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The California Road Test

Let’s face it; everyone is nervous about taking the road test. Experienced drivers and even driving teachers feel a little anxiety about being tested on performance skills. So let me give you some helpful tips.

Most of my new drivers do quite well while training with me, but sometimes fall apart when they are on the actual road test with a DMV Examiner.

Even though we have an image of the rough tough burly examiners who might sneer at you, or even glare at you while you are driving, the truth is that most of the examiners today are women who are raising children on their own or supplementing their husbands income....which means they are not making a lot of money. This does not mean you should leave a hundred dollar bill conveniently sitting on the front seat of your can be arrested for this! The mandate from the State is that they should pass 70% of their applicants, not fail 70%. So with this in mind it is good to remember that they will only fail you if they think you will be an immediate danger to yourself or others. This also means they do not mark off for every little mistake, as we commonly believe, cause if they did then most people would fail. They will usually overlook certain little mistakes, like not signaling or giving the wrong signal....they would not mark this off every time, just occasionally. So if you stop over the limit line 3 times on the test they might mark it off only once...remember this is a possibility not a guarantee.

The road test is still easy to pass, especially if you know how to drive. I never tell students to try and relax, as this is futile. Those that do the best on the road test are those drivers who can really concentrate on what they are doing, regardless if the examiners seem to be writing your life story while you are driving. Taking slow deep breaths does seem to help reduce tension, but a certain amount of tension is good just before the test...sort of like performers just before going on stage, most feel what is called performance anxiety. It begins to fade as you are taking the test, especially if you can feel the examiner is starting to relax. The students that have done the worst on the driving test, like forgetting how to start the car, were the ones that felt just fine and not nervous before beginning the test.

The examiners are usually a little on edge, because they do have a certain number of close calls on a regular basis, and in most cases they begin by taking the applicant right out into heavy traffic, which can be perilous. So they are ready to grab the wheel, or bark out a command to stop. The students they are most on guard with are the ones who lack smooth control of the vehicle. So when starting the car if you gun the engine as if your foot is really jumpy then you can expect your examiner to be really jumpy. If you have really smooth control of the car then this translates to someone who has had enough experience and knows what they are doing....we will teach you to drive like that, in fact most of our students are far smoother than the people they ride with, regardless of how much time or experience they may have.

At the beginning of the test the examiner will come out to your car and ask you for the next nine items:

You should practice and know all these items before going for your drive test!

  1. Hand and arm signals
  2. Electrical signals
  3. Brake lights
  4. Emergency Flashers, Hazard lights
  5. Windshield wipers
  6. Defroster
  7. Parking brake (emergency brake)
  8. Headlights
  9. Dimmer switch, and high beam indicator

If you don’t know the arms signals they will not give you the test and you will have to reschedule. As far as I know, we have never had a student fail for this reason, but we have witnessed other new drivers fail and it is really sad to not even be able to take the test after telling all their friends..."I am going for my drive test today". By the way do yourself a favor and don’t tell everyone you know that you are taking your drive test...tell them after the fact when you have passed. This will put far less pressure on you while taking the test...and we already know that you don’t need more pressure.

While on the test the examiner should not engage in general conversation or try to distract you or trick you in any way. They will not tell you to do anything that is illegal. You can only ask them to clarify a direction but not whether or not you should go now, or if it is safe.

Most new drivers fail the test for decision making. Like going in front of someone when it is not safe, or taking a chance that scares the examiner. This is usually the case when they have not had the 50 hours of driving practice required by State Law. Reasons for automatic failures are usually running red lights, not seeing stop signs or making an unsafe lane change. Any kind of unsafe maneuver, like turning from the wrong lane or stopping on a green light, or doing anything the requires another driver or pedestrian to take evasive action is usually cause to stop the test immediately.

Senior drivers usually fail the test for three reasons:

  1. Reversing in a straight line, but not looking over the right shoulder, or backing up over the curb or too far into the street.
  2. Making an unsafe lane change, and not looking over their shoulder beforebeginning to make their move into the new lane.
  3. Not looking over their right shoulder when merging into a bike lane.

