An examiner's tale: fault assessment explained
Published 9 April 2021
Last updated 2 February 2022
A driving examiner explains fault assessment and the practical driving test. What is it? How many types are there? When are faults awarded? Learn more with two great examples.
I’d like to tell you something every candidate wonders about: how a driving test is assessed. Some people think it’s cloaked in mystery and that we examiners form a secret society, unwilling to share our assessment knowledge. It’s not like that at all: I’m happy to tell you everything I can if it helps you to relax and trust that we’re here to help.
The first thing to understand is that we’re not eagerly waiting for you to make a mistake; we’d much rather you drove really well and made very few minor errors, or none at all. The truth is, though, that most people do rack up some faults in their driving test – no one’s perfect at the best of times, let alone when they’re under pressure.
So, there are three types of driving test fault
- a driving fault – this is a fault that’s not potentially dangerous, but if you make the same fault throughout your test it could become a serious fault
- a serious fault – this is something that could potentially be dangerous
- a dangerous fault – involves actual danger to you, the examiner, the public or property.
You’ll pass your driving test if you make
- 15 or fewer driving faults
- no serious or dangerous faults.
It might help to explain how a fault is assessed if I share some examples from real tests.
Let’s start with a simple one first – imagine you’re turning right at the end of a one-way street. There are two lanes clearly marked by directional arrows and numerous traffic signs showing it’s one-way. Both lanes are available and there’s a car behind you signalling left. In good time, the examiner will say something like ‘at the end of the road, turn right please’. You stay in the left lane, stop at the junction, then emerge when it’s safe. The car behind is blocked from turning left until you’re clear of the junction.
In most cases, this would be assessed as a serious fault. You had reasonable time to position correctly in the right lane. There were clear road markings and traffic signs to tell you that the street was one way. Your actions caused a significant delay to the driver behind.
However, in some cases, what you did may be perfectly acceptable. For example, imagine there was a lorry parked in the right lane close to the junction. In this instance, you have to use the left lane unless you’re willing to wait behind the lorry for hours until it moves. (Do not do this!) So you see, in both scenarios you have turned right from completely the wrong position. The circumstances at the time decide how the fault is assessed.
Let’s look at another. You’re driving towards a red traffic light at a crossroads. As you approach, you slow down a bit and then drive through without stopping. Would you fail your test for this? In most cases, yes, of course you would. Stopping safely at a red traffic light is a legal requirement. But can you think of a time when driving through a red light would be acceptable? OK, imagine there’s a police officer directing traffic at the junction. The officer has stopped traffic in all other directions and is clearly instructing you to drive through. In this case, stopping at the red light could be wrong.
Why am I telling you this? Because the devil is in the detail.
We’re frequently told by candidates that they failed their last test because of something that seemed harsh to them. Maybe they stalled the car, but their friend passed even though he/she also stalled the car. Well, stalling at the side of the road whilst parked is one thing, and stalling when turning right across approaching traffic is quite another. The detail is crucial and your examiner should explain all this at the end of the test.
So, that’s the ‘secret’ of assessment. Pass it on!