A Driving Instructor's Blog

Updated 4 April 2014 in accordance with the latest DL25 format on sheets my pupils are currently receiving. Note that this is slightly different to the DL25 sheet on the GOV.UK website.

Minor update 30 July 2017 advising of impending changes to the test from 4 December 2017.


A lot of people find this site using search terms like “driving test report explained” or “what are S and D on the test report”. I’ve explained everything below. This is taken from the sheet you get whether you pass or fail your test, which is officially known as the DL25. The explanation sheet you receive tells you what the examiner was looking for, and why he or she marked you as they did.

I always give out copies to – or at least run through certain sections with – my pupils.

1(a). Eyesight Test

At the start of the test the examiner asked you to read a vehicle registration number. If you do not meet the eyesight standard then your test will not go ahead. If you need glasses or contact lenses to make sure you can read the number you must wear them whenever you drive or ride.

If you can’t read the number plate of a car the driving examiner (DE) chooses outside the test centre then you can’t take the test, i.e. you “fail” immediately.

2. Controlled Stop

You may have been asked to show you were able to stop your vehicle in good time and under full control, as if in an emergency situation. Remember, when driving in wet or icy weather conditions, it will take you longer to stop safely.

One in every three tests gets a full-blown emergency stop, and you will need to be able to do it the way your instructor taught you. In addition, the DE will ask you to pull over and move off again several times during your test, and at least one of these may involve stopping behind another parked vehicle or obstruction, and then moving off again.

3, 4, 5 and 6 Reversing and turn in road exercises

Depending on the test you took, you may have been asked to complete one or more slow speed manoeuvring exercises. You needed to show you were able to keep control of your vehicle. This needed to be done whilst taking effective observations and acting correctly on what you saw.

This covers all of the manoeuvres, although you will only be asked to do one of them during a normal test. The manoeuvres are:

  • turn in the road
  • left corner reverse
  • right corner reverse
  • reverse bay park
  • parallel park

It’s very rare for someone taking the test in a car to be asked to do the right corner reverse (it’s usually vans which get that one) – but  you could be asked to it (that came straight from my local test centre manager). Likewise, some test centres don’t have parking bays and therefore don’t usually ask candidates to do it, but that doesn’t mean they never will. Your instructor should have at least run through these two manoeuvres with you because you’ll need to know how to do them once you’re driving on your own.

For all the manoeuvres you must be in control of the car (e.g. no stalling, not too fast or too slow, and not too jumpy). You must also be safe (e.g. looking for other road users before and during movement, and dealing with them appropriately).

Note that from 4 December 2017 the turn in the road and corner reverse exercises are to be replaced by:

  • driving forwards into/reversing out of a parking bay
  • stopping on the right-hand side of the road, reversing a few car lengths, then  re-joining the traffic flow

I’ll update this article properly nearer the time.

7. Vehicle Checks

It is important that the vehicle is in good working order before you start the engine. The examiner asked you some safety questions of a ‘show me / tell me’ nature. You needed to show a basic knowledge of the checks you should make on a regular basis. These include checks on oil and water levels and tyre pressure and tread depth.

This refers to the show-me-tell-me questions. Make sure you can answer them for the car you take your test in – for example, knowing how to check the oil using the dipstick is one thing, but being able to identify where it is another matter entirely.

Note that from 4 December 2017 one of the questions will be asked while you are actually driving. I’ll update this article nearer the time.

11 Precautions

These checks are simple but important. Before you started the engine, you needed to make sure that your seat was adjusted correctly to allow you to reach all your driving controls with ease. This is because an incorrect seat position can affect your ability to take observations and keep proper control of the vehicle.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a pupil who was asked to go through the cockpit drill on their test. However, I have heard stories of candidates being asked to do it, so make sure you know how to adjust your seat and mirrors properly.

12 Control

Throughout the test you needed to show you can use all the controls smoothly and at the correct time. This means less wear and tear on your vehicle and a smoother ride for your passengers.

