A Driving Instructor's Blog

Note: This article was originally published in 2011, and there are updates here, and here. This main article has also been updated and its publish date changed.

Some test centres don’t ask candidates to do a bay park, and it’s no secret that in those areas a fair number of ADIs don’t bother teaching it either.Empty parking bays It’s even more interesting when you consider that DVSA is about to start trials which could involve the driving test changing at some point, and these changes might well involve “new” manoeuvres like driving into and reversing put of a bay. I wonder how that will work at these centres which can’t do bay parking? Will it be yet more stuff for substandard instructors not to have to teach to their unfortunate pupils?

Before Nottingham’s Colwick MPTC opened none of the extant centres had suitable parking facilities for conducting the bay park exercise, and candidates were never asked to do it. When the MPTC opened – and so bay parking was on the agenda in Nottingham for the first time –  there was a mass exodus to Chalfont Drive. Seriously. Waiting times there rocketed to 9 weeks or more, although you could get a test in less than a fortnight at Colwick (note that normal waiting times are 9 weeks or greater at all Nottingham test centres as of 2015).

I know for a fact that not being able to teach the “new” manoeuvre was a deciding factor in prompting many ADIs to boycott Colwick. Others just resented the fact that the two original test centres had closed, and boycotted it on principle. But in the long run, forcing pupils who live closer to Colwick to take their tests at Chalfont was bound to backfire – and it did. In the years following Colwick’s first tests I have picked up dozens who were trained around Chalfont (or who had already failed there at least once), but who lived much closer to the MPTC. Whenever I expressed surprise at their apparent choice of test venue, they all made it clear it wasn’t their idea. You don’t have to be a genius to work out whose benefit this was really for.

However, you still get the occasional pupil who naively thinks that having one less manoeuvre to learn increases their chances of passing. I’m sure there are ADIs out there who see it that way, too, as well as being one less manoeuvre to teach. There was a completely fallacious belief that Chalfont was “easier”, which still persists in one form or another (at the time of the original article, the statistics showed that Colwick was actually 0.2% “easier”). Several pupils said that their previous instructor told them Chalfont was easier, and many others appeared to have picked this up from friends, some of whom no doubt got it from their own instructors. It’s rubbish. It always was, and it still is. The bottom line is that if you drive like crap, you’ll fail at whatever test centre you go to.

It’s unlikely to be much different around he country, and substandard instructors everywhere will be looking to cut as many corners as they possibly can.

Supermarket car park bays

“Bay parking” for the test (in the format used in 2015) means reversing into a parking bay in a car park where the bays are next to each other (unlike parallel parking, where you reverse into a space between cars which are end to end – usually against the kerb). Think of it as parking in Asda or Morrisons – but backwards!

Many drivers are terrified of any sort of parking and spend a large part of their driving lifetimes avoiding doing it. They would much rather drive into an bay well away from anyone else – head-first – and pray that no one parked near them by the time they came back out! But it is easier to get into a bay by reversing in, and easier and safer to get out again driving forwards – especially if you have kids with you and you’re loading up your car in a supermarket car park. And in any case – as I always add if someone questions it: “…you’ve got to be able to do it for the test, so you are going to learn how!”

Bays can be laid out in a rectangular pattern, diagonally (often called “herringbone”), and in regularly or haphazardly arranged blocks. I’m sure there are other types, but these are the most common ones.Bay layouts

What is the examiner expecting when he asks me to reverse park into a bay?

He will NOT dictate which bay you should reverse into, or which side to do it from. He will NOT influence the method to be used. He will NOT tell you to park in the centre of the bay. The car’s wheels do NOT have to be exactly straight once the manoeuvre is complete, nor does the car itself have to be completely square in the bay. The DT1 SOP says:

Candidates should park within a bay, but examiners should not be too concerned, when making their assessment, of the final position of the car in the bay1. Parking outside the bay is unacceptable2. Candidates should not normally be penalised for crossing the lines when entering the bay3.

Examiners should consider whether the car could reasonably be left, in that car park in the prevailing conditions, in that position. Exceptionally the examiner may feel the need to leave the car before making an assessment. This is acceptable provided the candidate is asked to secure the car and stop the engine4.

Irrespective of the presence of other vehicles or pedestrians, the candidate should be expected to take all round observations to ensure that the manoeuvre is executed safely. The question is not whether there is anybody there, but whether the candidate has taken adequate observations to ensure that safety is maintained throughout the exercise. Observation should be assessed as though the exercise was carried out on road5.

