New Independent Driving Test Explained

During October 2010, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) introduced the independent driving element to the UK practical driving test.

The independent part of the driving test to enable the examiner to assess the candidates ability to drive independently, using road markings and road signs and with little input from the examiner.

With the update of the 2017 driving test changes, the independent part has now increased from 10 minutes, to 20 minutes which is around half of the entire time the test takes to conduct.

Another new addition to independent driving is the inclusion of following directions from a sat nav. This section explains what happens during the independent part of the driving test, plus tips for completing it successfully.

What is the independent driving test

From the 40 minutes duration of the practical driving test, 20 minutes are assigned for independent driving. During the drive, the examiner will ask you to park up on the left when it’s safe to do so and they will proceed to tell you that the independent driving part will begin. You can get a complete rundown on the test by reading the what to expect on the driving test guide.

The independent driving section requires you to drive unaided from instruction by the examiner. Prior to the new version of independent driving, the examiner would require you to follow directions from a diagram map. Diagram maps are no longer used for independent driving. In order to obtain directions during independent driving for the new driving test, there are two options:

  • Following directions from a sat nav
  • Following directions from road signs

The Sat Nav

From every 5 driving tests conducted, 4 tests will involve following directions from a sat nav during independent driving. You don’t need to worry about taking along your own sat nav, or operating the built-in sat nav in your car as examiners will take their own device. The sat nav that examiners use is a TomTom Start 52, which will be mounted on a Genius flat dash-mat. The sat nav will use an in-built battery as a power source, so there’s no need for the examiner to plug in cables to your vehicle.

The test candidate will not operate the device as the examiner will setup the route on the sat nav – you’ll just need to follow directions. You’ll not be given the option to use your own sat nav device.

The TomTom Start 52 sat nav used for the independent driving test
The TomTom Start 52 used for independent driving

Road Signs

Alternatively, if your driving test doesn’t involve the use of a sat nav, you’ll instead be required to follow road signs for the independent driving section. Independent driving routes where road signs are to be used will be clearly visible for test candidates. However, if you cannot see a road traffic sign (this could be because it’s covered by trees for example), the examiner will provide direction until the next sign is visible.

In the case for following road signs, the examiner will state they would like you to follow the road signs to a specific location, they will then update you accordingly. If you are a little unsure of where you should be going, ask the examiner to repeat instructions.

Independent driving rules

There are no rules that you need to abide by for independent driving. In fact, you don’t even need to worry about following directions or signs correctly. Of course try your best to keep to the correct routes and directions, but the main purpose of the independent driving section is to demonstrate that you can remain safe and calm whilst driving unaided.

Independent Driving Wrong Turn

Whether it’s following a sat nav or road signs, the most experienced of drivers take a wrong turn sometimes. If this happens during the test, don’t stress as the sat nav will recalculate the route for you and put you back on track. If your test involves following road signs and you make a wrong turn, the examiner will assist you and put you back on route.

Independent driving fail

Many test candidates ask ”Can you fail the driving test for going the wrong way?” No, going the wrong way on a driving test will not fail you. What often does happen however, is that the test candidate becomes stressed, perhaps panics and makes mistakes that might then result in a test failure.

What should I do if I go the wrong way on a driving test?
First and foremost, remain calm. The examiner will be aware of the error and will prompt you directions to get back on route. If you are following the sat nav, the device will recalculate the route, so simply follow the directions provided. If you do become stressed and overwhelmed, explain to the examiner that you need to pull over for a moment to compose yourself. Ensure that you choose a safe, convenient and legal position (SCALP) if you do so.

Learning independent driving

An experienced local driving instructor can offer valuable practice for the independent driving section. They will know the sat nav routes and the road sign routes that the examiners use and will provide practice on both.

The instructor will fully explain what is involved for independent driving and will initially provide verbal assistance for both the sat nav and road sign versions. As you gain in experience and confidence, the instructor will use much less verbal interaction so to replicate the real independent driving section.

Independent driving test tips

  • If you are not entirely sure of the directions you need to take, ask the examiner for assistance. This is of course intended to be ‘independent’ so help from the examiner may be limited.
  • It makes no difference to the result of the driving test if you make incorrect turns during the independent driving providing you do so safely.
  • If you feel that you are becoming excessively stressed (at any point during the driving test not just independent driving) pull over in a safe, legal and convenient location to take a few moments to compose yourself.

Making Sat Nav Changes

All DVSA examiners will use the TomTom Start 52 model sat nav during the test. This device is very adaptable and the examiner is able to change the colour, contrast and volume to ensure it is suitable for all test candidates.

The setup of the sat nav will in general be ‘default’ as it is the preferable setting used for most users, but if a test candidate needs the layout changed on the device, the instructor must contact their Local Driving Test Manager before the test to discuss personalised settings required for the test candidate. On agreement, the manager will confirm this in writing and this should be taken and shown to the examiner on the day of the test.

Independent driving test routes

independent driving routes are a section of the normal driving test routes and are designed by examiners at the test centres. Gaining an understanding of the normal test routes will provide you with an advantage for independent driving.

5 thoughts on “New Independent Driving Test Explained”

  1. Karina Karabina

    I have failed a couple of times now but I will never stop trying until I pass.The examineers,i think they get very rude with you when you fail.Snapping and hissing and rolling their eyes and shaking their heads at you is totally NOT ok.Its extremely rude and freaks the individual out even more than they already are.Most people I know who has failed say the same that the examiner has been rude to them.So yes the pupils need to learn how to drive but the examineers must also control themselves and remember their manners.It is a big put off that they behave badly at times.It does not need to be a horrible experience.I hope someone can explain that to the examineers.

  2. Hello Karina,

    Based on many of the driving test centre reviews, it does appear that certain examiners have issues with their attitude. I should think the role of a driving test examiner is at times frustrating and repetitive, but ultimately it is a service that is paid for by the candidate and in return should therefore expect a professional and courteous experience.

    There are reviews also stating that examiners have been irritated by test candidates asking to repeat directions or going the wrong way during the independent part of the driving test. Clearly the emphasis should be on their ability to drive safely, not their navigational skills.

  3. Nicola Rose

    Thank goodness someone is telling truth about the tests examiners. I had same thing i failed my test as the examiner was very rude Tutting all aound my test. Rude telling me i should know hes not helping when it was for rerouting me i had right to ask that. Then i ask for redirecting me on a route again. He said tutting what do you expect now hand movements left right tut tut. When i am in my rights to ask to be directed if im unsure of route. It may me lose my confidence. I told my instructor who agreed he was rude. But said no use appealing no one will listen. Im not giving up they r a cause to this fail. Please more people post there experiences it needs to be heard thanks nikki.

  4. Hi Nicola,
    The independent part of the driving test is about driving safely. Whether you take the wrong direction, have the sat-nav re-routed or anything else along those lines really is irrelevant as it happens in every day life. Providing you do everything safely, it really shouldn’t be an issue for the examiner.

  5. Mani Gill

    I am an ex-examiner. The behaviour of the examiner should be help full and customer friendly. If you find that this is not the case. You are within your rights to make a compliant and should get your money back. You should also not be afraid that you may get the same examiner again should you have of failed.
    If in doubt why not take your instructor with on test.

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