Independent Driving

When you take a driving test, at some point your examiner will ask you to carry out a period of ‘independent driving.’ This will last for up to 20 minutes. It could begin at the test centre, or you may start this part way along the test route.

This independent drive is designed to show what you will be like when you have to navigate on your own. You may have to follow a series of traffic signs, for example, to follow the signs for Basingstoke. Otherwise, your task will be to follow the directions given by a ‘sat nav’.

During this part of the drive, you should try to follow the route without looking for any assistance. But do ask if you really get confused or forget where you’re supposed to be going. It doesn’t matter if you miss a sign or go the wrong way, providing what you do is safe.

If you find yourself in the wrong lane don’t panic and do something unpredictable. Change lanes safely if you can, or go another way if you have to. Your examiner will then direct you back onto route if necessary. Providing you haven’t broken any rules or put someone else at risk you may not even have a fault to show for it.

The Sat Nav

In some ways the sat nav element of the test is easier than listening to the examiner’s instructions. The display will give you advance indication of which direction you will be going in next. This enables you to plan further ahead. The device will repeat the direction several times. The driving examiner will normally put it on the dashboard. But in some cases where the car’s layout makes this difficult, they may attach it to the windscreen instead.

independent driving

During the independent driving, you should glance at the sat nav occasionally to get information about your next turn. This will show as a small image in a bar at the top. Though don’t make the mistake of spending too much time looking at it. You must concentrate on your main priority of taking proper observation around the car.

A common serious fault is when test candidate’s start to change lanes while looking at the sat nav display instead of their mirrors!

You will also see a distance reading for the next turn, shown in the number of yards, which will count down as you get closer to it. Use this as a guide to make sure you’re taking the correct turn, but again, be careful not to stare at it and miss what’s happening around you.

The independent driving directions will mostly be quite clear, though sometimes sat navs can give instructions which are confusing. There may be odd occasions where the examiner will offer a little help. Although if you have been practising this with your instructor (and you really should be doing this on every lesson), then you will become used to their little quirks.

Sat Nav Quirks

Things to be particularly aware of are instructions for some roundabouts. When following the road ahead, usually second exit, the sat nav may ask you to ‘Cross the roundabout and take the second exit’. But on occasions that second exit may actually be a right turn. The little image on the top however may show this as a right turn so you should prepare for it and get into the appropriate lane. It’s also a good idea to look out for traffic signs which will give you more information about where you’re going.

Another one to look out for is when the sat nav asks you to ‘Go left at the roundabout, and take the second exit’. A common mistake here is to signal left on the approach… however, it’s the second exit you need. So you shouldn’t give your signal until you’re already passing that first exit.

Sat navs frequently mistake sharp bends for junctions. So there may be times when you’re told to make a turn when there actually isn’t one.

If the instructions are genuinely not clear then you may ask your examiner for guidance. Although you should try to keep requests to a minimum.

Missing a Turn

If you miss a junction during the independent driving element, this is where these devices really show their weakness as they attempt to re-route. Often, you will be given the unhelpful suggestion to ‘Turn around when possible and then turn left’, or ‘Take the next road on the right and then turn around when possible.’ You should ignore these instructions, as it may often be impractical or unsafe to do what it’s suggesting.

Unless the sat nav can actually pick up a sensible alternative route, your examiner should step in with guidance. Or they may even turn the device off and take over the directions themselves. If they do this it doesn’t necessarily mean you have done anything wrong. So don’t panic!

For more information about the driving test, read The Driving Test & How to Pass.

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