If you’re learning to drive and want to give yourself the best chance of picking up the skills, you might be wondering, what is mirror signal manoeuvre and why do we have to use it? To be a safe driver, you’ll need to take this routine on board to show you’re looking out for other road users. So buckle up, because this is a technique you’ll have to master before taking that all-important practical driving test.
What is mirror signal manoeuvre?
Mirror-signal-manoeuvre (msm) is pretty much what it says on the tin. Your driving instructor will most likely tell you about it in one of your very first lessons, as it’s a big part of being safe behind the wheel. But even if you haven’t started learning to drive yet, it’s good practice to prepare yourself ahead of time.
The msm routine is made up of 3 parts, which you’ll have to complete to show you can use the roads safely. We’ll run through each of them to cover all bases, so there’s no surprises when your instructor asks you to complete them.
To put it simply:
- You’ll firstly need to make sure the space around you is safe by checking each mirror in your car.
- Once you’re happy, move onto stage two – the signal. This lets other cars know you’re about to manoeuvre and gives them time to respond and slow down.
- Before the final step, you’ll need to double-check your mirrors again before moving, to make sure the coast is definitely clear! Then, you can go ahead with your move while keeping control of the car.
Here’s the process in more detail:
1. Mirror – check your car mirrors
It’ll come as no shock to you that you can’t pass your driving test without checking your mirrors pretty often. Whether you’re turning right at a junction, or pulling into a different lane, checking on your surroundings is the first step you’ll have to take.
You’ll need to check your mirrors before any manoeuvre. And it’s especially important to check your left wing-mirror for cyclists and pedestrians if you’re turning or edging your car over in that direction for example. Even if you’re driving straight on though, keeping an eye on other road users’ speed and position is a great form of defensive driving (link to article when available).
We know that having your instructor or driving examiner watching your every move is pretty daunting, but don’t panic. In a nutshell, check your mirrors whenever you’re going to shift or change direction. Or every few minutes if you’re on a long stretch of road. And remember, it’s better to over-check your mirrors than to not do it often enough.
You should get used to doing this while you prepare for your driving test, it’ll become second nature!
2. Signal – car indicators
Let’s move on to manoeuvre part two, where every learner driver will need to familiarise themselves with the car’s indicators. We’d recommend having a go at using the indicators before you even start driving, to make sure you know how to signal left, and how to signal right. This is also the perfect opportunity to practice one of the show me tell me questions you might be asked for in your driving test.
You’ll need to have checked each mirror in good time before signalling. Try not to pick up any typical faults, like signalling at the same time as checking your mirrors, signalling before you even check them, or inappropriate signalling that could cause confusion.
After you’ve checked your mirrors and are happy with your surroundings, flick your indicator on with plenty of time. This will let other cars respond and brake to slow down for you. It’s recommended that signalling 30 metres before your turning will give yourself and other drivers enough time to adjust.
Having said this, make sure you don’t indicate yet if there’s a few right-hand turns before the one you’re going to make. You’ll have to wait until you’ve passed the last turning before yours. Otherwise, it’ll confuse the cars behind you, and the ones approaching you, and could become a form of dangerous driving.
3. Manoeuvre – making the manoeuvre
The last step in the msm routine is, you guessed it, the manoeuvre itself. Take one last look in the centre mirror to check the cars behind you know you’re about to manoeuvre. And glance in your wing-mirrors in case a motorcyclist has turned up. Then, when it’s safe to do so, make your turn, or whichever manoeuvre you need to complete.
Driving test manoeuvres
Here’s some common mirror signal manoeuvre routines you might be asked for;
- Turning left or turning right at traffic lights, or at a junction
- Coming to a stop
- Moving off
You’re likely going to be asked to complete at least one of these on your driving test, so it’s definitely worth growing your confidence in them. This’ll give you the best chance of passing first time. You’ve got this.
Making a manoeuvre also involves shifts where your car keeps moving. Like overtaking or changing lanes, which is still a manoeuvre and can potentially be dangerous if you don’t get it right.
Your driving instructor might ask you to switch lanes on a dual carriage way. Although it’s not technically a turn, you’ll still need to show you know how to move your car over without causing a hazard for yourself, or anyone else. So always complete the mirror signal manoeuvre routine for things like this too.
You might’ve also heard of the MSPSL routine, which stands for mirror, signal, position, speed, look. Some instructors say it’s the updated version, where the manoeuvre part is extended to mean ‘position-speed-look’. So it’s worth knowing it in case they decide to teach you this. If you like to be thorough with knowing what to do, here’s two extra steps for you to get the hang of.
Get your positioning right. You know how to make a good job of the mirror and signalling sections, so you’ll now have to think about where you should be in the road.
If you’re turning left, make sure to stay in the normal driving position and don’t swing out. Give yourself enough space between you and the curb though. If you’re turning right, move slightly over to the centre of the road just before, but keep your wheels straight until it’s safe to turn.
Before the final look to make sure the road’s safe, you’ll need check you’re going at a controllable speed. You’ll get used to judging this over time, but common sense will probably give you an idea to start off with.
Will you get an instant fail on a driving test UK if you don’t use the MSM routine?
Ultimately, it’s up to the driving examiner to decide whether or not they class something as a major fault. But failing to properly check for other road users before manoeuvring is putting yourself at risk of failing your driving test. So, getting to grips with the msm routine will put you in good speed towards getting that full driving license you’ve been after.
Check out our guide on driving test faults to find some examples of major faults you want to avoid in your test. Try not to worry though. As long as you keep calm and carry out all the necessary steps, you’ll be absolutely fine.
Learner driver insurance
We might be able to help put what you’ve learned into practice. You could get yourself insured with our learner driver insurance, and head out to build up those driving practice hours. Best of luck!