How Strict Is the DMV Road Test?

california traffic

In California, new drivers must pass a driving test to get a driver's license. Each driver is scored by an examiner using a standard criteria. While you can make some mistakes and still pass the test, there are a number of critical driving errors that will result in automatic failure. Although the possibility of automatic failure means that the California driving test is fairly strict, the key to passing the test is preparation and practice (often with the help of a California driver's ed course or California driving school).

What Are the Components of the California Driving Test?

Before you start the road test, you will need to show that you know how to use key components of your vehicle. You must show how the parking brake works and point out the car’s:

  • Headlights.

  • Windshield wipers.

  • Defroster.

  • Emergency flashers.

Once on the road, the test covers a number of basic maneuvers, including:

  • Driving through a parking lot. You will be scored on how well you respond to traffic and whether you drive at a safe speed.

  • Backing up. You will be evaluated on your ability to pull up to a curb, back in a straight line for three car lengths, and merge back into traffic.

  • Stopping at intersections. You will be scored on how well you observe traffic signals and stop signs.

  • Turning. You will be evaluated on your ability to make left and right turns while checking traffic, signaling, and braking.

  • Driving in traffic. You will be scored on your ability to drive in a business district or residential area.

  • Changing lanes. You will be scored on how safely and smoothly you make a lane change.

What Will Cause an Automatic Fail?

Other than a low overall point total, there a number of things that will cause you to automatically fail the California driving test.

  • The driving examiner has to intervene, either verbally or physically. This includes yelling for you to stop if you are close to running into another car or physically taking the wheel to avoid hitting an object.

  • You are at fault for hitting another vehicle, object, bicyclist, pedestrian, or animal.

  • You drive over the curb or onto a sidewalk.

  • You disobey a traffic sign or signal.

  • You disobey a traffic safety personnel or safety vehicle, like a school bus, emergency vehicle or law enforcement officer.

  • You make a dangerous maneuver, such as:


    • You make a sudden stop on a freeway-merge lane.

    • You don’t check your blind spot when changing lanes.

    • You drive 10 mph over or under the speed limit.

    • You drive in the wrong lane or in the bike lane.

What Is the Key to Passing the Test?

Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts when it comes to passing your driving test. Like most things in life, the key is practice. According to Debra Schwinn of Bill’s Defensive Driving School, the number one reason new drivers fail the California driving test is not enough preparation.

Start with a California driver’s ed course at a reputable California driving school. The driver’s ed course will give you the basic skills and confidence to drive. Once you gain those basic skills, the California DMV suggests driving as if you are taking the test, practicing each maneuver and asking your adult driver to point out mistakes. Schwinn recommends that parents “ride along on the lessons in order to give students consistent training throughout.”

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