Tips for your (ICBC) Road Test / Driving Test
Sorry if this post has gradually gotten long and out of control. Just trying to help 😉 If drivers are properly trained and have sufficient experience driving then they will have no problem on the road test. Drivers are not marked using demerits anymore. They will fail automatically for doing something illegal (speeding) or unsafe (a pedestrian has to jump out of their way). Drivers don’t need to be perfect; they can make some mistakes but it shouldn’t be the same mistake over and over – the examiner will notice a pattern that needs to be corrected. Most student drivers I talk to seem to be worried about their parking. They’re worrying about the wrong things. You should know how to park, but you don’t have to be a pro at it. You’re allowed to make corrections, fix it/readjust it if it doesn’t work the first time. They’re not timing you and they’re not going to get out at the end and measure it to make sure it’s perfectly between the lines and perfectly straight. It’s more important that you have good observation skills when parking and you’re looking in the correct direction when reversing. If you’re a bit crooked when you’re done parking, that’s not going to hurt anybody, is it? Becoming good at parking can take many years of experience and examiners do not expect new drivers to be perfect: they expect you to be safe and legal. After all, driving instructors do not park perfectly every time either. If you insist on worrying about something, worry about your ability to safely turn left at a traffic light/busy intersection. Collisions happen most frequently at intersections. Probably one of the most important skills you will have as a driver is knowing how to properly navigate your intersection turns safely and confidently. Turning left incorrectly could absolutely have very devastating consequences. See this post for now to turn left at traffic lights
Here are some common mistakes I’ve seen people make on the road test & some tips:
- Not completely stopping at the stop sign (California stop). You don’t have to stop, take out your stopwatch and count to 10 seconds or anything like that, but do make sure that you indeed fully & completely stopped moving! A lot of drivers in real life do not do a full and complete stop; they do a kind of, sort of, or almost, or pretend, kind of stop; try to avoid this bad habit.
- Not stopping for a red light on a right turn. Many student drivers hear “you can turn right on a red light” and some don’t realize that you must stop first; you can’t just slow down and then turn. If your light is red, it means someone else has a green. If you do turn without stopping, it will be an automatic fail because red means stop; so if you don’t, technically you are in violation of the law. Yes, you may turn right on a red light if you stop first, and determine it is safe. But keep in mind, you do not have to turn right on a red light. It’s a red light, after all, isn’t it? See this post on how to turn right on a red light. Also, check out How to Turn Right at Green Lights.
- Speeding: Driving 55 km/hr in a 50 km zone or Driving 40 km in a 30 km playground/school zone. If the speed limit is 30, drive 30, not 35 km/hr. Technically, going 31 km/hr in a 30 km zone is illegal and examiners will mark you accordingly (some examiners are more strict than others). Do not keep up with speeding traffic flow. I don’t really like how strict they are because I would rather new drivers not be so paranoid about their speed they feel like they have to stare at their speedometer the whole time, but knowing the speed limit of course is a must. If you have sufficient experience, you should be able to tell what 50 “feels like” without looking. You must show the examiner that you know what the speed limit is and are willing to accept and obey it regardless of the behaviour of other traffic. Read about school and playground zones here.
- Not enough shoulder checks and/or unnecessary slowing or stopping especially on right turns: check out This post on turning right without stop signs. You must shoulder check every time before you pull over/pull into traffic, before lane changing and merging, and before you turn right (sometimes 2 shoulder checks are required before right turns). Even if you know there’s nothing there, you must still shoulder check. These checks are to ensure there are no vehicles, pedestrians, motorcycles, or cyclists, or any other road user in your blind spot before you turn. Even if you are 99% sure there is nothing there, you must show the examiner that you are actively looking for road users who may be in the blind spot. Do not stop for no reason!
- Use the parking brake every time you park. Try not to be so nervous that you drive down the road for a while with the parking brake on! This seems to happen from time to time. Many people don’t use the parking brake. You should use it because sometimes mechanical failure can occur (the transmission can slip into neutral, and the car may start rolling away by itself if parked on any sort of incline). If you’ve used the parking brake, it will act as a backup plan. Keep in mind, transmissions are meant for changing gears, not holding thousands of pounds in place on hills. Parking brakes are connected to brake cables on the rear tires (usually), their whole purpose in life is to hold the vehicle in place. When hill parking, you do not have to ensure the tire actually touches the curb, but you should turn the wheels the appropriate direction; and do not just turn the wheel a bit; it should be turned all the way. See this post for how to park on hills.
