The practical driving test: understanding the independent drive

Over shoulder of driver, approaching brow of hill, day.

Published 9 April 2021
Last updated 12 April 2021

A driving examiner covers everything you need to know about the independent driving part of the practical driving test: what it is and what you need to know.

We’re back, with more interesting – and downright informative – tips for driving test success from our driving examiners. We’re pleased to say that they’ve come up with some really good stuff, too!

Here’s an examiner’s take on the independent driving part of the practical driving test. Just what is it, and what will you be expected to do?

Go your own way?

It’s important to understand what independent driving is not. It’s not an opportunity for you to program the sat nav for the beach, flick on cruise control and head off for an afternoon in the summer sun.

In fact, independent driving involves the examiner giving you a set of directions in advance. You’ll have to follow signs or follow a diagram, or a combination of the two. It’s not a memory test, so if you forget an instruction, it really is OK to ask the examiner to repeat it.

Now, you’re probably thinking ‘How can it be independent driving if you’re allowed to ask which way you’re meant to be going?’ Well, during the part of the test that is not independent driving, the examiner will give instructions for upcoming junctions as you reach them. For example, ‘Take the next road on the left’ or ‘At the roundabout turn right, it’s the third exit’. These kinds of instructions tell you to look for junctions as you’re approaching them.

During the independent drive, things are a bit different. The roundabout where the examiner wants you to (for example) turn right by taking the third exit may be a mile or so away. It’s then up to you to

  • find the roundabout
  • time your approach to the roundabout completely independently.

If you forget an instruction and ask ‘Did you say left or right at the roundabout?’, that’s OK. At least the examiner knows that you’ve found the junction and you‘re preparing for it in your own time, without a reminder.

Hang on, though. What if you were to actually reach the roundabout, stop and then say ‘Was it left or right?’ Well, that would be a problem because, at that point, you may already be in the wrong position and unable to signal your intention to other road users in good time.

Signs of trouble

Another problem can occur if the examiner asks you to follow the signs to a place of his or her choice – maybe the railway station, or a particular part of town. If you ask them whether that’ll involve turning left or right, it means that you’re no longer looking for signs, but asking for guidance. If you’re unsure where you’re supposed to be going, then it’s OK to ask them to repeat the place name. Remember, though: the examiner can only tell you where you need to head to; they cannot tell you how to get there. It’s up to you to follow the signs.

Make it easy on yourself

So remember

  • Practise following road signs before you take your test.
  • If you forget the examiner’s instruction, ask them to repeat it in good time.

More on the independent drive

  • The independent driving part of the test lasts 20 minutes – or roughly half of the test.
  • During this section of the test, most candidates will be asked to follow directions from a sat nav, although 20 percent of candidates will still have to follow directions from traffic signs.
  • You will not need to set the route – the examiner will do this for you. So, it does not matter what make or model of sat nav you practise with.
  • You cannot follow directions from your own sat nav during the test – you have to use the one supplied by the examiner.
  • You can still ask your examiner to confirm where it is they want you to drive to if you’re not sure. It will not matter if you go the wrong way unless you make a fault by doing it.

We’ll have more on this in a future blog, but if you cannot wait until then, have a look at this article on GOV.UK for more information.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Check back soon for more top tips from our very own driving examiners or head to the Safe Driving for Life shop and pick up some official DVSA learning materials.

If you’re preparing for your theory test, you can also buy access to the Official DVSA eLearning modules, where you’ll find online versions of our best-selling Theory Test for Car Drivers and Hazard Perception products.

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