According to Department for Transport statistics, in recent years in the UK, there has consistently been a staggering 700,000 driving test fails per year which is why we offer our Two Test Guarantee for intensive driving course customers. This blog will help explain what can sometimes go wrong and offer some guidance to reduce frustrations you might have.


One of the main reasons why there can be difficulties interpreting what happens on a driving test is due to there being many variables to it. Unlike a school/college exam where the structure of the test is very controlled, on a driving test there are a few things that can happen which may differ greatly between driving tests; this is one of the reasons why many people have a ‘story’ to tell about their driving test.

The variables on a driving test include:

  • You – how you cope with the test, it is after all a stressful experience
  • Examiner – whilst the DVSA (Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency) go to great lengths when training examiners to ensure consistency of how the test is conducted and marked, nevertheless, they are only human like all of us, and humans make mistakes
  • Others – cyclists, pedestrians, road workers, drivers of buses, vans, taxis, emergency vehicles… the list goes on and you are not in control of how any of them act/behave. People can do strange things at times.
  • The vehicle – most people ensure that they take their driving test in a vehicle that they have had plenty of practise driving, but occasionally, for a variety of reasons a Learner may take a driving test in a vehicle that they have had little experience of driving. Cars differ in how they drive, the vision, the noises etc.
  • The highways – signage, white paint on roads and road design differ between Local Authorities.   The range of complexity this causes a candidate on test can be enormous and can make the route that is selected for a given driving test to have a direct and probable impact on likely outcomes.

Some examples of how the above can affect a driving test can be quite surprising. The following are some real examples taken from the 100+ driving tests that I have observed from the back seat on driving tests at BIG TOM Driving School.

A couple learnt to drive with me in Peterborough, both starting at the same time with wildly differing attitudes to the driving test. The male was confident, he drove with assertiveness, a calm and assured driver who was sure he would pass the driving test first time. His wife was about as far the opposite as you can imagine, she would often drive too slowly, was hesitant, frightened of speed and big lorries, and absolutely feared the driving test. The male failed his first attempt as he could not stop his left leg from wobbling which meant he had poor clutch control.   His wife managed to pass first time.

The aura of examiners when on the driving test can differ greatly. They are duty bound to express sentences and directions in the same structure, but the manner in which they conduct the driving test can have profound effects on the candidate taking the test. The lilt of the verbal instructions, their timing, the body language adopted, whether additional words are offered to provide a more relaxing environment – all of these characteristics are extremely difficult to legislate for in terms of how an examiner MUST conduct a driving test, and yet, they can significantly affect how a candidate drives. Think about behavioural styles of teachers, doctors, police officers, interviewing personnel, dentists, bosses and often you will be able to recollect ‘good’ and ‘bad’ examples for each. Driving examiners are no different.

If everyone behaved on the streets as you would expect them to, life would be a lot easier right? But they don’t. Emergency service drivers will intimidate drivers in front of them, pedestrians will walk out on to a road unexpectedly or hold back inappropriately on crossings, drivers of vehicles around you will speed, weave in and out of lanes, not signal when they should, and drive too close behind you.

The quality of white paint on roads can have a marked effect on driving test outcomes eg being able to physically see lanes, how close white arrows are to junctions, inclusion (or not) of destinations/road names on lanes. Inevitably there are a few highly complex junctions/road designs within a given area that will attract driving test fails purely down to the obscure nature, or what appears to be “design shortcomings” that affect the vast majority of drivers, not just candidates on the driving test. If you were to observe how drivers navigate their way round these particular complex areas you would notice that if the same ‘rules’ were being applied to everyone, as are being applied to candidates on the driving test, then the natural consequence would be that a significant percentage of drivers would theoretically fail to pass a driving test. In other words, candidates on their driving test, are being expected to drive to a higher standard than the majority of other drivers AT THESE SPECIFIC LOCATIONS.

There will be other factors that affect pass rates across test centres, but different ‘test routes’ being used by a Test Centre can have greatly differing pass rates associated with them – this is a statistic that is missing from DVSA publicised figures.   The unfortunate side effect of this fact is that it can encourage driving schools to focus on test routes, in particular test routes that include these highly complex areas, so the pupils are becoming trained in handling certain locations as opposed to trained in developing identification, assessment and forward planning skillsets.

DVSA Test Centre Managers monitor and to differing degrees ‘control’ the impact of specific examiners and test routes on Test Centre pass rates. The probability of passing a driving test is not intended to be dependent on postcodes, but there are many candidates who choose to take their driving test in a particular Test Centre for these very reasons, just as there are many trainee Driving Instructors who will also take their qualifying tests in particular Test Centres for the same reasons.

If you consider that a driving test result was unfair then you can appeal against the decision through the courts, there is a specific court and timescale dependent on your location, this LINK has more details. However, you do have another option available to you which I consider to be far more effective. You are given the option at the start of your test to have it observed. At BIG TOM Driving School, we positively encourage our customers to allow their BIG TOM Driving Instructor to observe the test from the back seat (although Covid restrictions do prevent this option). In our experience, this has proved of benefit on several occasions. The stress of the driving test is sometimes so great that candidates literally cannot recall precise details of what happens. By having an observer, especially a professional driving instructor, they will be able to offer guidance as to literally what happened, when, and why the driving fault was marked by the examiner in the manner it was.

As the writer of this blog, and seeing how it could be construed as being contentious, I would like to declare that whilst I am in no doubt that the variables outlined in this blog exist to greater and lesser degrees in differing locations in the UK, in 11 years of observing driving tests, the occasions when I have felt there was grounds to make an appeal against a decision by an examiner have been just one. That is not to say that anyone reading this will not have a legitimate case, every case must be judged on the specific circumstances, but only to provide some reassurance to readers that in the numerous driving tests I have observed, it is rare to feel the need to disagree with the outcome provided by the examiner.

The writer is Tom Ingram, Owner of BIG TOM Driving School providing 5 Day Intensive Driving Courses at Lincoln, Peterborough, Bourne, Grantham, Boston, Spalding and Stamford (01928508833)