Passing the UK DSA Driving Test For Americans III: Driving Practical Test

In my previous entry on obtaining a UK driving license, I reflected on my experiences with the UK Driving Theory Test.  In this third and final entry in the series, I will talk about my recent experiences with the UK Driving Practical Test.

After passing the theory test you’ll be issued a pass certificate.  With this certificate you can proceed to book your practical test online.  You’ll need your certificate number and a credit card to pay the GBP 56.50**.  Fill in the details and you will receive written confirmation of your booking within a few days.  You should take the written confirmation along with your theory test pass certificate and both parts of your driving license with you on the day of your practical test.

You will also be required to take an additional rear view mirror to the test so that the examiner can see traffic behind the vehicle during the test.  These are available at Halford’s for about GBP 5.00.

Before getting in to the car, the examiner will perform a basic eye sight test by asking you to read a car registration plate that is about 20m away. He will then ask you two basic questions related to either vehicle safety or basic vehicle maintenance.  I have read in preparation materials that there are about 13 questions that the examiners select questions from.  My experience indicates that this is not the case.  The questions I received were not in the question pool commonly thought to comprise the entire set.

Usually, one question will be a “tell me” type  question (for example, tell me how you would check that your indicators are working), the other will be a “show me” type question (for example, show me how you would operate the high beam lights).

Only then will the driving part of the test begin.  Without going in to all the ins and outs of the test, suffice it to say that examiners are looking for an overall safe standard of driving.  Be sure to use your mirrors, and practice the MSM and PSL routines when driving.  The test is about executing safe driving in the recognised manner.  I cannot emphasise this aspect enough.  If you hold an American license then you may well have many years of safe driving behind you.  However, this does not mean you will waltz through the test with ease.  You must have a thorough understanding of the recognized aspects of safe driving as taught by British instructors and specialists.

The examiner will usually take you round a selection of roadway where you will encounter many standard obstacles (such as roundabouts, schools, mini-roundabouts, crossings, dual carriageways etc.).  Bear in mind the test must be carried out within the allotted 40-ish minutes.

During this time, the examiner will also ask you to pull over several times, sometimes to check the way you pull away from a stationary position (pay particular attention to your blind spots!) and other times to brief you on an impending manoeuvre.

You will be asked to execute two of the recognized standard manoeuvres.  These are:  left reverse round a corner, turn in the road (sometimes called the three point turn), reverse in to a parking bay and reverse parking (parallel parking).  Optionally, you may be asked to perform an emergency stop. I have heard it said that this is less likely if there is the slightest hint of damp on the road surface, or fog.

I read (and then later confirmed with a qualified driving instructor) that if the examiner wants you to perform a reverse park in to a bay, then it must be performed in the car park of the test center.  If your test center does not have sufficient space for this then you will not be asked to do this manoeuvre.  Likewise, if you are particularly weak on this manoeuvre then you might want to scope our various nearby DSA test centers to see which of them do not have sufficient space for this manoeuvre.

At your earliest opportunity, learn as much as possible about the recognized British way of teaching driving.  Learn and practice religiously the MSM and MSPSL methods.

The DVD I referred to in the previous entry ( ) has a very useful section on the driving practical test. It has video clips showing the correct way to perform all the manoeuvres and scenarios you will be expected to know for the practical test. It also has an entire mock examination filmed. I found this particularly useful.

A week before my test, I booked a two hour slot with a local ADI driving instructor and did a condensed mock driving test.  This was a very useful experience as he was able to identify several areas of weakness that I needed to be aware of if I were to pass (as I did at the first attempt).  Most instructors charge about GBP 20 to 25 per hour.  If you are not going to pay for a course of lessons, then I certainly recommend putting out the GBP 40 or 50 to do as I did.

If you pass, then the instructor will issue you with a certificate at the end of the test and your license should be with you within 3 weeks (about a week in my case).  If you fail, then you can request a full debrief with the examiner in order to ascertain where your major weaknesses lie and you must wait at least 10 days before re-taking the test.

** EDIT: On April 1st 2009, the fee for the practical part of the driving test went up to GBP 62.

Related Post

8 Comments on “Passing the UK DSA Driving Test For Americans III: Driving Practical Test

  • Excellent! I acquired my provisional license fairly quickly after getting here but have procrastinated on the rest of it. Your post brings it again to the front of my mind. R

  • Probably a little late to tell you, but did you know that it is possible to exchange a US license for a UK one if your US license was issued in, I think, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania or South Carolina? The exchange agreements with the US are state by state.

  • Hi Arnold, thanks for the note. Is this a new development? I spoke to the DSA in December 2008 and they were adamant that I’d have to resit the test here irrespective of issuing state of my US my license. Thanks for the info, I will look in to it further.

  • It’s not a new development as it’s been around for quite a number of years. If you check with Jeff over at http://www.AmericansInFrance.net he’ll know more about it as I gather he’s come across it in the past (in connection with the UK as well as with France).

    I wouldn’t rely on the DSA people at the front line knowing about it. What they “know” is that there is no agreement to exchange licenses with America but what they may not know is that the agreements with America are actually at the level of individual states.

  • PS… one word of advice in dealing with UK authorities in general is never to take the word of the first low level administrator that you come across! Well, probably equally valid in terms of admin everywhere.

    On a separate note, if you’re settling in here you can transfer any credit card accounts that you have with Bank of America/MBNA, Citibank, HSBC and American Express over to their UK equivalents.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *