The UK driving test report

Find out the most common reasons for failing your test, how many drivers pass first time and which driving test centres have the highest – and lowest – pass rates.

goco author
Updated 26 July 2021  | 3 min read

The saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. But whether you pass your driving test the first time or the fifth, learning to drive can be costly.

According to our research the average cost of learning and getting through your theory and practical test is £647. But that’s only if you’re successful on your first test attempt and before you add in the cost of buying, taxing and insuring your first car.

While some learner drivers can take off the L-plates after their first driving test, others need more lessons and practice before passing, which can rack up costs.

But could you increase your chances of success first-time around?

We’ve analysed data from the Driver Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) to look at first-time pass rates from 322 driving centres across the UK to reveal:

  • The busiest and quietest test centres
  • Which centres have the highest and lowest first-time pass rates
  • Where you’re most likely to have your test cancelled

Ten most common reasons for failing your driving test

It’s rare to pass the driving test without picking up a few faults.

And it’s not just the serious or dangerous mistakes you need to worry about. If you add up 15 minor faults, or make the same one three times, you’ll fail your test.

But which mistakes do learners make the most?

According to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), the top 10 reasons for failing a driving test are:

  • 1. Not making effective observations at junctions – Failing to judge the speed of approaching traffic, only checking in one direction, or going straight ahead without realising you’re at a crossroads.
  • 2. Failing to check mirrors – Whether you’re changing direction or exiting a roundabout, not checking your mirrors counts as a fault.
  • 3. Not having proper control over your steering – Poor steering or steering too late can cause you to swing out onto the wrong side of the road or mount the pavement.
  • 4. Poor road positioning when turning right at junctions – This includes obstructing traffic while you wait, or using the left-hand lane when you’ll be turning right at a roundabout.
  • 5. Not moving off safely – Failing to check your mirrors and look around you before moving off, particularly if you’re behind a parked vehicle, on a slope, or you’re moving from the far side of the road.
  • 6. Responding incorrectly to traffic lights – Failing to stop at a red light or to go ahead on a green.
  • 7. Not positioning your car correctly during normal driving – Driving too close to the kerb, or parked cars, or too close to the centre.
  • 8. Not understanding and reacting properly to traffic signs – Your driving theory knowledge isn’t just needed for your theory test. You need to use that knowledge in real life.
  • 9. Not being in full control of your car when you move off – Rolling back or stalling the car repeatedly as you try to move off are examples of not being in control.
  • 10. Not controlling the car accurately when you’re reverse parking – Too many attempts to parallel park the car, ending up with your parked car’s wheels on the pavement, or parking outside of the parking bay lines.

First-time pass rates over the years – what’s changed?[1]

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a 62% fall in the number of people taking and passing their driving test first time between 2020 and 2021. This could be because lots of driving lessons and tests were suspended or cancelled and many people experienced increased financial pressures.

It’s putting immense pressure on driving test centres, with long waiting lists for tests.

But of those learner drivers who were able to take their test for the first time last year, 51% of them passed, an increase from the 46.4% of 2019.

Looking at the data, perhaps the test centre location makes a difference. So, if you’re in the UK, where are you most likely to pass your driving test first time around?

The 10 driving test centres with the highest pass rate in the UK[2]

Scotland wins hands down for the highest pass rates in the UK.

It fills all top 10 spots and most of the top 20, specifically with test centres in more remote and rural locations.

Alnwick, in Northumberland, and Brecon, in Wales, also made it into the top 20.

Although the DVSA tries to maintain consistency across driving test centres, small towns can be easier to navigate. Fewer roundabouts, quieter roads and less built-up areas could mean a smoother driving test and a greater likelihood of passing.

With an impressive first-time pass rate of 92%, the quiet Scottish town of Campbeltown was one of the easiest places to pass your test last year. This test centre saw results almost 20% higher than the top-scoring Welsh and English test centres.

There’s a clear trend with more rural and remote Scottish regions, like the Shetland Islands, Orkney Islands and Outer Hebrides, giving first-timers an easier ride when it comes to driving test success.