At some DTCs, to avoid congestion, it will be necessary for some examiners to carry out the exercise at the start of the test and some at the end. The exercise may be completed into any empty marked bay, irrespective of whether cars occupy the adjacent bays, providing that these vehicles do not encroach on the bay to be used6.

I’ve added superscripts, which are explained below.

  1. You don’t have to be precisely central in the bay when you’ve finished
  2. You must actually be within a single bay (and that includes touching one of the lines). You must not finish in any part of the adjacent bays (being completely on the white line is pushing your luck a little)
  3. It doesn’t matter if you cut across the end of the adjacent bay line when reversing in, but if you are so close that you cut completely across the adjacent bay then you are again asking for trouble (if someone else was parked there, you’d just hit them)
  4. The examiner’s judgment over what is acceptable is what matters.
  5. Just because the car park is empty doesn’t mean you can forget to look around you. You must behave as if you were on a busy road, and the examiner will assess you on that basis. In any case, unless you actually look you don’t know for sure that it is empty.
  6. Don’t assume that the car park will be empty of other cars for this manoeuvre. You could end up having to park between two vehicles in bays either side of you, and other candidates may well be returning from their tests

What counts as a fault for the bay parking exercise?

Again, referring to the DT1 SOP:

REVERSE PARK ROAD / CAR PARK Control / Observation

Expected outcome / competence

Ability to control the vehicle accurately when parking on the road or into a parking bay.

Effective all round observation throughout the manoeuvre showing consideration to other road users.

Assessment Criteria – (example = control)

Driving Fault

Re-positioning required to correct a loss of control or accuracy.

Serious Fault

Excessive re-positioning to correct complete misjudgement and /or significant loss of control. Final parking position parking – outside the bay.

Dangerous Fault

Any situation brought about by the above loss of control that resulted in actual danger to the examiner, candidate, the general public or property.

Car Park:

  • Poor co-ordination of controls
  • Ending up straddling two bays
  • Unnecessary shunting forwards and backwards
  • Turning the steering wheel the wrong way
  • Stalling


  • No blind spot checks
  • Relying too much or entirely on the mirrors
  • Ineffective observation
  • Looking but not reacting to other vehicles or pedestrians
  • Waiting too long for other users in the car park

This doesn’t need much explanation other than to point out that just turning your head doesn’t mean you are looking – you have to see any potential hazards. And although you can technically get away with being completely diagonally parked within a bay – with a front wheel touching the line one side, and the opposite rear wheel touching the line the other side – you obviously should be aiming to be completely straight and dead centre. That way, if you are a little off-target on the day you’ll still be pretty good if the examiner needs to decide if the car could reasonably be left in that position without causing an obstruction.

Do you fail if you finish touching one of the lines?

No. You might get a driver fault, but it is not a serious fault. DT1, which I quoted above, says that clearly.

Do you fail if any part of one of your wheels is in the neighbouring bay?

In theory, yes. But I have now witnessed two cases where a candidate has done this and it has not been marked as a serious.

In one example, about three-quarters of the candidate’s wheel was in the neighbouring bay and left it like that – but didn’t get marked. In another example, the candidate was given an opportunity to correct it – even though the examiner had seen it clearly just over the line by a couple of centimetres once the candidate had finished.

In this second case it was the examiner using admirable discretion for an otherwise good drive. However, in that first example, I disagree with the examiner’s criterion for what is/isn’t acceptable (though that is just my personal view and I would not take it any further).

What’s the best way to bay park?

There isn’t a “best way”, but there are several alternatives, all of which have their place at one time or another. Some pupils can handle one way better than the others.Bay parking from a fixed position (rectangular grid)

My preferred method for beginners is to start in a fixed position at right angles to the bay you want to park in, and about a car’s width away from the end of the bays (the orange car in the diagram). As soon as the car moves, get full lock on as quickly as possible and reverse in. Use the mirror on the side you’re coming in from to judge when you’re parallel with the bay line.Bay parking from a fixed position (angled grid)

The method works just as well where the bays are in a herringbone pattern, although you have to angle the car as show, and start a little further away from the ends of the bays.

Success with this depends entirely on being able to start from exactly the same position relative to your target bay every time you do it. You need to find a reference point in your car, and line it up to the third line away from your target bay.

I prefer this method because a) it requires the smallest amount of space, b) anyone can do it, and c) you can put it into written words and follow it prescriptively.