This covers use of the clutch, brake, and gas pedals as well as the steering and other controls. Make sure you can use them properly.

13 Move off

You needed to show that you can move away on the level, on a slope and at an angle safely, under full control, taking effective observation. Move off only when it is safe to do so.

This covers moving off in control (e.g. without stalling) and safely (e.g. looking all around, including your blind spots, and signalling if necessary). Examiners tend to be quite relaxed about signalling when it isn’t strictly necessary, but they will pick up on not checking your mirrors and blind spots – so even if you signal correctly, if you don’t check properly you could be faulted for it. This is a common cause of failing the test.

14 Use of mirrors – rear observation

You should have used the mirrors safely and effectively acting correctly upon what you saw. Where mirrors are not enough, for example to cover ‘blind spots’, then you must take effective rear observation. You must always check this carefully before signalling, changing direction or changing speed. You needed to demonstrate you can use the Mirror – Signal – Manoeuvre (MSM) routine effectively.

This relates to using the mirror-signal-manoeuvre (MSM) routine properly in all situations. It is another common reason for failing your test – particularly if you encroach on the lane next to you at multi-lane junctions and on roundabouts.

Check your mirrors (and blind spots, if relevant) before you change lanes or position (e.g. when passing parked cars or other obstructions). Make sure you look properly and don’t just go through a robotic routine – it is surprising how many times I see learners apparently look somewhere and yet fail to actually see the lorry or car coming straight towards us.

15 Signals

You should only use the signals shown in the Highway Code. On test you should have signalled clearly to let others know what you intend to do. This is particularly important if it would help other road users or pedestrians. You should have always signalled in good time and ensured that the signal had been switched off after the manoeuvre had been completed. You should not beckon to pedestrians to cross the road.

Forgetting to signal is a common fault – especially during the independent driving section of the test. Forgetting to cancel a signal is also common. Make sure you don’t signal too early or too late, and don’t signal to overtake every obstruction.

16 Clearance

You should have given parked vehicles and other obstructions enough space to pass safely. You needed to watch out for changing situations such as pedestrians walking out from between parked cars, doors opening and vehicles trying to move off. You should have been prepared to slow down or stop if needed.

Although it seems to vary depending on where you are, most DEs are very strict when it comes to passing parked vehicles. One common problem is when the candidate slows down for an obstruction on their side to let an oncoming vehicle through, and gets too close to the obstruction. As they steer out they often “shave” the obstruction (i.e. get close to it). Going too fast for the situation is also marked quite harshly.

Response to signs and signals

You needed to show that you can react correctly to all traffic signs, road markings, traffic lights and pedestrian crossings. You should have obeyed signals given by police officers, traffic wardens, Highways Agency officers and school crossing patrols. You should watch out for signals given by other road users and carry on only when you are happy it is safe.

Be ready for traffic lights changing if they have been on one phase for a long time (going through an amber when there was time to stop is a common fault). Watch out for pedestrian crossings, and look for pedestrians standing near them – they will have pushed the button, so the lights could change at any moment. Look for school crossing patrols (be aware of the time of day), and don’t miss speed limit changes or other relevant signs. Read the road ahead by seeing what is happening and predicting what might happen next.

18 Use of speed

You should have made safe and reasonable progress along the road. You needed to keep in mind the road, traffic and weather conditions, road signs and speed limits. You needed to show confidence based on sound judgement. Remember, at all times you should have been able to stop within the distance you can see to be clear.

Don’t go too fast, and don’t go too slow. Don’t take chances. Plan ahead.

19. Following distance

You should have always kept a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front. You should be able to stop safely, well within the distance you can see to be clear. You should leave extra distance in wet or slippery conditions. Leave enough space when you are stopped in traffic queues.

A lot of people are caught out by getting too close to the car in front – either when driving or when stopping at lights.

