The handbrake, also known as the parking brake is used to hold the car stationary after it has stopped. There are generally two types of handbrake; the traditional handbrake lever, or the increasingly popular electronic parking brake switch. Regardless on whether your car has a handbrake lever, or electric parking brake, they should be used in the same way.

Handbrake lever and electronic parking brake switch
The traditional handbrake lever, still often installed in budget vehicles is gradually being replaced by the electronic parking brake

Many test candidates still ask the question: Can you use a car with an electronic parking brake on a driving test? Yes, you can use a car with an electronic handbrake on a driving test. In fact, the use of electronic parking brake has been permitted since November 2010.

There are usually benefits to taking a driving test with a car fitted with an electronic parking brake. Some of the features associated with electronic parking brakes can include:

  • If you’re taking the automatic driving test and select Park (P), the parking brake is automatically applied without the need to apply the switch.
  • Automatic release of the parking brake when the accelerator is pressed.
  • The parking brake automatically activates when the car comes to a standstill in traffic and deactivates when moving off. This is often referred to as ‘Auto Hold’.
  • Hill Start Assist, a system that prevents the car from rolling back.

The specific features that come with a car’s parking brake system vary from car-to-car. If you’re using your instructor’s car for the driving test, they will explain these features to you. If you’re in doubt about the specific features of your car’s parking brake, check the car owner’s manual.

Automatic Driving Test: Using the Handbrake

One of the benefits of taking the driving test in an automatic car is that you’ll not need to use the handbrake as frequently as those using a manual. Situations during a driving test where you must ensure the handbrake is applied in an automatic car is:

  • After completing the emergency stop
  • Stopping on an hill
  • Parking up

The Emergency Stop

As the name suggests, the emergency stop is a simulation of the speed in which you should bring your car to a stop in an emergency. There’s around a one in four chance that the examiner will ask you to carry out the emergency stop.

Once you’ve brought your car to a complete stop, apply the handbrake and select Park (P) on the gear selector lever. The examiner will inform you to then move off.

Do you Need to Use the Handbrake When Moving Off Downhill?

During a driving test, during general driving, there’s no need to use the handbrake when moving off downhill. Firmly apply the footbrake to prevent rolling forward. When you’re ready to move off, release the brake pedal but avoid applying to much accelerator.

As you’re going downhill, by simply by releasing the footbrake, your car will move faster than normal. If you’re in stop-start traffic and driving downhill, you may need to maintain a gentle pressure on the brake pedal to avoid gaining too much speed.

Cars that have the hill start assist feature may or may not offer assistance with downhill assist.

Do you Need to Use the Handbrake When Moving Off Uphill?

A great feature of automatic cars is the ability to ‘creep‘. Automatic car creep is where the gear is in Drive (D) and the car creeps forward without the brake or accelerator pedals being pressed.

Automatic car creep means that there’s often no need to apply the handbrake when moving off on a slight incline as the creeping forward feature is usually enough to prevent the car from rolling backwards.

However, on steeper uphill slopes, you’ll still need to apply the handbrake to eliminate the possibility of rolling backwards. If your car has the hill start assist feature, there’s no need to apply to handbrake as the hill start assist system will prevent your car from rolling backwards.

Using the Handbrake When Parking Up

When parking a car, you need to ensure that it is safely secured against rolling. You’ll certainly be asked to park up during the driving test and after coming to a standstill, apply the handbrake and select Park (P). The examiner will inform you to move off when ready.

When Else Should I use the Handbrake During the Driving Test?

In general, only use the handbrake when you think it’s necessary and beneficial. A good example of when to use the handbrake during normal driving is if you’re waiting for a longer than normal amount of time.

If for example you arrive at a busy set of traffic lights, there’s several cars ahead of you and the lights have only just turned red, the chances are you’re in for a bit of a wait. As a safety precaution, apply the handbrake to help secure your car against movement. There’s no need to select Park (P) unless you believe you’re in for a particularly long wait.

At junctions and roundabouts, applying the handbrake can help you move off faster if you’re in a manual car because you’re preparing the car by balancing the accelerator and clutch. There’s no such benefit for an automatic car as all you need to do is quickly switch from the brake pedal to the accelerator.

In terms of driving test manoeuvres, there’s certainly no rule that states the handbrake must be applied at any stage of any manoeuvre. Again, it’s just if you think it’s necessary.

If you happen to be carrying out a manoeuvre on a slope (either uphill, downhill or there’s a steep road camber), you might want to consider using the handbrake to prevent any chance of rolling. Unless it’s particularly steep, there’s probably no need in an automatic, so use your judgement and go with it.

Can I Use the Handbrake Too Much?

Excessive and unnecessary use of the handbrake might cause you delay and can ultimately result in minor driving test faults. If for example, each time you stopped the car in traffic you applied the handbrake, it may impede your progress for moving off with the flow of traffic.

Some test candidates are under the impression that they must use the handbrake frequently, but this is not the case. Other than the emergency stop, hill starts and parking, if you’re waiting in traffic for a longer period of time than normal or if you think you might be at risk of rolling.

How to Use the Handbrake

If you’d like to know how to use the handbrake or electronic parking brake in an automatic car, see How to use the handbrake in an automatic car.


4 thoughts on “Automatic Driving Test: Using the Handbrake”

  1. Thank you for explaining this so simply, my “instructor” has just shrugged his shoulders about using the handbrake on hills and long sequence traffic lights etc. Saying “I don’t bother”. Makes me think he’s setting me up to fail to get refresher retest lessons out of me. I will continue to use my judgement and definitely on a certain set of lights on the hill near the test centre.

    1. Hi Mandy,
      There’s no specific rules around using the handbrake. It’s more of a safety / security extra, if and when you think it might be of benefit. Though if you were to roll back on a hill (even in an automatic), then it could be the difference between a pass and fail. As you say, use your judgement for when you think it might be needed. Good luck for when your test comes round.

  2. Hi.

    My nephew is taking his test in January 2023 in an automatic car and when out with him today he came to a stop at some lights and put the handbrake on but didn’t select neutral or park. I know in a manual vehicle that’s what I was taught but is it the same in an automatic?

    Is he allowed to sit with his foot on the brake? His is an older automatic and doesn’t have the modern auto hold feature so if he takes his foot off it will creep forward against the handbrake.

    Thank you

    1. Hi Max D,
      There are no specific ‘rules’ as such around the use of the handbrake and the driving test. As a rough guide, when you come to a stop in general traffic, holding the car stationary just the by footbrake is fine. If you’ve come to a stop, say the lights have just changed to red and you’ll be waiting for a little longer, apply the handbrake. You’ll usually only need to select Park (P) when the examiner asks you to park on the left or the right (Park + handbrake). Neutral is only to be used for towing the vehicle (there is no parking pawl engaged that locks the transmission when in neutral). Hope that helps.

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