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How to pass your restricted test

How to pass your restricted test

12 11 14

Will this be the year you ditch your L-plates and claim your hard-earned freedom? If you think you’re ready to drive without your mum in the passenger seat nervously clutching the handbrake, here are the final steps to check off before you take the leap and apply for your restricted licence.

In recent years, the restricted licence test has been made more challenging in New Zealand. This can seem intimidating, but it can help to remember the test was changed to help weed out drivers who aren't ready to drive solo on the roads, and need to put in more practise first. So if you've put in the hard yards and have mastered the skills you need for the test, it's entirely possible to pass the first time around. Think you're ready to book your restricted? Here are seven things to think about first.

Know the common mistakes

Stop sign The test for your restricted looks at a specific set of skills, and the criteria includes an equally specific list of things you must not do.

These might sound simple, but it’s important you know what the testing officer is looking out for, so don’t breeze past these just because your dad says you drive okay.

For instance, even though you know that a Stop sign means you must stop, you may not realise that the testing officer needs to feel a definite, clear stop. Your extended pause before you move off might seem permissible to you, but even if you've had plenty of time to check there are no cars coming, your testing officer will count that as a ‘rolling stop’ and mark it as an error. You need to make sure you both feel the motion of the car stopping to be certain it counts.

Also remember that speed limits are maximums, not targets. When you move into a high-speed zone, don’t speed up before you reach the sign that tells you you’re now in an 80km/h zone. In other words, you shouldn’t be going 80km/h the moment you enter this zone. However, when moving into a lower speed zone, be at the lower speed by the time you enter the new zone. It's not enough to just be in the process of slowing down.

Driving too slowly can also get you penalised as it can hold up traffic and be frustrating for other drivers.

The best thing to do is stick to (and never exceed) the speed limit, unless the conditions of the road mean you need to drive more slowly (such as bad weather, or driving along a narrow side-street with lots of potential hazards).

If you’re not clear on what mistakes you might be making, a professional driving instructor can sort you out. 

Find your weak spots

These include the bad habits you’ve picked up while driving around with your dad. Remember, since your parents got their licence the road code and requirements for the test have changed more times than Snoop Lion has changed his name. Some things that might have been okay back then could contribute to a failed result now.

For instance, when you’re on a routine drive to the supermarket, you might relax and let one hand drop to rest on your lap – but even though your supervisor may not correct you on this, driving one-handed is a no-no during the test.

The best approach is to always drive as if the test is happening. That way, you’ll have fewer bad habits that might pop up out of nervousness at the wrong moment.

Even better, have at least one lesson with a professional driving instructor – they’re well-versed on what testing officers are looking for, and will point out anything you’re doing that won’t serve you well in the test. Getting personalised advice from someone who knows exactly what the testing officer will be looking for is the easiest way to ensure your driving is up to scratch before you sit the test.

Nail your Achilles heel

Most learner drivers will have at least one driving manoeuvre that makes them consider catching public transport for the rest of their lives. Besides stamping out your bad habits, few things will make you feel more confident in your driving than finally mastering that parallel park or getting comfortable with high-speed travel. 

If there’s a particular manoeuvre that every fibre in your body tells you to avoid, spend some extra time on it with your supervisor until you know you can do it. Even if it doesn't come up in the test, you'll be more relaxed knowing you can do it if you need to.


While it’s essential to know what you’re being tested on, once you know what to do the important thing is to get out there and practise. No amount of reading up on the rules will replace the hours of practice you’ll need to get comfortable behind the wheel.

If you haven’t done the recommended 120 hours of driving before applying for your restricted test, consider waiting until you have. It’s not just a number designed to scare you into practising more; research shows those with this amount of driving experience have lower crash rates on their restricted licence than those with fewer hours under their belt.

To help you clock up those hours, have regular practice sessions each week and chauffer your parents around every chance you get.

Spending some of your practice hours driving around in the same area that you’ll sit your test can also make a big difference. For a start, being familiar with the roads in your test area will help calm your nerves on the big day. Also, some testing areas may be different to what you’re used to. For instance, you might have been on the motorway more times than you’ve stalled the engine, but the high-speed driving in your testing area might be done on open roads – a different type of driving that you’ll want to have experienced before.

Be honest

Are you really ready to drive on your own? While you’re not expected to be as confident as someone sitting their full licence test, you should be in full control of the vehicle at all times, know how to operate all the controls without having to stop or take your eyes off the road for more than a moment (if at all), know the road rules by heart and understand all the street signs.

Having the skills to drive smoothly also counts for a lot, and will help show your testing officer you're in good control of the vehicle. If your supervisor has a headache after driving with you, that’s a sign you need more practise!

Choose your timing wisely

Don’t book the test for a time when everyone’s driving to work. Make it easy on yourself and choose a less busy time.

While the testing officer does need to see you drive safely in a reasonable amount of traffic, there’s a big difference between driving in traffic and driving during rush-hour when you’re under the stress of being tested (and the drivers around you are stressed out too).

Don’t be discouraged

You never know who your testing officer will be, but even if they resemble someone from the Adam's Family, remember that you're not being tested on whether you can get them to crack a smile. 

Your instructor is unlikely to be super-friendly towards you during the test – they have to maintain an air of authority, after all. So don’t worry if they seem disapproving or let it throw you off your game; many of them have developed a constant look of stern disapproval as part of their working uniform.

Just focus on driving the best you can rather than trying to assess what they’re thinking during the test itself – they’ll tell you at the end, anyway. 

Ready to book your restricted test? Here's what you need to know.

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