20. Maintain progress

On test you needed to show that you can drive at a realistic speed appropriate to the road and traffic conditions. You needed to approach all hazards at a safe, controlled speed, without being over cautious or slowing or stopping other road users. You should always be ready to move away from junctions as soon as it is safe and correct to do so. Driving too slowly can frustrate other drivers which creates danger for yourself and others.

I once had a pupil who was a great driver, but who collapsed mentally whenever she took her test. One day, just as we were going off to a test, her mum came out to give her a pep talk: “Now don’t forget what we told you, Jane. Drive everywhere slowly”. I could have screamed. Less than 90 seconds after driving away she tried to merge with a busy 50mph dual carriageway (where most people do 60mph) at just under 30mph!

Don’t hold other people up, and don’t drive differently to the way you do on your lessons.

21. Junctions including roundabouts

The examiner would have looked for correct use of the Mirror – Signal – Manoeuvre MSM procedure. The examiner was also looking for correct positioning and approach speed at junctions and roundabouts. This is because these skills are essential for dealing with these hazards safely. Turning right across busy roads/dual carriageways is particularly dangerous. To drive safely and pass your test you must be confident that you can judge the speed and distance of oncoming traffic safely. You also need to look out for other road users emerging and turning at junctions and be ready to alter your course or stop. Be extra watchful in poor light or bad weather conditions for the more vulnerable road user, such as cyclists and motorcyclists.

This is self-explanatory. Inappropriate speed is the learner driver’s worst enemy in many situations – if you can’t do the damned things at the best of times, why should attempting a junction at Mach 3 make it go any better? Think and plan ahead – and make sure you know how to handle situations in the first place before you take your test.

22. Judgement

Your examiner will have assessed your judgment skills throughout the test. You will have needed to show sound judgment when overtaking, meeting or crossing the path of other road users. You should have only done this when it was safe and legal. You should have made your intentions clear and been sure that you understood the intentions of other road users.

Again, speed comes into this for many learners. If you see a car coming towards you and there is a narrow gap that only one of you can get through, do not try and plough through – even if you technically have right of way (i.e. the obstruction is on the other side of the road). The Golden Rule as far as I’m concerned is don’t trust anyone else out there (and especially not if you’re in a car with L plates on it). Check your mirrors, slow down, and watch the other driver carefully… and remember that for most people who mess this up, it isn’t that they have deliberately decided to take the other car on – it’s just that they haven’t thought anything at all!

23. Positioning

You should have positioned your car in a safe position; normally this would be keeping well to the left of the road. You needed to keep clear of parked vehicles and be positioned correctly for the direction that you intend to take. You needed to look for and be guided by road signs and markings. Other road users may judge your intentions by where you are positioned so be aware of where you are at all times.

Don’t weave all over the road, and stay in lane (unless you are deliberately changing lanes for some reason). And watch the kerb, especially on bends (and when looking at the speedometer, and when checking mirrors, and when changing gear, and… you get the idea). Don’t get distracted by looking at or dealing with one thing for too long.

24. Pedestrian crossings

You should have been able to identify the different types of pedestrian crossing and take the correct action. You needed to monitor your speed and time your approach to crossings so that you can stop safely if you need to do so. You should have paid
particular attention where crossings were partly hidden by queuing or parked vehicles. You should also show consideration for elderly or infirm pedestrians who are trying to cross the road.

Self-explanatory. Look and plan well ahead and watch for pedestrians pushing buttons.

25 Position / normal stops

You should have chosen a safe, legal and convenient place to stop, close to the edge of the road, where you will not block the road and create a hazard. You should know how and where to stop without causing inconvenience or danger to other road users.

Self-explanatory. Don’t stop in driveways, opposite junctions, too far from the kerb, and so on. The examiner will ask you to pull over and drive off again several times, and they will be looking for mirror checks, signals, and your choice of location.