The drivers that always have the most difficulty in passing the first test are those that tend to be perfectionists. They put too much pressure on themselves and worry too much about every little detail. One very nice perfectionist student I had wanted to really please me by getting 100% on her drive test, and she was capable. She performed perfectly on the test and just before she finished she nudged the curb on a right turn. She was devastated and began to choke back tears as she was certain that she had failed. As she finished the test a few minutes later she looked over to the examiner and said, “I failed, didn’t I?”, and the examiner said yes you did. She of course thought it was because of nudging the curb (she actually lost 6 points for this), but the examiner informed her that she was doing really well, absolutely no errors until she hit the curb. Then she became so rattled that she went right through a stop sign in the next block. The moral of the story is, don’t beat yourself for any mistake that you make, just keep concentrating on the job at hand.

When all of my students set off for the test I always remind them to remember and focus on just 2 things:


Everything else will take care of itself. Visualize driving happily by yourself! We cannot legally teach you the test route, but your teacher will be happy to give you a practice test in an area that is similar to the actual drive test, just ask for a practice test when you are getting close to finishing your training.

One final word of advice: It is very important to scan frequently while taking the road test. When going through an intersection it is always a good idea to look left-right-left because not everyone stops at red lights and stop signs anymore. Normally moving your eyes is enough, but while taking the road test it is very important to move your head so the examiner can tell that you are actually scanning...they really can’t tell if you are moving your eyes so the head movement is extremely important. Also while checking your mirror you need to make your head movements obvious so the examiner can tell what you are doing. Remember breathing slowly and deeply is a very good way to reduce tension.

Your teacher will show you how to play the game right so you have the best chance of passing on your first try! Be really alert and good luck.


"They taught me to drive like a champ!"
-Tobias Tune

"Thanks to Sunshine Driving School I aced my drivers test on the first try...with compliments from the examiner for avoiding and accident with remarkable reflexes!"
-Akka B, Poet

Oakland "This man taught me to drive when I first came to this country. Triple AAA+++, thank you Ken, for all your safe driving tips and your patience with me. Now I love to drive!"
-Indu Kline

"Ken is a great teacher. I was only 26 years old when I took his program. I had just come from New York and had never needed a car. Ken's instruction insured that I became a safe and happy driver! Thanks Ken!"
-Marilyn Mosley-Goranier: Educator, Ojai

"Ken taught me to drive in a month and a half at age 32. He also taught both of my children to drive. My daughter went on to drive buses while attending U.C. Santa Cruz. He is the best!"
-Jessica Watling-Murray

If you want to learn to drive this is the place to call! The skills you will gain will last a l lifetime. I have proof!
-Asha Tyska McLaughlin

"My daughter was 21 and was too scared to learn to drive. Sunshine Driving School was the only place where she felt safe enough to learn. Now she's a confident and safe driver. Thank you!"
-Debbie Godfrey, self employed

Ken and Sunshine Driving School were the best things that could have happened to me during learning to drive experience. After a horrible set of lessons from another local driving school, after which I vowed I would never drive again, Ken reestablished my confidence in my driving abilities. His calm demeanor assured me that I was always safe, and his encouragement (and occasional humor) helped me learn in a positive and constructive way. Folks, Ken is undoubtedly one of the best driving teachers out there. His experience shows in every lesson and interaction. It was a pleasure and honor to learn how to drive from Ken, especially after encountering the worst. Heck, I even passed my test first try!

I hope that this suffices! I could probably write you an in-depth 5 page paper if you really wanted it. I'm thinking a catchy title would be: KEN CORNELIUS, PRAISE BE UNTO HIM! :) hahaha.

I hope that you and all of your family is doing well. I recommend you to EVERYONE! Truly!

Best wishes always,
Olivia, Thacher Student

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229 East Villanova Rd. Ojai, CA 93023

Tel: (8O5) 646-2113
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