Driving licence in the United Kingdom

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Driving licence in the United Kingdom
Example of a Driving licence in United Kingdom.
Issued by  United Kingdom
Type of document Driving licence
Purpose Authorisation

In the United Kingdom, the driving licence is the official document which authorises its holder to operate motor vehicles on highways and other public roads. They are administered in England, Scotland and Wales by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and in Northern Ireland by the Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA). A driving licence is required in the England, Scotland, and Wales for any person driving a vehicle on any highway or other road as defined in s.192 Road Traffic Act 1988[1] irrespective of the ownership of the land over which the road passes. Similar requirements apply in Northern Ireland under the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1981.

UK nationals do not normally have identity cards; a modern photo driving licence can serve many of the purposes of an identity card in non-driving contexts, such as proof of identity (e.g. when opening a bank account) or age (e.g. when buying alcohol, fireworks etc.). However, there have been attempts to replace its use in this way with Identity cards.


Applications for a provisional driving licence can be made starting at the age of 15 years and 9 months. This licence is valid for driving a moped or light quad bike from age 16, and a car from age 17, or 16 for those who get, or have applied for, the higher or enhanced rate of the mobility component of PIP or DLA.[2][3] Until a United Kingdom driving test (which consists of three sections: theory, hazard perception and a supervised driving examination) has been passed, a driver may hold only a provisional licence[4] and are subject to certain conditions.

L plate
L plate
D plate (Wales)
D plate (Wales)
Learner driver plates in the UK.

The conditions attached to provisional licences of a particular category of vehicle are:[5]

  • L-plates or (in Wales only) D plates (Welsh: Dysgwr) must be conspicuously displayed on the front and rear of the vehicle;
  • Learner drivers of a particular category and transmission type of vehicle must be accompanied by somebody aged 21 and above who has held a full driving licence for that category and transmission type for at least three years, except in the case of solo motorcycles and vehicles of certain categories designed solely for one person;
  • No trailer may be towed, except when driving a tractor or where a full licence gives provisional entitlement to drive a car with trailer, large goods vehicle with trailer or bus with trailer;
  • Motorcycle riders must not carry any pillion passenger;
  • Bus drivers must not carry any passenger except a person giving or receiving instruction;
  • Motorways must not be used by holders of car and motorcycle provisional licences,[6] excluding B+E learner drivers.

The rules on what a driver can tow are different depending on when they passed their driving test. If they passed their car driving test on or after 1 January 1997, the rules are:

  • They can drive a car or van up to 3,500 kg maximum authorised mass (MAM) towing a trailer of up to 750 kg MAM;
  • Tow a trailer over 750 kg MAM as long as the combined MAM of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3,500 kg MAM when loaded;
  • They have to pass the car and trailer driving test if you want to tow anything heavier.

If a driver passed their car test before 1 January 1997 they are usually allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8,250 kg MAM. They are also allowed to drive a minibus with a trailer over 750 kg MAM.[7]

R plate that must be displayed by restricted drivers in Northern Ireland.

In Northern Ireland, learner drivers are limited to a speed of 45 mph (72 km/h), and drivers who have passed their test within the previous year must display R plates (restricted) and are also limited to a speed of 45 mph (72 km/h) until the expiry of the restricted period. R plates are similar in style to L plates, with a thick-set dark orange R displayed on a white background.[8]

After passing a driving test, the provisional licence may be surrendered within two years in exchange for a full UK licence[4] for the relevant kind of vehicle. Full car licences allow use of mopeds and motorcycles provided a CBT (Compulsory Basic Training) course is completed (the requirement to have a CBT in Northern Ireland was introduced on 21 February 2011[9]). There are no restrictions on newly passed drivers in England, Wales or Scotland, but if a newly qualified driver is given six penalty points within two years of passing, the licence is automatically cancelled and the driver must pass the full test again.[10] These six points remain on the new licence until their designated expiry time.[11]

Motor car licences issued in the United Kingdom distinguish between automatic and manual transmission vehicles depending upon whether or not a driving test was passed in a vehicle with manual transmission (unless a vehicle test was taken in the UK before such discrimination was made). While a manual transmission vehicle licence permits the holder to drive a vehicle of either kind, an automatic transmission vehicle licence is solely for vehicles with automatic transmission. The licence also shows if a driver requires glasses or contact lenses to meet the legal driving requirements, if known.