26. Awareness and planning

You must be aware of other road users at all times. Your examiner is looking to see that you plan ahead to judge what other road users are going to do. This will allow you to predict how their actions will affect you and react in good time. You needed to anticipate road and traffic conditions, and act in good time, rather than reacting to them at the last moment. You should have taken particular care to consider the actions of the more vulnerable groups of road users such as pedestrians, cyclists, other motorcyclists and horse riders.

Look and plan ahead and always assume the worst. Cyclists in particular are likely to change position or direction without warning.

27. Ancillary controls

You needed to show that you can operate all of your vehicle’s controls safely and effectively. The examiner was looking to see that whilst on the move you kept proper control of your vehicle whilst using secondary controls. These include demisters, heating controls, indicators and windscreen wipers.

If it rains, make sure you know how to use the wipers and washers. If it’s cold, make sure you know how to demist the windows inside. If it gets dark, make sure you know how (and when) to turn on the lights.

Eco Safe Driving

You should drive in an ‘eco friendly manner’, considering your impact on the environment. Plan well ahead and choose appropriate gears, avoid heavy braking and over revving of the engine, particularly when stopped or moving off. If you have to stop for a long period such as at road works or railway crossings, consider stopping the engine to reduce pollution and save fuel. The examiner will assess this on your test; however this assessment will not affect the overall result of the test. If there are areas that need improvement you will receive appropriate feedback at the end of the test.

As it says, you can’t fail for this (not yet, anyway), but driving in an eco-friendly way will save you money in the long run.

So how does the examiner mark you? If you look at the driving test report itself, you can see columns with “S” and “D” over them – that’s for “serious” and “dangerous” faults, and you are not allowed to get any of those (you’ll notice that the eyesight check only has a box under “S” – if you can’t read the number plate the DE points out to you then the test doesn’t go ahead and you effectively fail there and then).

You can get up to 15 driver faults (often called “minors”) and still pass – but you need to understand that there is no way any DE is going to let someone get all 15 in a single category. So if you stall the car once when moving off, you might get a single driver fault. Do it two or three times when you move off and you are sailing close to the wind. Do it more times than that and it will more than likely become a “serious”. However, it is quite possible to stall just once – in the wrong place at the wrong time – and end up with a “serious” or “dangerous” fault for it. Likewise, you could stall several times, each time in a different situation, and get away with much more.

What is the difference between a driver fault, a “serious” fault, and a “dangerous” fault? There’s no definitive answer, but an example would be moving away safely: if you don’t check over your right shoulder and no one is there (and you only do it once), that might be a driver fault. If you don’t do it and someone is coming (or if you do it repeatedly), that would be “serious”. And if you don’t do it but whoever is coming is close enough for you to cause a problem, that would be “dangerous”.

It is amazing how many people go to test without knowing the basics, and yet are fully clued up on how many faults they can “get away” with! Don’t rush going to test. Failing is not nice. Passing first time is – and it gives you great street cred!

What do the “S” and “D/C” boxes mean at the top of the form?

I believe that the “S” box is ticked if the car used for the test is a driving school car (as opposed to a private vehicle), and the “D/C” box is ticked if the car has dual controls fitted.

What does “DF” mean?

It stands for “driver fault”. A driver fault is what most people refer to as a “minor” fault. You can get up to 15 driver faults, but no “serious” (S) or “dangerous” (D) faults.

Where is “dry steering” marked?

It isn’t. Dry steering isn’t marked anywhere because it isn’t a fault. As long as you’re in control you can steer pretty much any way you want.

What does ETA mean?

It means “examiner took action” and it can be marked under V (“verbal”, meaning the examiner said something like “STOP”) or P (“physical”, meaning the examiner used the dual controls or grabbed the steering wheel). You can assume that this is always a serious fault.

When marked – for example, if the examiner used the dual controls – many learners argue that they were “going to stop, but the examiner got there first”. My explanation to them is always that if the examiner had to do it, then they were too late and so they don’t have a valid argument. The examiner is not going to wait and see if you cause a pile-up before deciding you were at fault. He will let the situation go so far, then he will step in whether you like it or not.

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