Test centre City/Region No. of first-time driving tests take No. of first-time driving test passes Pass rate
Campbeltown Argyll and Bute 12 11 92%
Grantown-On-Spey Moray 10 9 90%
Fraserburgh Aberdeenshire 82 67 82%
Lerwick Shetland Islands 54 43 80%
Hawick Scottish Borders 58 46 79%
Orkney Orkney Islands 61 48 79%
Montrose Angus 43 33 77%
Islay Island Argyll and Bute 8 6 75%
Kingussie Argyll and Bute 8 8 75%
Benbecula Island Outer Hebrides 18 13 72%
Alnwick Northumberland 176 127 72%
Brecon Powys 308 219 71%

Across the UK, finding and booking into your nearest rural test centre might give you the edge, with pass pass rates more than double that of some city test centres.

The 10 driving test centres with the lowest pass rate in the UK

As well as driving test locations where you’re more likely to enjoy success, at the other end of the scale are centres which have higher rates of failure.

You might want to think twice before booking these.

Test centre City/Region No. of first-time driving tests taken No. of first-time driving test passes Pass rate
Erith London 800 242 30%
Belvedere London 481 163 34%
Bodmin Cornwall 850 295 35%
East Kilbride South Lanarkshire 115 40 35%
Sutton Coldfield Birmingham 1,015 370 37%
Crewe Cheshire 838 307 37%
Kingstanding Birmingham 1,501 551 37%
South Yardley Birmingham 1,340 492 37%
Croydon London 689 255 37%
Goodmayes London 3,146 1,166 37%

The data shows that London and Birmingham have test centres with the lowest pass rates in the UK, although as two of the country’s largest cities, they do have a higher number of tests taken.

Some test centres in Manchester and Liverpool follow this high fail rate trend.

Large cities are a challenge for learner drivers, with busy streets, complicated roundabouts, one-way systems and dual carriageways.

These obstacles can make it harder to pass than in places like rural Scotland, which have less traffic and fewer hazards. However, for many city-dwellers taking a driving test in a quieter rural setting is not a viable option.

Best place to take a driving test in London: Based on pass rates

As the busiest city to book your driving test in, London also has some of the lowest pass rates. So, if you’re going to be learning in the Big Smoke, where in the city is going to give you your best chance of passing?

Out of the 30 London test centres, the driving centre with the highest pass rate of 57%, and a total of 870 first driving tests taken, was in the leafy suburb of Borehamwood – which, although it falls into the county of Hertfordshire, is counted as a London test centre by the DVSA.

Goodmayes with 3,146 tests and Pinner with 2,214 tests are the busiest London test centres – although both are low down when it comes to chances of success.

Erith in London has a pass rate of just 30.3% this year, the lowest out of all the UK test centres, making it the most difficult place to pass your test the first time.

Test centre No. of first-time driving tests taken No. of first-time driving test passes Pass rate
Borehamwood 870 496 57%
Sidcup 1,203 664 55%
Ashford 822 452 55%
Tolworth 1,499 811 54%
Brentwood 446 239 54%
Chertsey 1,390 740 53%
Morden 2,076 1,099 53%
Slough 1,805 939 52%
West Wickham 1,009 521 52%
Bromley 946 486 51%

Best place to take a driving test in Birmingham: Based on pass rates

It isn’t just London that’s a difficult city to pass your driving test in. Birmingham also has some of the lowest pass rates in the country.

Three of its seven test centres are in the country’s bottom 10 when it comes to passing the first time around.

The West Midlands is one of the largest and most urbanised counties in the UK, so you have plenty of test centres to choose from in the area. To improve your odds, Wyndley in Birmingham might be the best choice. At 55%, it has the highest pass rate in the city.

Test centre City/Region No. of first-time driving tests taken No. of first-time driving test passes Pass rate
Wyndley Birmingham 714 389 55%
Shirley Birmingham 742 387 52%
Garretts Green Birmingham 1647 718 44%
Kings Heath Birmingham 869 366 42%
Dudley West Midlands 1,751 736 42%
Featherstone West Midlands 1,111 463 42%
Wednesbury West Midlands 1,215 481 40%
Wolverhampton West Midlands 1,279 475 37%
South Yardley Birmingham 1,340 492 37%
Kingstanding Birmingham 1,501 551 37%
Sutton Coldfield Birmingham 1,015 370 37%

Top 10 busiest driving test centres in the UK

As well as the pass rate to think about, you’ve also got to consider your chances for getting a slot in the timeframe you want. Test centres get incredibly busy, making it hard to get test appointments quickly.

Waiting times have become longer, as the pandemic has been causing considerable delays and backlogs. The DVSA reported a staggering 710,316 practical driving test cancellations between 2020 and 2021 due to coronavirus.

Your driving instructor will usually let you know when they think you’ll be ready to have a go at your practical test and advise you to pre-book in advance.

But with the national average waiting time of 17 weeks announced in March 2021, which test centres should you avoid if you want to take your test as soon as possible?

Rank Test centre City/Region No. of tests taken in the last year (2020/21)
1 Goodmayes London 3,146
2 Pinner London 2,214
3 Isleworth London 2,193
4 Morden London 2,076
5 Cowley Oxford 1,928
6 Norris Green Liverpool 1,917
7 Farnborough Hampshire 1,901
8 Chingford London 1,866
9 West Didsbury Manchester 1,852
10 Llanishen Cardiff 1,819

Not surprisingly, considering its population, London has the busiest test centres.

But compared to the previous year, the number of first-time driving tests has seen a huge drop, with the Goodmayes test centre alone holding 8,000 fewer tests thanks to Covid.

As part of its recovery plan, the DVSA is running a recruitment campaign for driving examiners in an attempt to close the gap and increase the number of driving test appointments available.

If you're wanting to book your driving test quickly, look for the quieter test centres in your region. Be as flexible as you can on times and dates too – it’ll increase your chances of getting booked in.

Top 10 quietest driving test centres in the UK

Due to their rural location, the 10 quietest driving centres in the UK are all based in Scotland. From Islay Island of the Southern Hebrides with eight tests a year, to Duns on the Scottish Borders with 17, throughout Scotland, you should find it easier to book a test appointment.

Rank Test centre City/Region No. of tests taken in the last year (2020/21)
1 Islay Island Argyll and Bute 8
2 Kingussie Inverness 8
3 Kelso Roxburghshire 10
4 Grantown-On Spey Moray 10
5 Huntly Aberdeenshire 12
6 Campbeltown Argyll and Bute 12
7 Banff Aberdeenshire 16
8 Oban Argyll and Bute 17
9 Duns Berwickshire 17
10 Lochgilphead Argyll and Bute 17

Not only might their rural location make it easier to book a driving test, these quieter areas also mean you can benefit from high pass rates of up to 92%.

Don’t underestimate rural driving though. Dual carriageways and the busier roads of urban areas may seem frightening to new drivers, but Department for Transport statistics show that more dangerous accidents happen on rural roads.

But not having to navigate complicated junctions and tricky roundabouts can be helpful when it comes to taking your test.

Top 10 driving centres with the most cancellations in the UK

This has been a year of driving test cancellations, delays and disruption. So, where in the UK are you most likely to experience the frustration of having your test cancelled and which test centres might you might to avoid on this basis?

Rank Test centre City/Region No. of tests cancelled in the last year (2020/21)
1 Goodmayes London 13,057
2 Pinner London 7,195
3 Isleworth London 6,909
4 West Didsbury Manchester 6,661
5 Morden London 6,437
6 Slough London 6,365
7 Kingstanding Birmingham 6,174
8 Reading Berkshire 6,116
9 Chingford London 5,938
10 Hendon London 5,902

Not surprisingly, Goodmayes, the number one busiest driving centre in the UK, has also cancelled the most tests. London dominates the cancellation table with seven test centres in the top 10, with Birmingham and Manchester also taking a slot each.

More cancellations, when the DVSA has to cancel test appointments, lead to longer waiting times. But when a driving student cancels their test this can actually free up a spot. If you’re savvy and check frequently for test cancellations - particularly early in the morning and late in the evening - you might be able to move your test closer, even by several weeks.