- Avoid being too cautious. Yes, you can fail for driving like a granny! Examiners want to see a confident and competent driver, not a bag of nerves that drives 20 km/hr under the speed limit and slows down for no reason at every intersection! Of course, people are nervous on road tests and examiners know this. Just try not to be so nervous that you stop where you’re not supposed to, drive way too slowly, or do strange things that you wouldn’t otherwise do! Remember to breathe; this helps a lot.
- Drive for conditions: this means if it’s snowing and you’re on a side-street, residential area, and there are small children running around in the middle of the road 1/2 block in front of you chasing each other in circles and you’re driving 50 km/hr, this type of thing may be considered TOO FAST even though yes, this is the legal maximum speed limit (yes you could be failed for driving too fast for conditions). You should always decide what the safe speed is based on conditions. If it’s a beautiful day and you’re on a main street, and you are driving 40 km/hr in a 50 km/hr zone “Just to be careful,” and there is a line of 50 cars behind you all freaking out because you’re not even going the speed limit — Don’t do that! It is TOO SLOW! Show the examiner that you are an intelligent being capable of making appropriate decisions based on the conditions you encounter. The same thing goes for strange situations that you were never taught about on your driving lessons. If you don’t know what to do, think about it. What would be the best, most safe, option?
- Pedestrian conflicts: Examiners want to see that you’re willing to help pedestrians, not fight with them over the available space. This means if you aren’t sure if there’s enough time to go before a pedestrian, you should wait patiently rather than trying to beat them or cutting them off, or driving so close to them that you give them a heart attack. You should stop for pedestrians in marked crosswalks and unmarked crosswalks (any intersection without white crosswalk lines). Sometimes pedestrians are unpredictable and cross where they aren’t supposed to. If you aren’t sure what to do, try to think of what the safest option is.
- Pedestrian conflicts with jaywalking or illegally crossing pedestrians. Say you’re turning left at a traffic light and you’re waiting in the intersection because there’s a lot of traffic. Then the light goes yellow. You start to turn, but you see there’s a pedestrian starting to walk across the road where he shouldn’t. In this case, you should start to exit the intersection and honk at the pedestrian, asking him to hurry up and get out of the way. Student drivers often don’t know what to do in this situation and they may fail the road test for not dealing with it properly. Many will hesitate inside the intersection after the light has gone yellow and wait patiently for the pedestrian. However, if the light is yellow/red by that point, that pedestrian has no right to be there and while you can’t run him over, you should be starting to leave the intersection and alerting him.
- Steering issues: one hand on the wheel, hooking or palming the wheel, or improper use of the steering wheel when turning. See this post for more info. *Note: ICBC driver examiners do not care if you dry steer on the road test. However, if you do this habitually, your power steering components may wear prematurely and you may end up with costly repair bills. Learn about dry steering here. Use hand over hand, or shuffle steering (either one is fine; the most important thing is that you are controlling the vehicle). You must use two hands on the wheel at all times, the exception being when you are reversing in a straight line (If you’re driving standard, just make sure to put your hand back on the wheel once you’re done shifting gears every time. Also, I got a lot of questions about if you can take your hand off for a moment to scratch something or move your hair out of your eyes – yes, you are allowed to be human!!)
- Observation issues: not noticing yellow lights, not noticing pedestrians, not noticing playground/school zones, or not noticing turning restriction signs and turning against them (i.e. right turn on red light with turning restriction). If you have these issues, you may need more practice/experience.
- Improper turning: this comes from a lack of training or insufficient practice – cutting corners on left turns or turning wide on right turns. Cutting Corners, Turning Wide, Proper Turning (blog)
- Right of way confusion: not understanding which cars you have to wait for in different situations. See this post for a brief description of right of way basics.
- Check out my eBook for new drivers on how to drive at intersections with stop signs, right of way, pedestrians, and proper vehicle positioning, plus more. Intersections Illustrated: Stop Signs Edition
- Did you know that you’re supposed to stop completely and treat as you have a stop sign, before exiting a parking lot, lane (back alley) or driveway? This may cover the part where you leave the parking lot at the beginning of the road test. Emerging from a lane, driveway, or parking lot.
- Lack of Scanning: You should be doing a left to right scan of intersections before you go through them, especially at 4-way stops, approaching traffic circle/roundabout and when you’re stopped at a red light and it changes to green. Don’t just go through intersections without looking. Don’t make the foolish assumption that just because there’s a stop sign or red light for the other drivers, that they’re actually going to stop and it’s safe for you to proceed through. Make it obvious on the road test that you are doing a good scan. Turn your head and take a good look in each direction. Is it actually safe to go? Don’t just use the corner of your eyes because from the examiner’s point of view it looks like you aren’t looking at all. Also if you’re going past some train tracks, even if they don’t have any stop sign or lights or anything, you should still scan and look for a possible train. There probably isn’t one coming, but if you fight with one you will lose. This actually happened to me one dark night in Delta. There were no flashing lights or stop sign activated and there was a train coming very close to me. If I had not done a scan I might have been smooshed. Sometimes the power goes out and the train keeps going despite not having any lights. See this post on how to scan intersections.
