Backing around a corner on the Washington state driving test

Backing around a corner and looking out the rear window.

Well, it looks like it’s time to write a post about backing around a corner. I’ve been getting a lot of questions about this one, so here goes.

If you’re taking a driving test in Washington state, you’ll have to back around a corner

This is called the backing maneuver or just simply “backing”. The backing maneuver tests your ability to control the car and use proper vision when you’re driving in reverse. This maneuver is usually conducted on a quiet residential street or a street with low traffic.

The examiner will have you pull over to the side of the road just after an intersection. Or, they might have you turn into an alleyway and stop. Then they’ll give you instructions to back around the corner.

The most important thing to remember when backing around a corner

Whenever you drive in reverse, you need to turn around and look out the rear window. Don’t back around the corner just using your mirrors! If you don’t look out the rear window when you drive backwards, you will lose points for using poor vision.

Obviously there are some exceptions. For example if your vehicle has a camper or something obstructing the view out the rear window, they’ll let you use your mirrors. But otherwise, you need to turn around and look behind you for the entire maneuver.

When you turn around and look behind you, keep one hand on the steering wheel. Before you start going around the corner, look all around you to make sure there are no vehicles approaching. Before you reverse through a crosswalk or enter the intersection, stop and look both ways behind you for pedestrians.

Some other things to remember about backing:
Stay within 18 inches of the curb
After you get around the corner, you have to drive backwards in a straight line
Keep looking behind you

Eventually the examiner will say “Stop”, and then “re-enter traffic.” Before you re-enter traffic, be sure to signal, check your mirror, and then look over your left shoulder to check your blind spot.

This video shows you the backing maneuver:

Washington driving test prep courses

If you already know how to drive, and want to learn exactly what you need to do on the driving test, you should check out our online test prep course, Washington State Driving Test. We offer two versions of this training, taught by a former DOL Master Examiner:

The free course gives you five video lessons in your email inbox. The free course is designed to give you a broad overview of the driving test and introduce the key concepts you should know.

The premium course is even better. It has nine video lessons that take you behind the scenes to show you the Washington driving test from an insider’s perspective. You’ll see every maneuver performed, with detailed instructions on what to do and what NOT to do on each part of the test.

Washington has the hardest driving test in the US

One way street sign with green tree branches and blue sky

KOMO News recently reported on a study by Siegfried and Jensen, which says that Washington state is the hardest state in the nation to pass the driving test. They based their evaluation on several sources of information, including information from the Washington DOL website and the Washington Driver Guide (PDF).

What the study looked at

The study included the following factors:

  • Learners permit requirements
  • License costs
  • Testing costs, including the knowledge and driving tests
  • Knowledge test difficulty and passing score required
  • Number of attempts to pass the test before you pay another fee
  • Number of graded maneuvers on the driving test
  • Number of graded vehicle control elements on the driving test
  • Number of graded elements related to traffic laws, such as signs, on the driving test
  • Number of graded driver behavior elements on the driving test
  • Number of attempts to pass the driving test before you pay another fee

Based on the descriptions on the website for the study, it appears that this study was quantitative rather than qualitative. This means that they counted numbers of things like driving maneuvers, scoring, and costs and assigned weightings to each one. The methodology doesn’t compare the relative difficulty of the material between the different states.

The bottom line is that you have to know more things, and perform more maneuvers, in Washington than in the other states.

Prepare for the hardest driving test in the US

To prepare yourself for the Washington driving test, the first thing you should do is read and understand the Washington Driver Guide (PDF). Knowing this material will enable you to pass the written knowledge test. You can also take the DOL practice test.

You also need to practice driving. Obviously, you should already know how to drive before you take your test. If you don’t know how to drive, you should take some lessons from a driving school.

Washington driving test prep courses

If you already know how to drive, and want to learn exactly what you need to do on the driving test, you should check out our online test prep course, Washington State Driving Test. We offer two versions of this training, taught by a former DOL Master Examiner:

  • The free course gives you five video lessons in your email inbox. The free course is designed to give you a broad overview of the driving test and introduce the key concepts you should know.
  • The premium course is even better. It has nine video lessons that take you behind the scenes to show you the Washington driving test from an insider’s perspective. You’ll see every maneuver performed, with detailed instructions on what to do and what NOT to do on each part of the test.

Enroll today, and get ready to pass the Washington State Driving Test!

What is the brake reaction test?

Before you start your Washington state driving test, the examiner will have you do a brake reaction test. This tests your ability to safely and quickly stop the car. This part is pretty easy to do, but it helps if you know what to expect.

How does the brake reaction test work?

For the brake reaction test, the examiner will stand outside the car. Typically, the brake reaction test is given at the end of the pre-trip inspection, where the examiner makes sure your car meets the minimum requirements in order to test in it. The examiner will stand just outside the driver’s door in a position where they can see the brake. The brake reaction test is performed with the engine turned off for safety.

You’ll have to roll down your window so that you can hear the examiner give the command.

The examiner will say:

I’m going to check your ability to stop.

Put your foot on the gas pedal. When I say stop, step on the brake as quickly as you can.

Stop!

You need to step on the brake as quickly as possible, as if you were trying to stop the vehicle in an emergency. The following video shows you what to do.

If you don’t step on the brake fast enough, the examiner will repeat the instructions and let you try the brake reaction test one more time. If you still can’t do it fast enough, then the examiner will refer you to a DOL office for testing.

Which car should you use for the Washington driving test?

When you take the Washington state driving test to get your driver’s license, you can choose which car you want to take the test in. You can bring a car to the test, or you can rent a car from the driving school where you take your test at.

The following tips will help you choose the right car to take the drive test in, so that you can avoid losing points for simple mistakes.

Take the test in a car you have driven before

Whenever possible, you should take the test in a car that you’ve driven before. This will be tremendously helpful. Taking the driving test can be stressful, and you don’t want to add to the stress by learning an unfamiliar vehicle while trying to perform the maneuvers correctly. You’ll do better on the test if you are comfortable and relaxed, and it’s a lot easier to be relaxed when you’re in a car that you are familiar with and have driven before.

There are many benefits to knowing how to control the car. During the test, you have to be able to keep the car under control at all times. When you’re driving an unfamiliar car, it is easier to make mistakes that can cost you some points on the test.

By using a car you have driven before, you will know:

  • Where the controls are, so that you can use the turn signals, defroster, windshield wipers, etc. without taking your eyes off the road to search for them
  • How touchy the brakes are, and how hard or softly you have to press the brake pedal without jerking the car or locking up the brakes
  • How to steer the car without oversteering or overcorrecting
  • How to accelerate smoothly and maintain good speed control
  • Where and how big are the car’s blind spots

Know the reference points of the car

It is also important to be familiar with the car’s reference points. Reference points are when you use physical parts of the car, such as the hood, headlights, etc, to help you know where the car is located in relation to other objects. This helps you be able to, for example, keep the car the required distance from the curb during the maneuvers. Reference points can be different on each car, so it is good to be familiar with the reference points of the car you use on the test.

The car should have an automatic transmission

Vehicles with an automatic transmission are much easier to drive than those with a manual transmission. The manual transmission, or “stick shift”, requires extra skill and coordination to drive well.

You don’t want to be messing around with gears and a clutch during the test. Do yourself a huge favor and use a car with an automatic transmission. Taking the drive test with a stick shift can increase your stress level, and it also gives you more opportunities to lose points and fail your test.

Good visibility is a must

You have to see and react to what is around you, and that starts with using a car with good visibility. In order to successfully perform the maneuvers, you have to be able to see where you are and what you’re doing.

Good visibility means that:

  • You have all your mirrors, and they are properly adjusted
  • Your rear window is not blocked or obstructed
  • You can see how far the car is from the curb or other objects

Avoid big bulky vehicles that have huge blind spots and no way to see what is behind you.

