Driving tests

Ten common mistakes in your car driving test – advice from driving instructors

give way sign

If you’re about to take your practical driving test for your car licence you’ll need to know these ten ways in which it’s easy to fail your test. We asked four instructors for their advice for new motorists

Sharon Adams, Devonport Driving School, 09 445 8924


Stress is huge, it can take a confident, competent driver and turn them to mush. (Learn how to make your driving test a relaxing experience in this article – opens in a new window). One student was so stressed and paranoid about impeding the flow of traffic and failing to give way on roundabouts she took too long at each intersection and roundabout, then failed to follow the instructions of the tester to make a right turn. The tester carried on with the test to see if she got any better, but it was not the case.  She re-sat the test several months later and had no problems.

Failing to proceed on a green light

The driver failed to proceed on a green turning arrow and got tooted at. The tester intervened and told him to move as he was holding up traffic; he was looking to the right at the red lights, not the one set straight in front with the green turning arrow. He also had poor accelerator control so the vehicle speed was not consistent.  He was 75 sitting his restricted after not driving for over ten years and his US licence had expired.


A driver was going down a steep hill in fifth gear, tailgating a truck. The driver would have been less than two seconds behind the truck all the way down the hill. The tester felt unsafe and did not pass the student.  Most of my manual students found third gear the best gear to hold the vehicle at under 80kph.

Car not up-to-scratch

“High stop brake light not working is the most common, [and] indicator or rear light. [They are] very easy to miss. “

Sharon also reminds us that the testing officer will do pre-drive checks:

Pre-drive checks

Check the vehicle to be used in the test for a current warrant of fitness or certificate of fitness label

Before beginning the RLT, the testing officer will check:

  • two learner licence plates (L plates) displayed correctly
  • the candidate’s identity
  • a current vehicle licence (registration) label
  • conduct a pre-drive safety check
  • a current road user charges (RUC) label if it is a diesel vehicle
  • conduct an in-vehicle safety check.
  • sufficient fuel to complete the test.


If any of these requirements cannot be met, the test will be cancelled.

Prior to commencing the test the testing officer will sight the applicant’s learner licence to ensure it is current and to confirm their identity

Carl Winter, St John Driving Academy, 09 437 4120

Carl supplied a great piece of advice that is often overlooked:

Getting enough practice

“Applicants haven’t had enough practice or gained the correct information or experience before sitting driving test. No offence to mums and dads but most only pass on their own bad habits.”

He also recalled a funny event when he was a testing officer:

“An elderly lady, who at the time I was testing during my employment as a Testing Officer, was taken aback after I failed her for accelerating towards speed humps.  “Speed humps,” she said, “I thought they were jumps!”

Wayne Young, A1 Drive, 04 387 7480

Failing to keep within the speed limits

This commonly occurs because learner drivers take their ideas from other drivers that don’t reduce their speed when going into a slower speed limit area till they have entered the zone.

In the driving test if you move into a 50km area you need to be down to the 50km limit by the time you pass the 50km sign.

If you are 5 km above the speed limit for more than 5 seconds you get a critical error, you only need two of these to fail in part one of the Restricted test.

If you are 10 km above the posted speed limit you can fail instantly.

Not stopping at stop signs.

This happens because the learner sees the way is clear of traffic and releases the brake before they are fully stopped.

It is very common with drivers using an automatic car, as these car tend to roll on if you don’t make sure you have pressed the foot brake firmly enough to stop the vehicle.

This can lead to critical errors or an instant fail in the Restricted Test.

Failing to give way

“Making judgements at intersections of when it is safe to go is a key element of good driving. This is called your “Gap Selection” in the test.

“If you decide to pull out in front of another vehicle at an intersection when that vehicle has right of way, you must make sure you don’t make that vehicle have to alter its speed or direction to accommodate your manoeuvre.

“This commonly happens in the driving test because the driver has not had enough experience at judging gaps or does not understand how to apply the giving way rules. In a driving test this error is called Failing to Give Way and can lead to an instant failure of your restricted test.”

Heather Richards, Drivewell, 03 577 7756

Head checks

Most common here is not doing head checks – it’s very common for people to fail the test. I teach ‘MISM’  – mirrors, indication, shoulder movement. It’s dangerous from merging perspective – not checking for traffic coming up alongside you and from stationery position moving onto road.

Not checking train tracks

“People just drive over them completely unaware and the potential danger is huge. We have many uncontrolled train tracks around Marlborough – several times a year people get hit. A simple check would remedy this.”

As New Zealand has a lot of international drivers, for whom English is a second language, misunderstandings can occur on the test. If English is your second language, make sure you practice the questions here so that you understand the Road Code. Heather recounts a recent example:

“I teach many foreign people. The funniest lately is a lady who saw a ‘seal repair’ sign – and was looking for an animal!”

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Darren has written over 3000 articles about driving and vehicles, plus almost 500 vehicle reviews and numerous driving courses. Connect with him on LinkedIn by clicking the name above

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