- Illegal lane changing: it’s illegal to lane change over a solid white line and while it’s not illegal to change lanes in an intersection, it is definitely frowned upon if not dangerous.
- Merging on the freeway: You’re allowed to speed up to the speed limit that is on the freeway when you are driving on the acceleration ramp that leads onto the freeway. Normally when your car passes the sign that says “If your vehicle can not do 60 km/hr, stay off the freeway,”, then that is considered the freeway ramp, which does not actually have a speed limit. Just make sure you aren’t speeding up too early while you’re still in the 50 km/hr zone. Match the flow of the traffic but do not go faster than the speed limit. In other words, you generally do not want to merge onto the freeway at 60 km/hr (in good conditions) when the speed limit on the freeway is 90 km/hr. (This would be covered above where it says Do not drive like a Granny.) Also, when you leave the freeway, generally you should not slow down while you’re still on it. Wait until your vehicle is positively, fully and completely off the freeway and on the exit ramp Before you slow down, so that vehicles behind aren’t forced to slow down if they aren’t leaving. Technically, these exit ramps do not have a speed limit either, and that yellow exit speed sign you see – since it’s a yellow sign – is a suggestion/recommendation; so you do not and should not normally have to slam on the brakes to get to that recommendation, you can slow down artfully or gradually. ***** You do not have to merge onto the highway/freeway if you have your “L” and going for your “N” but you may (most likely) have to merge onto the freeway/highway if you are going for your Class 5 full license.*****
- Know how to deal with Emergency Vehicles properly – I have seen people fail road tests that would have otherwise been perfect because they either panicked or they didn’t act accordingly when an emergency vehicle was approaching. New drivers don’t have experience with this and it is a strange skill to practice for obvious reasons, so be sure to read up on it as much as you can and be aware of your surroundings. Part of it is noticing the emergency vehicle (if it is coming up behind you and you have no clue because you never check your mirrors, then that’s a problem the examiner won’t be able to help but notice); the other part is acting the proper way. Check out this post to learn about it here.
- Read this post on exiting the intersection on a left turn at traffic lights. Sure, don’t leave the intersection until it’s safe, but once it’s safe, don’t leave too slowly either: Rant on exiting intersections on yellow/red for new drivers.
- You must shoulder check (left) before you open your door. You are looking for pedestrians and cyclists of course!
- Improper reversing skills: Looking the wrong way while reversing, lack of 360 degree check before reversing, unsafe reversing. See this post for more info. Reversing/Backing Basics
- Make sure you know how to Park on a Hill.
- Make sure you know how to Parallel Park.
- You should also know how to Reverse into a parking stall.
- Make sure you know your hand signals as the examiner will check and make sure you’re aware of how to do them. Hand Signals
- See this post on being defensive: 10 Commandments for Safe, Defensive Driving.
- There is a LOT of info on this website. Use the SEARCH Function if you’re looking for something specific!
- Practice DRIVING – a LOT! (Duh) If you’re having issues, get some lessons if you can
- Don’t just drive to work/school/dance/soccer/whatever. Being a good driver is not about memorizing a route and then going on autopilot, it is about learning the necessary skills so that you can drive anywhere, especially unfamiliar areas, with confidence and with ease. One of the worst things you can do (aside from not practicing at all) is to drive the same roads all the time. Go the long way home, challenge yourself, and get lost – it may be one of the best things you can do to improve your driving.
*** About 50% of people who go for the Class 7 road test (“L” drivers hoping to pass the road test to get their “N”) actually pass the test. Getting an assessment driving lesson from an experienced instructor at a reputable driving school before going is highly recommended.***
- Will the examiner try and trick you on the road test? No! However, it is a test, so this means they will not help you either. What this means is they will not ask you to do anything illegal (like asking you to turn to go the wrong way down a one-way street) but if they ask you to turn right at an intersection, and it has a red light, and you do not see the sign that says “No rights turns allowed on red.” then they may allow you to do the illegal turn (as long as it is safe) and you would then fail for a V (Violation of the law).
Q: Can you fail your road test for not turning right on a red light?
No! What? NO!
Here’s some tips from ICBC: