How Is the California Driving Test Scored?

If you're reading this, you're one step away from having the freedom that a driver's license brings. You've passed your learner's permit knowledge test and finished your behind-the-wheel hours. Now all you have left to do is take your driving test. Learn how California scores the test and how you can pass it easily.

How Is the California Driving Test Scored?

The California driving testproves you know how to safely operate a vehicle and can follow all traffic laws. The test takes place in two sections: the pre-drive safety check and the driving performance evaluation (DPE). 

The Pre-Drive Safety Check

There are 17 different vehicle safety items your examiner can quiz you on, so know all of the parts of your vehicle and how they work.

  1. Driver window — It must be fully functional.

  2. Windshield — Gives an unobstructed view of the road.

  3. Rear-view mirrors — The vehicle has to have two mirrors with at least one on the outside left.

  4. Turn signals — They all must work.

  5. Brake lights — Both sides must work.

  6. Tires — The tread needs to be good.

  7. Foot brake — There needs to be 1" of clearance between the floor and pedal when pushed. 

  8. Horn — Must be loud enough to hear from 200' away.

  9. Emergency/Parking Brake — Needs to be functional.

  10. Arm signals — Know how to use your arms to signal left and right turns, and slow and stop.

  11. Windshield wipers — Know how to control them.

  12. Defroster — Know how to turn it on.

  13. Hazard lights — Know how to turn them on.

  14. Headlights — Know how to use them.

  15. Passenger door — Has to open and close completely.

  16. Glove box — Has to stay closed.

  17. Seat belts — Needs to have working seatbelts.

You will receive a mechanical failure if any item from 1-8 and 15-17 fails to work. If you don't know how to operate or locate four or more features between 9-14, you will receive an "unsatisfactory" failure. 

The California Driving Performance Evaluation

Once you prove your vehicle is safe and you can use all of its features, it's time to start the DPE. There are seven different sections of the driving test that allow you to demonstrate your driving skills.  The examiner uses their evaluation sheet to grade each part of the test. You cannot have more than 15 errors if you wish to pass your test.

Parking Lot

This section shows your ability to drive through a parking lot.

  • You observe traffic in all directions.

  • You yield the right-of-way to vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians when necessary.

  • You drive through the parking lot at safe speeds.

Backing Up

Show your instructor that you can back up safely.

  • You observe traffic while entering and exiting the parking spot.

  • You look over your right shoulder while backing up.

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

  • You use your turn signals.


Know how to navigate all types of intersections.

  • You maintain an appropriate speed.

  • You turn your head to look toward other vehicles.

  • You yield the right-of-way when necessary for safety.

  • You stop and accelerate smoothly.


Prove that you can safely make different kinds of turns.

  • You use your turn signal at least 100' before turning.

  • You check your blind spots before turning.

  • You keep the vehicle inside the lane markings.

Business and Residential Driving

These are just two of the different types of areas you'll drive through.

  • You follow all posted speed limits.

  • You react to pedestrians and other traffic.

  • You maintain safe following distances.

Lane Changing

Being able to safely change lanes is a key part of driving.

Freeway Driving

Freeway driving can be intimidating to beginners, but you still have to show you can do it.

  • You merge at an appropriate speed and signal.

  • You don't tailgate.

  • You maintain a safe speed.

The Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation (SDPE)

If you have a mental, physical, or visual condition, you need to take the SDPE on top of the DPE. It includes additional tasks to test your mental capacity to operate a vehicle safely. These include following multiple directions at once, being able to drive while the examiner talks to you, and making your way back to the DMV without instruction.

Common Reasons for Failing the California Driving Test

There are a few mistakes you can make during your driving test that your examiner will fail you for. Don't let any of the following happen if you want to pass:

  • Hitting an object.

  • Disobeying traffic signs.

  • Driving 10 MPH over or under the speed limit.

  • Failing to check your blind spots.

  • Performing a dangerous maneuver.

Pass Your California Driving Test with Ease

Now that you know what to expect on your California driving test, you shouldn't have any problem passing it. If you need an additional boost of confidence, try signing up for a driver's education course at Our fun and interactive lessons will teach you everything you need to know to pass your driving test. 

Get Started with your Online Drivers Ed Course Today

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Updated 2/16/23