How Is the California Driving Test Scored?

young girl driving jeep

The California driving test, referred to as the Driving Performance Evaluation Scoring Criteria (DPE), is a standardized driving test administered by an employee of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Any driver applying for a first-time driver's license must pass this test. Drivers provide a vehicle and test administrators ride along, asking the driver to perform specific tasks behind the wheel while scoring their performance.

What Does a DMV Employee Look for on the California Driving Test?

During the first phase of the test, the DMV examiner asks the driver questions about the vehicle, such as where certain things are located. It's a good idea to be familiar with the vehicle and know how to operate the turn signals, windshield wipers, emergency lights, etc. 

The DMV examiner will also inspect the vehicle for safety. They'll look for working turn signals, check the tire tread, and make sure the safety belts are in working condition. They'll also ask the driver for their proof of insurance. 

Test takers can miss up to 15 points on the California driving test and still pass. The examiner keeps score on a standard form during the drive. Mistakes that don't pose a serious safety problem count as a one-point deduction. 

Driving test examiners use the same criteria to evaluate every test-taker. Here are a few of the categories and a sampling of criteria:

Parking Lot

  • Driver yields the right-of-way to vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians when necessary.

  • Driver travels through parking lot at safe speeds.

Backing Up

  • Driver observes traffic while entering and exiting.

  • Driver looks over right shoulder while backing up.

  • Driver can back up in a straight line for three vehicle lengths while remaining within three feet of the curb.

Intersections

  • Driver maintains appropriate speed.

  • Driver turns head to look toward other vehicles.

  • Driver yields right-of-way when necessary for safety.

Stopping

  • Driver uses mirrors and looks over the left or right shoulder when appropriate.

  • Driver brings the vehicle to a full stop.

  • Driver stops within six feet of the limit line.

The Importance of Practicing for your California Driving Test

"Practicing for the driving test is crucial," says Chris Riley, owner of AutoWise.com. "Print out the list of things you'll need to do during the test or pick up a booklet at your DMV. The California DMV examiner wants you to pass the test, so work to master the things on their list and make it easy for them."

The full set of California driver test criteria is available directly from the California DMV. Use this criterion to practice all of the driving skills listed. Take advantage of the opportunity to take driver's ed online in California as well. These classes can help you become familiar with the California-specific criteria that examiners use when scoring the test. Of course, you'll need to practice real-life driving skills to pass the test. 

Common Mistakes That Cause Drivers to Fail the California Driving Test

There are a few things that drivers do over and over that cause them to fail the California drivers test. Watch out for these common mistakes:

  • Failing to look over your shoulder to check the blind spot.

  • Improper yielding at crosswalks.

  • Failure to stop before the limit line or come to a complete stop.

  • Being so nervous about speeding that you go too slow.

  • Speeding more than five miles per hour over the posted speed limit.

"Remember, the rule during a driving test is that the speed limit is 25 mph unless there's a sign that says otherwise," said Riley. "You can fail a driving test for speeding, especially in an area where there's a school or church nearby."  

As long as you study the California driver test criteria, prepare with driver's ed online in California, and get in tons of practice, you'll do great on your test. Good luck!

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