There is no maximum age for driving or holding a driving licence, but holders must renew their licences at age 70 and every three years thereafter, at which times they must self-certify their continued fitness to drive.[12]

Forklift trucks require a separate licence, issued by third-party training companies rather than the DVLA or DSA.[13]

While the DVLA has included Welsh on driving licences issued in Wales for many years, requests for Scots Gaelic (also an official language in the UK) to be included on licences issued to drivers resident in Scotland have so far been rejected.

The union flag has been included on UK licences since July 2015.[14]


Driver registration was introduced in 1903 with the Motor Car Act. Holders of the sulphur-yellow coloured document were entitled to "drive a motor car or motor cycle".[15] The wording was changed in 1930 after which holders were allowed to "drive or steer a motor car or to drive a motor cycle". Shortly afterward, the document cover was changed to a dark red colour. Holders were for a period entitled to drive a vehicle of "any class or description".[15] Subsequent changes saw the document list precisely those vehicle types for which holders were licensed.

Competency tests were introduced in 1934 by the Motor Vehicles Regulations 1935, but were suspended in 1939 for seven years due to the Second World War and in 1956 for one year due to the Suez Crisis. The only person in the United Kingdom who is not required to have a driving licence in order to drive is The Queen.[16] She also does not require number plates on any vehicles which are personally owned by herself or her closest family members.[17]

Until 1973, driving licences (and tax discs) were issued by local authorities, and had to be renewed every three years. In 1971, the decision was taken to computerise the licensing system to enable it to be linked to the Police National Computer and to extend the life of the licence up to the driver's 70th birthday, extendable at intervals thereafter provided the driver can prove fitness.

Except for Northern Ireland, driving licences issued before July 1998 did not have photographs on them.[18] Anyone who holds a licence issued before this date may retain their photo-less licence until expiry (normally one's seventieth birthday) or until they change address, whichever comes sooner. The new plastic photocard driving licences have to be renewed every ten years, for a fee. Until 2015, the licence consisted of both the photocard and a paper counterpart which detailed the individual's driving entitlements and convictions ("endorsements"). The counterpart was abolished on 8 June 2015[19] and the information formerly recorded on it is now available online via the View Driving Licence service, except in Northern Ireland where the counterpart must be kept with the photocard.[20]

Licences issued to residents of England, Northern Ireland and Scotland appear only in English, while those issued to residents of Wales appear in both English and Welsh.

Each licence holder in England, Scotland and Wales has a unique driver number, which is 16 characters long. The characters are constructed in the following way:[21]

  • 1–5: The first five characters of the surname (padded with 9s if fewer than 5 characters). For surnames beginning with "MAC", they are treated as "MC" for all. [22]
  • 6: The decade digit from the year of birth (e.g. for 1987 it would be 8)
  • 7–8: The month of birth (7th character is incremented by 5 if driver is female i.e. 51–62 instead of 01–12)
  • 9–10: The date within the month of birth
  • 11: The year digit from the year of birth (e.g. for 1987 it would be 7)
  • 12–13: The first two initials of the first names, padded with a 9 if no middle name
  • 14: Arbitrary digit – usually 9, but decremented to differentiate drivers with the first 13 characters in common
  • 15–16: Two computer check digits.
  • 17–18: Appended, two digits representing the licence issue, which increases by 1 for each licence issued.

Each Northern Ireland licence holder has a unique driver number which is 8 characters long. The characters are not constructed in any particular pattern.

Driving licence categories[edit]

This is a list of the categories that might be found on a driving licence in the United Kingdom.[23]