An alternative way is to simply turn away from your target bay as you approach it – possibly even driving into another bay opposite if it is vacant – then reverse back in a straight line. This is fine if you have enough room, and if you don’t have to correct your position too much.

The most flexible method is simply to use your mirrors to aim into your target bay. Many learners have problems with steering in reverse, though, and in such cases this method is probably the most difficult to master.

Using the fixed position method, the reference point you need varies from car to car. I once taught it to an ex-pupil on a parking lesson in her own vehicle – an 18-foot minibus/van. The only real difference was that we had to line up with the fourth line instead of the third. You’ll find that the reference point is somewhere roughly in the middle of the front doors, give or take a bit.

Are there any other ways to bay park?

The fixed position method has two major drawbacks, in that you have to have at least two more lines lines beyond your target bay otherwise you can’t do it, and the bays have to be a standard size. If you want to get into an end bay or one that’s been deliberately over- or undersized by whoever painted it, you’ve got to choose another way.

The straight line method is certainly the easiest, but you must have room or else you simply can’t do it.

The mirrors method requires good reversing skills, which many learners simply don’t have – nor do they have the financial resources to acquire such skills if it turns out they have a problem.

I show all these methods to my own pupils, but in almost all cases it is the fixed position one that we go with. I explain that they will have plenty of time to practice the other ways once they’ve passed. Being brutally honest, taking two minutes to park in Asda once they’ve passed is only going to annoy a few drivers (and maybe give them a bit of a giggle), whereas taking two minutes over it on your test will likely earn a fail. So it makes sense to focus on a method that works rather than one that they have got the next 40 years to perfect.

Which method should I use on my test?

It’s up to you. However, I always explain to my pupils that although I am teaching them to be good drivers for the rest of their lives, we mustn’t forget that I am also teaching them to pass their tests in the most cost-effective time frame for them (and no matter what they might claim, all ADIs are teaching their pupils to “pass the test” – it’s what they are paid to do!) This is not the same as only teaching the bare minimum to pass.

To that end, the fixed position method is usually the best option for me, because it works every time as long as you get one simple reference position right, and it also works in real life.

I remember my own examiner telling me when I’d passed my driving test that it was only the start, and that I’d be learning for the rest of my life. She was right. And that is just as true now as it was then. If you can park reasonably well, you’re going to be fine – you don’t need a PhD in the subject.

Can I open the door to check my alignment?

Yes. In all honesty, you shouldn’t need to – but, yes.

How does the examiner know I’m inside the bay?

Some will get out and walk around the car at the end of the manoeuvre (usually, if you’re not straight or displaced to one side). Others will open their door and take a look – you can easily tell if the car is in this way and if it’s straight, just by looking at the position of the left bay line. And some may just use the mirrors.

How does my instructor know I’m inside the bay?

He can use any of the above methods. Personally, I can tell if someone is inside the bay just by how they did the manoeuvre. I can then glance in the mirror to confirm it. Sometimes, I will open the door to emphasise how well-centred the car is. Very occasionally – usually, if I’m on a wind up with a pupil who has made a slight mistake – I will get out and walk round. More frequently, though, I get the pupil to get out and walk round the car.

Will I fail if I’m on a line or not centralised?

No. Finishing on a line or very close to one  is not an automatic fail – the examiners’ DT1 document states that. You should aim to finish dead centre at the first attempt, of course, and you are allowed to correct yourself. But take this example.

A while back, one of my pupils hated this manoeuvre, even though as far as I was concerned she was very good at it. Of course, this was the manoeuvre she got on her test. It was at the end as she came back to the test centre, and I was watching from behind a hedge so she couldn’t see me.

She reversed back and was cleanly inside the bay, but for some reason she decided she needed to fix it. She drove forward, then reversed back into almost the exact same position. She tried again, and once more ended up in the same position. Then she had another try and this time ended up not straight and with her rear nearside wheel slightly inside the neighbouring bay. I saw the wipers settle and knew that she’d tuned off the ignition, so I walked over thinking “damn, she’s failed”. As I approached the car, the passenger window was open and the examiner said “just a minute DOAADI, we haven’t finished yet”. I walked on and stood somewhere behind. The examiner said something to my pupil, who then tried adjusting it one more time. She finished not quite straight, and close to the opposite line to the one she’d originally corrected for. And she passed.

So never assume anything.

Do they do the bay park manoeuvre at Watnall?

According to a pupil I took on recently, and who had had a test at Watnall, they DO do bay parking there.