Restricted Licence Practical Driving Test – How hard can it be?

So here you are – you’ve learnt how to drive, you’ve done some practice and you feel you are ready for the practical driving test for your restricted licence –how hard can it be?

Well quite hard by all accounts, according to recent media reports.

The current Practical Driving Test for Restricted Licence was introduced  on 27 February 2012 as part of  a government strategy to improve the safety of young and novice drivers. This was preceded by raising the minimum driving age to 16 years from 1 August 2011 and the introduction from 7 August 2011 of a zero legal drink drive limit for drivers under 20 years of age.

Is the test too hard?

I don’t think so.

Employers say jobseekers are missing out on work because they can’t pass the tough new driving test, from Licence woes make hunt harder (New Zealand Herald Sunday 9 September 2012).

The strengthening of the driving test and subsequent drop in the success rate was generally viewed as a positive and it was felt that the success rate would improve as learners got to grips with the requirements of the new test.

Is the slow improvement in the success  rate on the  test being artificially manipulated to provide an opportunity for   NZ Driver Licencing Company (the company responsible for conducting the tests) to boost company revenue ( New Zealand Herald Sunday 30 September 2012)  at $88 per test resit?  Personally I don’t know one way or the other.

The purpose of this article is to offer my advice on how to maximise your chances of success on the test.  It is my opinion that the key to passing the test, once you have learnt how to drive a car, is Preparation, Practice & Consistency.


There are certain things that you need to do, and you need to do them well on the test – these are called “Task Assessment  Items”. 

 There are things that you should avoid doing on the test.  These are errors and fall into two categories “Critical Errors” and “Immediate Failure Errors”.

Critical Errors are serious driving errors that on their own will not necessarily cost you the driving test but will influence your ultimate mark for the test.  Immediate Failure Errors are pretty self explanatory and are much the same things that would have cost you the old driving test – so nothing really new there.

Now here’s the thing – if you do not know what the “Task Assessment Items” are and you do not know  “ when, where and how” you are supposed to be carrying them out, and you are not aware of what constitutes a “Critical Error” or an “Immediate Failure Error”   the outcome of your test is going to hinge on hope and luck rather than skill and knowledge.

So get prepared before the test , get a good Driving Instructor you feel comfortable with to help you prepare  specifically for the test.  In addition you could also study a very useful document called the Restricted Licence Test guide (class 1) which will give you all the guff on the above mentioned “Task Assessment Items” “Critical Errors” and “Immediate Failure Errors” and an explanation of each item.  This guide is available to you free of charge on the NZ Transport Agency website.

Your mum, dad or other responsible person can often teach you how to drive/operate the vehicle but if you are not preparing specifically for the test itself you are only part way there.


   Once you have done the preparation and you know exactly what you need to do and how to do it and, you are fully aware of what the errors are that could cause you to fail – “you practice”.  You do a whole heap of practice and then, on the test  – you do the things you need to do well – really, really well – and you don’t do the things that could cause you to fail.  Pretty simple really.

Practice is building up experience and the more experience you can gain the better – so that when you finally do the test you know exactly what to do in any situation you might be faced with.  The NZ Transport Agency and ACC recommend learner drivers aim to get 120 hours of supervised practice before they sit their restricted driver licence test.


Once you have done the preparation and the practice and achieved a high level of safe driving skills  –  you need consistency.  You need to be able to demonstrate your high level of safe driving skills for the whole 45 minutes driving on the test.  It’s no good being really on to it for part of the test or nearly all of the test – you need to be consistent and  be really on to it for all of the test.

45 perfect minutes to pass the test followed by a lifetime of perfect minutes for a lifetime of safe driving.

In Conclusion:

The previous practical driving test for restricted driver licence was a 20 minute drive – nowhere near long enough to be able to comprehensively assess an applicant’s driving skill level.  It was possible, in some cases,  to get a learner driver to a level where they could pass that test with around 12 hours total experience.  Kind of scary isn’t it – 12 hours driving  experience   and they could get in a car by themselves and drive.  If they learnt in the summer they may have never driven in the rain, never driven at night – something needed to change and it has.

So  – Preparation, Practice & Consistency can get you through the test.  But, like most things in life, there are no guarantees, you still have to turn up on the day and do it.  If you haven’t done  the Preparation and Practice and achieved a high level of Consistency you are unlikely to pass the test.

Useful Resources:

For parents or responsible supervisors teaching young people to drive be sure to check out the following websites: