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Steve Wallace: How to know you’re ready for a road test

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, June 21st 2013

How does an instructor know when a student is ready to attempt a driving road test? Here are some sure-fire signs of a new driver’s likely success on a practical road test.

There are nine skill-related confined-space activities that a new driver may be asked to perform. All should be done with confidence and demonstrated proof of prior practice.

Parallel parking is the most intimidating of these tasks. Students do not have to park in small parking spaces between vehicles. They are given ample space to do the manoeuvre, most often behind a single vehicle on a residential street. Examiners and instructors do not want to tie up traffic on busy streets while a student driver demonstrates his or her parallel-parking prowess.

Minor demerit points are given for tapping the curb or being too far from it. The testers are more concerned that the candidate show safe observation skills than perfect parking skill. Driving onto a sidewalk or occupying a significant part of the travelled road surface upon completion are not acceptable.

Drivers doing the road test will be asked to turn the vehicle around and go back where they came from. A U-turn, two-point (reverse-turn) and three-point turn may be part of the test. Again, observation techniques are as important as skillful manoeuvering.

A hill park, with wheels turned properly, identification of hazards while parked at the side of the road and ability to open the vehicle door safely after parking are actions requiring thorough observation and are included on most driving tests.

The reverse stall park, usually at the conclusion of the road test, is by far the most difficult and telling skill-related task performed on any road test. Students must safely back their vehicles, most likely between vehicles, into a parking-lot space at a right angle to the travelled lane. This single skill is most often the sole determining factor of a pass or fail on the driver’s test.

A student’s general driving ability is assessed throughout the road test. Turns from every type of intersection must be performed. Safely entering and exiting traffic, lane changes, stops and starts are all part of an expected smooth driving performance. Students must be given ample warning of directional change on any test route, whether in a residential, commercial or business area.

When students can comfortably perform the above-noted tasks, they are probably ready to attempt the road test.

Here are other indicators I find valuable in assessing readiness.

• When students can dodge potholes or other obstructions on the roadway, it is a good sign.

• Anytime I accuse a student of not checking their right-side blind spot before a turn or lane change, and am met with a response indicating otherwise, it’s a good sign of readiness. This means I missed seeing their check while I was doing mine.

• I will often take a student to an unfamiliar area of town and ask them to drive home, without guidance. If they can maintain their safety and skill systems while lost, it’s a good sign of readiness. Even experienced drivers have problems with this drill.

• Lastly, if the student can mimic me by doing a running commentary of their driving task, verbalize all their driving actions, while at the same time predicting hazards, they are good to go. In short, if they can shut me up, and that is no easy task, it is test time.

Students should never take a road test without the prospect of a passing grade. It puts them, examiners and the general public at unnecessary risk, and destroys their confidence and self esteem. Practice makes perfect!


Steve Wallace is the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C. He is the former Western Canadian vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas and a registered B.C. teacher.





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