Category Vehicle type Minimum age Notes[Notes 1]
AM Motorcycle 16 Light motorcycle with a design speed of less than 45 km/h (28 mph).
A1 Motorcycle 17 Light motorcycles with a cubic capacity not exceeding 125 cc and of a power output not exceeding 11 kW (14.6 bhp). A motor tricycle less than 15 kW power output
A2 Motorcycle 19 Motorcycles up to 35 kW (47 bhp) and a power to mass ratio not exceeding 0.2 kW/kg. Motorcycle combination with a power mass ratio not exceeding 0.2 kW/kg.
A Motorcycle 24 [Notes 2] Any size motorcycle with or without a sidecar. A Motor tricycle power output over 15 kW
B1 4 wheeled light vehicles 17 [Notes 3] quadricycles up to 400 kg (880 lb) unladen (or 550 kg (1,210 lb) for goods vehicles). B1 before 13 January 2013 means 3/4 wheel light vehicle, but licences held still keep this entitlement. but shown after January 2013 as category A motorcycles restricted to motor tricycles only and B1 4 wheels. upon renew, exchange an old licence
B Cars 17 [Notes 4]
  • Motor vehicles with a MAM not exceeding 3,500 kg (7,700 lb) having not more than 8 passenger seats with a trailer up to 750 kg (1,650 lb).
  • Combinations of vehicles in Category B and a trailer when combined vehicle and trailer MAM's are less than 3,500 kg.
B Minibuses 21 Vehicles with between 9 and 16 passenger seats not for hire or reward. MAM not exceeding 3.5 tonnes or 4.25 tonnes including specialist equipment for the carriage of disabled passengers. No trailer of any size may be pulled. B licence must have been held for 2 years. Valid for minibuses only when used in the United Kingdom.
B (Automatic) Automatic cars 17 [Notes 5] As cars (B), but only those with automatic transmission.
B+E Cars with trailers 17 [Notes 6] As category B but with a heavier trailer that isn't covered in the descriptions for category B.
C1 Medium sized vehicle 18 [Notes 7] Vehicles between 3,500 kg and 7,500 kg with a trailer up to 750 kg.
C1+E Medium sized vehicle with trailers 21 [Notes 8] Combinations of vehicles where the towing vehicle is in subcategory C1 and its trailer has a MAM of over 750 kg provided that the MAM of the combination thus formed does not exceed 12,000 kg and MAM of the trailer does not exceed the unladen mass of the towing vehicle.
C Large vehicles 21[Notes 9] Vehicles over 3,500 kg (including those over 7,500 kg) with a trailer up to 750 kg.
C+E Large vehicles with trailers 21[Notes 9] Vehicles over 3,500 kg (including those over 7,500 kg) with a trailer over 750 kg.
D1 Minibuses 21[Notes 10] Vehicles with between 9 and 16 passenger seats with a trailer up to 750 kg. See also under B
D1+E Minibuses with trailers 21[Notes 10] Combinations of vehicles where the towing vehicle is in subcategory D1 and its trailer has a MAM of over 750 kg, provided that the MAM of the combination thus formed does not exceed 12,000 kg, and the MAM of the trailer does not exceed the unladen mass of the towing vehicle.
D Buses 24[Notes 10] Any bus with more than 8 passenger seats with a trailer up to 750 kg.
D+E Buses with trailers 24[Notes 10] Any bus with more than 8 passenger seats with a trailer over 750 kg.
F Agricultural tractors 16 Maximum weight with trailer = 24 390 kg. Age 16 for tractors less than 2.45m wide. It must only pull trailers less than 2.45 m (96 in) wide with two wheels, or four close-coupled.
G Road rollers 21 [Notes 11] N/A
H Tracked vehicles 21 [Notes 12]


