heavy vehicle) as it has excellent general driving information, too. Once you are getting 100% in every test on this website, then you are ready to sit your theory test. The amount of time this takes varies between people.

Practical test

The practical test has a wider range of variables (things that vary within the test). Whereas with the theory test you will go to the testing centre and sit the test on a computer, with the practical test many things can make it more difficult such as the time of day (traffic, pedestrians, etc), the weather, and random events on the road such as the phasing of traffic lights or any one of a number of random situations that can occur like a truck moving a house along the road.

The only way to become comfortable with these situations is to practise. Then practise some more. In Australia there’s a minimum of 120 hours required before you can take a practical test. We don’t have the same requirements here, but a minimum of several hundred hours of varied driving, i.e. not just driving the same route at the same time of day every time, will start to build your competence.

Your driving instructor will be able to tell you when you are ready for a test. They won’t generally put you forward for a test early because failing a test is expensive and time-consuming for you, it knocks your confidence, and it looks bad for the driving instructor. Therefore, if they do tell you that you are ready, you are more than likely ready.

At this point you will be able to automatically control your vehicle, be it car, motorbike or heavy vehicle. You won’t have to think about indicating, braking, changing gear, accelerating, turning and so on. You will have experienced a number of challenging scenarios on the road already – people pulling out in front of you, heavy stop/start traffic, someone braking heavily ahead of you, heavy rain, fog, sun strike, windy weather, narrow rural roads, gravel, uncontrolled intersections, night driving and more. If you haven’t experienced any of those at least once then you need to find them while you are in the company of an experienced driver so that you can learn what to do. You will also be able to parallel park, reverse around a corner, do a three-point turn and other manoeuvres necessary for the practical test.

This can take as little as 50 hours, or sometimes thousands of hours, depending on the factors mentioned above. A driving instructor is the best person to tell you when you are ready.

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Darren is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the NZ Motoring Writers' Guild

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Posted in Advice, Car, Heavy Vehicle, Motorbike
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