Independent Driving

It is a good idea to practice following directions before your driving test as ‘independent driving’ is a key section of the practical driving test. This section of the driving test changed in December 2017 and now requires candidates to drive independently for twenty minutes (almost half of the test) and, in most instances, participants are required to follow directions on the sat nav. For one in five participants, they will be required to follow traffic signs instead of using a sat nav during the independent driving section of the driving test – so you need to be prepared for both.

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In this article, we will explore what will be expected of you in this part of your test, and how you can be well prepared for independent driving.

What to expect from Independent Driving

Since the driving test changed in December 2017 independent driving has become a much more significant part of the driving test, previously this took up just ten minutes of the test whereas this has now doubled to twenty. In this section of the test, the examiner is testing whether you are able to drive safely on your own once you have passed your driving test.

Independent Driving – Sat Nav

The majority of candidates will be asked to follow a sat nav as part of the independent driving section of the driving test. The following instructions should help you get familiar with what to expect if you are asked to follow a sat nav.

Before starting this part of the test the examiner will ask you to pull over when it is safe to do so. At this point, the examiner will explain that it is now the start of the independent driving section of the test and they will set the sat nav to a specific destination. Even if the car you are in has its own sat-nav, the examiner will provide the device (TomTom Start 52) and set the route.

When it is time to go, make sure you set off safely and as you follow the directions on the sat nav use the Mirrors Signal Position Speed Look (MSPSL) routine throughout. Don’t be afraid to ask the examiner if you are confused by what the sat nav is displaying, or if you need some confirmation about the direction. You also won’t lose marks for going the wrong way, as long as you drive safely at all times. If you take a wrong turn the examiner will guide you back to the correct route. Continue following the sat nav until the examiner tells you to stop.

Keep an eye on your speed and make sure you follow the road signs that indicate what speed limit you should be at. Make sure you indicate in good time if you are changing direction and if you find you are in the wrong lane when approaching a junction only change lanes if it is safe to do so – remember it is better to go the wrong way safely than the right way unsafely.

Independent Driving – Following the Traffic Signs

One in five candidates will be asked to conduct independent driving the old fashioned way – by following traffic signs to a specific destination. In this scenario, the examiner will identify the place they want you to go to and inform you. For instance, they might say “follow the signs to Bingley until I say otherwise”.

You are being tested on if you can drive in a safe way without being directed. Ensure throughout that you plan ahead and are looking out for road signs so that a change of direction doesn’t take you by surprise. Again, don’t worry if you have trouble interpreting the traffic sign and need to seek confirmation on the route from the examiner.

Once you have identified the correct direction make sure that you continue to use the Mirror Signal Position Speed Look (MSPSL) routine throughout the independent driving section of the test. Always ensure that you are signalling in good time to inform other drivers of your actions and not confuse them. Make sure you check the speed limit signs and that your speed is correct. This section of the test is assessing how you would perform when driving on your own after passing your driving test so relax and drive as safely and confidently as possible.

As stated above, if you realise you are in the wrong lane for the destination you want to go to make sure you only change lanes if it is safe to do so. The examiner would prefer you to continue on the wrong route in a safe way, then change to the right route and practice unsafe driving.

Preparing for your Independent Driving Test

Preparation is key for this section of your driving test and your driving instructor will be aware of this. Most driving instructors will have a sat nav and will ask you to practice following this before your driving test to give you time to get used to this technique. The ability to follow a sat nav safely is now a key driving skill and will be invaluable after you pass your test.

Equally, the ability to follow directions via traffic signs is still important (hence why this is still part of some driving tests). Make sure that you practice getting to a specific destination via just the traffic signs en route during your driving lessons. Give this a go with an unfamiliar destination so you really have to use the road signs available.


The independent driving section of the practical driving test has undergone some major changes in recent years to reflect changes in technology and driving habits. Getting to grips with a sat nav is essential before your driving test (whatever the model) so that you can be well prepared if you are asked to use this device in the independent driving section. The ability to read and follow traffic signs to get to a destination is also an essential skill to master, as some candidates will be asked to follow this technique during their driving test.