Top reasons people fail their Victorian driving test

Driving instructor and student by the side of the road.

Megan Whitfield

Posted November 02, 2020

How many people fail and what are the most common mistakes they make?    

There’s nothing quite like that first rush of getting your licence. Goodbye to getting lifts from mum; hello independence. But, for many, this success doesn’t come first time round.

We asked the experts for some tips to help ensure you nail your driving test, no matter how many times you’ve tried. 

How many people fail the test?

If you’re counting down the days until you get to display that red ‘P’ on your car, you’re not alone. In the 12 months to 30 June 2018, 156,502 people took a driving test in Victoria.

About three-quarters of applicants were successful on their first try. However, that leaves tens of thousands of learner drivers coming back for a second (or third) attempt. 

What are the most common mistakes?

VicRoads figures show that about three-quarters of failed driving tests are due to ‘immediate termination errors’.

These include colliding with another vehicle or failing to give way, signal or check for other road users, exceeding the speed limit (there are multiple variations for this error), driving through a stop sign or red traffic light, and more.

VicRoads says the best way to avoid these mistakes is, simply, to practise.

“The more supervised driving experience a learner has, the more confident and capable they will be when they undertake the drive test,” says Jill Fitzroy, VicRoads’ director of registration and licensing.

“Learner drivers [under the age of 21] must have 120 hours of supervised driving experience, including 20 hours of night-time driving. We encourage that this driving takes place in a broad range of conditions such as wet weather, within different speed limits and involving a range of situations such as busy intersections and multi-lane roads.”

Nerves and bad habits

RACV Drive School manager and instructor Peter Phillips says some nerves are normal given this is a test environment. But being nervous has a clear impact on performance, something he’s witnessed many times during driving tests.

“Sometimes people forget how to turn a key, how to start the car. And it’s like ‘hang on, we’ve done this 10, 20 times’,” Peter says. “If one thing goes wrong, it throws their confidence completely.”

He agrees that ultimately, success comes down to practice. “The pressure comes in when a person hasn’t practised properly, or allowances have been made in the learning journey,” he says. For example, if speed is not strictly monitored, or shortcuts are allowed when driving with mum and dad. 

“You can’t get into the test and say, ‘now it’s the test so you can’t speed, check your mirrors more’. Unless your supervising driver is always addressing these habits, [learners] can’t unlearn their behaviours. About 15,000 tests a year fail due to speeding.”

“Those who do professional driving lessons before the test tend to struggle less. A drive trainer can facilitate a range of practical scenarios to accurately assess a learner’s competence and identify areas of improvement that a parent may miss.” 

“You don’t know what you don’t know – why use the experience and cost of a VicRoads test to find out about a skill or knowledge gap. RACV Drive School exists to help supervising drivers and learners create safer drivers. It’s a shared responsibility.”


Phone with GPS inside a car.

Students who complete professional driving lessons struggle less when it comes time to take their tests.

How you can fail before you even get on the road

Peter notes that learners can also fail before they’ve even started driving. This can happen particularly when a learner uses their own car, without doing proper checks.

“An unroadworthy vehicle is an immediate fail,” says Peter. “Do a pre-drive check.”

Is there water in the washer bottle? Are your low beams, high beams, wipers, tail lights and brake lights all working? Are your tyres legal?

If using your own vehicle, the VicRoads assessor must be able to see the entire speedometer without obstruction and without needing to move.

Fitness to drive

“One thing people often don’t talk about are the impacts of medication on driving ability,” says Peter.

“If a learner is on any form of medication they should make sure they’ve looked at the possible side effects. If you don’t know how your medication could impact your driving, consult your pharmacist or consider having a medical report completed by your GP.”

For example, some ‘high risk’ conditions listed by VicRoads include epilepsy, diagnosed mental health conditions (such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder), and diabetes.

VicRoads says most people will not need to complete a medical report before they can obtain their learner’s permit, however it is required for those with a medical condition that may impair their driving. An eye test is also required of all learner drivers.

“Don’t just hope it’s fine,” says Peter. “They’re not trying to trip you up.”

He recommends allowing at least six weeks to get the medical report results. Testing officials have a sheet of approved medications, but if it doesn’t list a particular medication they may err on the side of caution and cancel the test. 

Ultimately, the likelihood of driving-test success all comes down to practice. Check those mirrors, pay attention to the traffic, and get experience in all different conditions before booking in your test. 

Sign up to the Keys2Drive program for a free lesson with your supervising driver and a driver trainer.


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