K Mowing machine or vehicle controlled by a pedestrian 16 N/A
L Electric vehicles 17 Category now deprecated – tests no longer available (since 2001) for this category. Vehicles now fit into category B1 or B.
N Vehicles used for very short distances on public roads N/A Category now deprecated – tests no longer available (since 2001) for this category. Vehicles now fit into category B1 or B.
P Motorcycles 16 Engine capacity must not exceed 50 cc and the maximum design speed must not exceed 50 km/h (31 mph).
Q Mopeds 17 2-wheeled vehicles with engine size not more than 50 cc if powered by an internal combustion engine or maximum design speed of no more than 25 km/h (15.5 mph).
  1. ^ MAM = Maximum authorised mass
  2. ^ Age 24 or 2 years from date of A2 test pass.
  3. ^ Age 16 you may be issued a licence if you are in receipt of the higher rate of disability living allowance. However, if the rate is withdrawn, the normal minimum age for driving a car (17 years) applies.
  4. ^ At the age of 16 you can be issued a licence if you are in receipt of the higher rate of disability living allowance. However if the rate is withdrawn, the normal minimum age for driving a car (17 years) applies.
  5. ^ At age 16 you may be issued a licence if you are in receipt of the higher rate of disability living allowance. However, if the rate is withdrawn, the normal minimum age for driving a car (17 years) applies.
  6. ^ If you passed your category B or B automatic test before 1 January 1997 your licence will already show C1, C1E (8.25 tonnes), D1, D1E (not for hire or reward) as entitlement flowing from the category B.
  7. ^ Age 17 if you are a member of the armed services
  8. ^ Age 17 if you are a member of the armed services; Age 18 if you got your driving licence before 10 September 2009 and the weight of the vehicle and trailer together is under 7,500 kg; Age 18 under certain other circumstances
  9. ^ a b Age 17 if you are a member of the armed services; Age 18 under certain other circumstances
  10. ^ a b c d Age 17 if you are a member of the armed services; Age 18 having passed a PCV test before 10 September 2008 and driving under a bus operator's licence, or minibus permit, or community bus permit and under certain conditions; Age 18 under certain other circumstances; Age 20 after passing a PCV driving test and Driver CPC initial qualification
  11. ^ Age 17 for small road-rollers with metal or hard rollers. They must not be steam powered, weigh more than 11.69 tonnes or be made for carrying loads
  12. ^ Age 17 if the Maximum Authorised Mass of the tracked vehicle doesn’t exceed 3,500 kg

Points and endorsements[edit]

The UK uses cumulative points systems, broadly similar but different in detail in different countries, for offenders.

Points are given for driving offences by law courts, and the licence is endorsed accordingly. A UK driving licence may be endorsed by the courts for various offences, not only for those committed while driving or in charge of a vehicle.[citation needed] If the individual committing the offence does not hold a valid driver's licence the endorsements may be put by until a licence is held.

Most endorsements remain valid for four years; some (such as driving under the influence) are recorded on the licence for 11 years because more severe penalties apply to those convicted twice within 10 years of drunk or drug driving offences.

Twelve points on the licence within three years makes the driver liable to disqualification under the "totting-up" procedure; however this is not automatic and must be decided on by a law court.[24][25] Endorsements remain on the licence for four years, rather than three, to ensure that offences are not removed while still legally applicable.

Driving licence codes[edit]

Certain codes are included on driving licences to indicate restrictions on use. These codes are listed on the back of the card under the column headed "12. Codes" and are listed for each category which is licensed.

The codes and their meanings are as follows:[26]

  • 01 – eyesight correction
  • 02 – hearing/communication aid
  • 10 – modified transmission
  • 15 – modified clutch
  • 20 – modified braking systems
  • 25 – modified accelerator systems
  • 30 – combined braking and accelerator systems
  • 35 – modified control layouts
  • 40 – modified steering
  • 42 – modified rear-view mirror(s)
  • 43 – modified driving seats
  • 44 – modifications to motorbikes
  • 44 (1) – single operated brake
  • 44 (2) – (adjusted) hand operated brake (front wheel)
  • 44 (3) – (adjusted) foot operated brake (back wheel)
  • 44 (4) – (adjusted) accelerator handle
  • 44 (5) – (adjusted) manual transmission and manual clutch
  • 44 (6) – (adjusted) rear-view mirror(s)
  • 44 (7) – (adjusted) commands (direction indicators, braking light, etc)
  • 44 (8) – seat height allowing the driver, in sitting position, to have 2 feet on the road at the same time
  • 45 – motorbikes only with sidecar
  • 46 – tricycles only (for licences issued before 29 June 2014)
  • 70 – exchange of licence
  • 71 – duplicate of licence
  • 78 – restricted to vehicles with automatic transmission
  • 79 – restricted to vehicles in conformity with the specifications stated in brackets on your licence
  • 79.02 – restricted to category AM vehicles of the 3-wheel or light quadricycle type
  • 79.03 – restricted to tricycles
  • 96 – allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer where the trailer weighs at least 750 kg, and the combined weight of the vehicle and trailer is between 3,500 kg and 4,250 kg
  • 97 – not allowed to drive category C1 vehicles which are required to have a tachograph fitted
  • 101 – not for hire or reward (that is, not to make a profit)
  • 102 – drawbar trailers only
  • 103 – subject to certificate of competence
  • 105 – vehicle not more than 5.5 metres long
  • 106 – restricted to vehicles with automatic transmissions
  • 107 – not more than 8,250 kilograms
  • 108 – subject to minimum age requirements
  • 110 – limited to transporting persons with restricted mobility
  • 111 – limited to 16 passenger seats
  • 113 – limited to 16 passenger seats except for automatics
  • 114 – with any special controls required for safe driving
  • 115 – organ donor
  • 118 – start date is for earliest entitlement
  • 119 – weight limit for vehicle does not apply
  • 121 – restricted to conditions specified in the Secretary of State’s notice
  • 122 – valid on successful completion: Basic Moped Training Course
  • 125 – tricycles only (for licences issued before 29 June 2014)