The car must be in good working order

During the pre-trip inspection, the examiner will inspect the vehicle and make sure it is safe to drive on the test. If your car has mechanical or other problems, you won’t be able to use it on the test.

Check this list to see if your car is in good working order:

  • No obvious mechanical problems
  • Brake lights work
  • Turn signals work
  • Headlights work
  • Tires have tread and are not bald
  • Parking brake can be engaged and disengaged properly
  • Windshield wipers and defroster work
  • Seat belts operate correctly
  • Windshield is not cracked or chipped

When in doubt, use the driving school’s car for the test

Most drive test locations in Washington state are driving schools, and most driving schools will let you use their car for the test for an additional fee.

If you take your test at the same location that you took driving lessons, then you are probably already familiar with their car. If so, then this is a good option for you.

If you haven’t driven their car before, you might be able to request a single lesson or warm-up drive before the test. This allows you to familiarize yourself with their car, and also get in some practice before the test. Prices for this service vary between locations.

Parallel Parking Between Four Poles on the Washington State Driving Test

Parallel Parking Four Stanchions
This is a typical setup for Parallel Parking using four poles in Washington State

The Washington state driving test includes parallel parking. You can parallel park on the street with real cars. Or you could park between four tall plastic poles (called stanchions) in a parking lot. You should take your test at a testing location where they parallel park between four poles instead of on the street.

Why? Because when you parallel park between four poles, it is much harder to get an automatic failure. (Learn more about automatic failures here)The two methods are scored very differently.

Hitting a car is an automatic failure, and can be costly

Whenever you hit another car, you fail your driving test instantly. You won’t even get to finish the test. The examiner will direct you back to the testing location (aka The Drive of Shame). You’ll have to try again another time, and pay for another test.

If the testing location has you parallel park on the street, you will be parking with real cars. You’ll be maneuvering very close to them, which increases the risk of hitting one. Therefore, when you parallel park between real cars, you run the risk of hitting a car and failing.

This makes the “real cars” scenario much more stressful. Because of the added risk of hitting a car, it is a high stakes maneuver. One bad move and you can fail the test and be responsible for damage you may have caused.

Hitting the four plastic poles is not an automatic failure

When you hit the plastic poles, it’s not an automatic failure. It’s only a four-point point deduction! You lose four points, and the test continues. As long as you do well on the rest of the test, hitting a pole is no big deal.

The poles are placed at fixed distances from each other. The poles should make a rectangle that is 25 feet by 7 feet.

Parallel parking four poles size
                         The space created by the four poles should be 25 feet by 7 feet

The benefit of the fixed regulation distance is the fact that it makes it easier to practice. You know how big the space should be, and you can make your own practice area. You might even be able to “borrow” an existing setup at a local testing location, such as a driving school or DOL office.

Downsides to parallel parking between four poles

There are some downsides to parallel parking between four poles, though.

Without other cars to use as reference points, it is harder to accurately judge your car’s position in the space as well as the distance between the car and the cones. This increases your chances of parking too far from the curb or not being centered in the space.

It is also harder to line up properly at the beginning, before you start backing into the space, because there isn’t a car in front of the space for you to stop next to. This makes it harder to start with your car squared up to the space. This increases your chances of backing into the space at an awkward angle that is hard to correct.

It can also be difficult to see the poles behind you, which increases your chances of hitting a pole or driving too far backwards.

How to find out if a testing location uses four poles

Here are some ways you can find out whether a particular driving school or testing location uses four poles for parallel parking:

  • Drive by during business hours and look for poles set up in the parking lot. You’ll often see them in a far corner of the parking lot, away from traffic. You might also find them behind the building.
  • Talk to other people who have taken their test there, and ask them about it
  • Call the testing location and ask them

Learn how to pass the Washington State Driving Test

Check out our online courses that show you how to pass the Washington state driving test. We offer a free version, which sends five free lessons to your email inbox. The free version gives a nice overview of what to expect on the course.

You can also enroll in the premium version of Washington State Driving Test. The premium version includes nine video tutorials that demonstrate exactly what to do, and what not to do, on each part of the driving test.