Driving test hazards: Flip-flops and moving marrows

An Irishwoman’s Diary

It’s never a good day when you mistake the knee of your driving test examiner for the gear stick. But it seems that a surprisingly high number of people have tried to put the examiner’s knee into reverse during the driving test.

I discovered this fact after I gave some encouragement to a young friend who was about to sit her test. “What’s the worst that can happen?” I said airily, before realising that the correct answer is “quite a lot, actually”.

For starters, just remembering where you parked your car at the test centre can be challenging for some nervous candidates. Former driving test examiner Mike Ambrose told the BBC a few years ago that some people had failed the British test because they forgot where they had left the car in the busy carpark. By the time they found it, too much time had elapsed to continue the test.

There is also the risk that you might forget to bring the car in the first place. He remembered one candidate arriving for a driving test on foot and being “awestruck” that he couldn’t do the test.


It’s also helpful to ensure that the driving instructor is actually in the car before you leave the test centre. One person told BuzzFeed she was so nervous that she jumped into the car, ran through all her safety checks, and went to drive off. She heard a tap on the window and saw the examiner standing patiently at the car, waiting to be let in.

She accepted the blame for that one, but another candidate put the blame for failing squarely at the feet of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. The candidate saw the chef on the street and got such a shock that he almost ran over someone on the zebra crossing.

And then there was the marrow incident. Now, I’m sure Ramsay would know what to do with that large vegetable if he was presented with one. One thing you shouldn’t do with a marrow is to bring it on your driving test. One unfortunate candidate was asked to bring home a giant marrow from a school harvest festival. She put it in the back of her car and forgot to remove it before doing her test.

The marrow sat in the back quietly, causing no disturbance at all, until it came to the part of the exam where she had to demonstrate an emergency brake. Unfortunately, the marrow was not strapped in – despite being size of a giant toddler. And so, when she braked suddenly it came hurtling towards the back of her seat and exploded dramatically all over the car.

Singer Ed Sheeran’s feelings about marrows are unknown, but if he were to give advice on things to leave at home during a driving test, he would probably mention the mobile phone.

He was in the middle of his test, approaching a roundabout when his phone rang. You might think that he ignored it as he negotiated the busy roundabout, but no, the singer picked it up. It was his mother, calling to ask if he had passed the driving test.

Reader, he did not. If the singer was fairly relaxed during his test, some Americans are even more so. One woman removed her flip-flops before starting the test. She always drove barefoot, she explained. She was surprised to hear she had failed.

But no matter how badly your test goes, it will probably go better than it did for the woman who had stopped at a red light when her nose began to tickle. She sneezed with such gusto that her foot slipped off the brake pedal and her car rolled into the car in front.

Some people just have bad luck. One candidate had to battle a bee as she tried to reverse into a parking space. Another unfortunate learner driver left an enormous scrape on the examiner’s arm after she reached to change gears and he reached to adjust the air conditioning at the same time.

But surely the person with the worst luck was the 17-year-old from Minnesota who didn't even get to leave the test centre when she attempted her test three years ago.

She had parked in front of the centre and, when she was preparing to start the driving test, she put the car into drive, instead of reverse. When she stepped on the accelerator, her Chevy crashed through the plate glass window of the driving test centre. She wasn’t injured but her 60-year-old examiner was taken away by ambulance to have her non-critical injuries treated. Luckily, no one in the office was hurt but the driver’s confidence must have taken a fair battering. The newspaper articles about her misfortune did not say what the test result was, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that she failed. It was unfortunate for her, yes, but it’s also reassuring to know that there’s always someone with worse luck than you.