Use as general proof of identity[edit]

The use of driving licence cards as a proof of identity of a person is murky within UK law as it is approached today. Identity cards for UK nationals were introduced in 2009 on a voluntary basis, and the attempt to introduce a nationwide identity-card scheme in 2010 was reversed mid-course. Its in-progress database was halted and then destroyed.[citation needed]

Only workers in certain high-security professions, such as airport workers, were required to have an identity card in 2009, and this remains the case today. Therefore, driving licences, particularly the photocard driving licence introduced in 1998, along with passports, are the most widely used ID documents in the United Kingdom. Since many people do not carry their passports in public without an advance knowledge that they are going to need them, this leaves driving licences as the only valid form of ID to be presented. In day-to-day life, most authorities do not ask for identification from individuals in a sudden manner although this may become a concern in instances of stop and search.[citation needed]


Drivers are not legally obliged to carry a driving licence while driving, but section 164 of the Road Traffic Act 1998[27] allows a police officer to require a driver to produce a driving licence within seven days at a police station chosen by the driver. This was known colloquially as "a producer", as exemplified in Smiley Culture's hit single Police Officer.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "s.192 Road Traffic Act 1988 – General Interpretation of Act". Legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  2. ^ "Provisional Driving Licence". Young Car Driver. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  3. ^ "Direct.gov Motoring". Direct.gov.uk. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  4. ^ a b "Road Traffic Act 1988 s.89". Statutelaw.gov.uk. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  5. ^ "Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) Regulations 1999 reg. 16" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 31 October 2008. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  6. ^ Motorways Traffic (England and Wales) Regulations 1982 reg. 11 ISBN 0-11-027163-7
  7. ^ "Towing with a car". Government of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 6 February 2017.  UKOpenGovernmentLicence.svg This content is available under the Open Government Licence v3.0. © Crown copyright.
  8. ^ "Motor vehicle documentation learner and restricted driver requirements". Nidirect.gov.uk. 2009-10-04. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  9. ^ "Statutory Rules of Northern Ireland DVA website" (PDF). doeni.gov.uk. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 August 2012. 
  10. ^ "Road Traffic (New Drivers) Act 1995, ss.1 to 4". Statutelaw.gov.uk. Retrieved 2013-10-24. [permanent dead link]
  11. ^ "Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, s.45(5)". Statutelaw.gov.uk. 1992-01-07. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  12. ^ "Renew your driving licence if you're 70 or over". Retrieved 29 May 2014. 
  13. ^ "Forklift Training". Wanadrive.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  14. ^ "Union Flags now feature on British driving licences". gov.uk. Retrieved 2016-03-12. 
  15. ^ a b "Licensed to drive". Motor. 23 May 1970. p. 32. 
  16. ^ Mostrous, Alexi (20 December 2007). "81 facts about the Queen". The Times. Retrieved 10 May 2011. 
  17. ^ "1903 – 2003: 100 Years of Licensing and Registration in Britain". showplatesdirect.com. Retrieved 26 April 2015. 
  18. ^ "UK | Drivers face new photocard licence". BBC News. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  19. ^ "Driving licence changes". Gov.uk. Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. 22 December 2014. Retrieved 7 January 2015. 
  20. ^ "The photocard driving licence explained". nidirect.gov.uk. 2016-05-17. Retrieved 2016-09-14. 
  21. ^ "DVLA INF45/1 "Your new Driving Licence" June 2008" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  22. ^ "ID checking guidelines for DBS check applications" (HTML). 2015-10-23. Retrieved 2017-02-15. 
  23. ^ "DirectGov – The vehicles you can drive or ride and minimum ages". Direct.gov.uk. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  24. ^ ""Endorsements, penalty points and disqualification", Direct.gov.uk". