Here’s everything you need to know to pass your DMV road test in the US!
Updated September 2018: To get your driver’s license in the US, you’ll have to take your road test. There’s no way around it. This guide will help maximize your chances of passing the test, as well as answer questions like: what is on the DMV road test, what are the common mistakes people make, how is the test scored and what are the car and registration requirements for taking the test? Let’s dive in! Note: Every state has slight variations on how the road test is administered, so we hope this post will bring some clarity for you.
What is the DMV road test and do I need to take it?
The DMV road test is a required step in the US to getting your driver’s license. Depending on what state you’re in, it might be called something different, like the behind-the-wheel test or the road exam. The purpose of the test to assess your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle according to your state’s driving laws. In most states, the test length is 10-15 minutes and consists of a variety of driving maneuvers and driving situations that you need to know.
If you’ve never had a US driver’s license before, then you’ll need to take the road test. And even if you have had a foreign driver’s license, the majority of states also require you to take the road test in the US as well. If you move between states, then you often do not need to retake the road test – just the written test since there are specific driving rules in each state you’ll need to know.
Are there age requirements to taking the road test?
Yes! Each state has it’s own specific age rules and restrictions. In general, you’ll need to be at least 16 years old to apply for a permit and take your road test. And many states have driving restrictions for young drivers or drivers under 18, to prevent, for example, driving around at night with little experience or no adult.
What do I need to know for my road test?
The number 1 goal of the road test is for the DMV examiner to see that you can safely and confidently operate a motor vehicle and follow the rules of the road. The most basic things they’ll look for include: can you smoothly steer and drive at a safe (and posted) speed limit; do you know how to handle turning at intersections; do you check your mirrors and look over your shoulder when turning or changing lanes; do you follow posted signs and regulations; and do you yield when appropriate. Each state has slight variations on each test. For example, in California there is no highway driving or parallel parking, but you do have to reverse in a straight line. (See our ultimate guide to passing your California road test). While in Massachusetts, you need to know how to parallel park and do three-point turns. But don’t fret, most examiners will not intentionally put you in difficult situations or try to trick you – they just want to make sure you’re safe and you know what you’re doing!
What else does the road test cover?
Usually at the beginning of every road test, the examiner will do a vehicle safety check with you. This will include them asking you to put on your turning signals, to put your foot on the brake, turn on the wipers, point to the defroster and emergency brake, honk the horn, and show them your hand signals. At this point, the examiners also make sure the car is in good working condition: the brake lights can’t be out and the tires can’t be bald. Most examiners will have a clipboard with criteria that they are grading on and using to determine if you pass or fail.
How do I pass the road test?
Each state has slightly different criteria and scoring systems but in general, you’re allowed a certain number of “non-critical mistakes”. These might include: you turned too sharp around a corner or you did a hard brake or didn’t stop behind the stop line at a stop sign. Then there are “critical mistakes” which are almost always automatic failures. These include dangerous maneuvers, having the examiner intervene, hitting the curb or another car, or having a lane violation. Do your best to avoid these and know what they are for your state! (Read: The top 5 mistakes people make on their California road test)
Do I need a road test appointment?
In most states, yes. You’ll likely need to already have your permit to book an appointment. For example, in California you’ll first need to make an office appointment to apply for the license and take the written test and eye test. Then you’ll be issued a permit number which you can use to book your road test. In some states, it might take weeks to get the first available road test appointment, so it’s best to plan ahead or try expediting services like our express appointment service.
Where will I be asked to drive?
In most states, the examiner will direct you through neighborhoods and main streets. They’ll want to see that you can make turns and lane changes correctly as well as handle various speed limits – so be sure to pay attention when going from main streets to residential areas. In most cases, going between 25mph and 30mph is a safe bet – however school zones have lower speed limits, usually 15mph, so be aware.
Can I retake the road test if I fail?
Yes, you can retake the test. Each state has different rules on how soon you can retake and how many chances you get. For example, in California, you can take your road test up to 3 times with the same permit. If you fail the third time, you’ll need to take your written test again to get another permit.
Should I take the road test if I haven’t driven much?
We hear this a lot and definitely don’t recommend taking the test if you have very little experience driving. It’s best to practice first and get comfortable behind the wheel. Applying for a license costs money and every time you take the test you’ll need of course to have a car and take time for this, so it’s best to wait until you’re feeling ready.
What do I need to take my road test?
All you need is your permit and ID at the bare minimum. You’ll also need access to a car and in most states a licensed driver. This can be tricky, especially if you don’t have friends or family who are willing to take off a few hours to help you. There are services like our road test concierge service that can help you with this, including the car, licensed driver, registration, and insurance. Other than that, you need to get a good nights sleep and relax. Even people who’ve been driving for 20 years can fail the US road test because it can be stressful taking a test.
Do you have any important tips to help pass the road test?
As mentioned above, just try to relax and not worry – and take it slow. Everyone is nervous for their road test so it’s completely natural to feel this way. Take a few deep breaths and just remember: The examiner want’s to make sure you’re a safe driver, so show them that. When checking your mirrors and blind spots, move your head not just your eyes. The examiner wants to visually see you being a safe and defensive driver! Beyond that, watch a few videos on the road test – this will help you understand what to expect. And lastly, don’t stress if fail the first (or second time). Most people fail the first time, and think of it as a positive step toward your driving independence!
What happens after I pass my test?
Then you’re a licensed driver – congratulations! Typically, in most states, the examiner will tell you right after the test and if you pass, you’ll need to go back inside and get your interim driver’s license. Then the real driver license will arrive in the mail, usually a couple weeks later. But depending on your age you might still have driving restrictions especially if you are under 18.