10 tips for passing your driving test first time

There's no sure fire way to make sure you pass your driving test the first time – all you can do is get plenty of practice, and study up. But here are a few tips that can help you give it your best shot:

1. Wait until you’re ready

It can be tempting to book your test as soon as possible, but lots of people fail their first test because they haven’t taken enough lessons or built up enough driving experience to pass. To avoid wasting your time and money, and damaging your confidence, make sure you really feel ready before you take your test – even if this means moving the date of your appointment.

On the day of your test, aim to arrive at the driving test centre at least 20 minutes beforehand to help you prepare and focus.

2. Use your instructor’s car

You’ll be far more familiar with it and at ease. Plus, for the ‘show me, tell me’ questions, it’ll be much easier if you know where all the controls are. If you’ve been learning in your own car, or a family member’s, the same applies.

3. Don’t assume you’ve failed

If you make a mistake, try not to focus on it. You’re allowed 15 minor faults before you fail your test. Dwelling on that mistake could knock your confidence and affect the rest of your driving test.

If you know you’ll struggle to let it go, try thinking of your test as just another driving lesson and focus on doing the best you know you can do.

4. Choose where to take your test and get to know the routes

You can choose where to take your test. You might think it’ll be easier to focus on the driving test centres with fewer roundabouts and rural roads, but sometimes choosing a closer centre means you can practise the driving test routes more.

5. Learn to drive in a variety of conditions

The weather is uncontrollable, no matter what month you book your test in. So make sure you practise with your instructor in a variety of weather conditions, as well as when it’s dark, so you can become a confident driver in different situations.

6. Exaggerate mirror checks

One of the most common faults during a driving test is not checking your mirrors often enough and a lack of observation – especially when changing position and setting off. Make sure your examiner is aware that you’re checking your mirrors. If that means an exaggerated full neck swivel, do it.

7. Practice your theory

You may think that your theory test is in the past, but it's an integral part of driving. From knowing and understanding road signs and regulations, to answering questions from the examiner, you need to be confident about the Highway Code.

8. Don’t be distracted by what the examiner is writing

During your test, the examiner will have a results sheet which they'll write on. You may be tempted to try and look at this, but not only will you not be able to understand the scoring, it's also dangerous and distracting. Keep your focus on your driving.

9. Anticipate and plan

There’s no way you can predict every possible thing that could happen during your driving test. But there are things you can expect, and train yourself to look out for.

You need to be alert and know how to react, from a car making an emergency stop in front of you, to a child running out into the road. By anticipating hazards, such as changing speed limits, oncoming traffic and zebra crossings, you can be prepared - with safe reactions becoming second nature.

And when it comes to planning, make sure you check the list of what to take with you so you’ll have everything you need on the day. On average, more than 4,500 driving tests a year don’t go ahead because people either haven’t brought the correct documents or took an unsuitable car to use.

10. Relax

We know driving tests are nerve-wracking, but if there’s anything you can do to calm your nerves, give it a go. That could be breathing exercises before and during your test or just being extra prepared.

It's important you relax as much as possible, so you can focus on the roads and make sure you show the examiner the best of your abilities.

To help, World Driving have compiled their tips to passing your driving test first time in 2021 in a video here:

No matter where you take your driving test, you’re going to need to practice as much as you can to avoid making mistakes. But from getting your provisional licence to the day you pass your test and are ready to hit the open road, GoCompare is here to help for all your driving tips and car insurance needs. For the best learner-driver apps to download, check out our guide.

Preparation is always the key when it comes to tackling any challenge. But there's no harm in looking at extra ways to boost your chances, and choosing a quieter route can keep your nerves at a minimum.

"The most common reason for failure in driving tests is responding incorrectly at lights. At busy junctions, it's easy to lose your concentration when surrounded by different distractions – choosing a quieter location is a good way to limit this risk. To make sure you're prepared, try to practice in a variety of conditions. Once you've chosen your test centre, drive the routes as often as possible, so you can get used to the trickier roads."
Ryan Fulthorpe, Car insurance and motoring expert

[1]According to data taken from Driving test statistics

[2]According to data taken from Approved driving instructor (ADI) test data by test centre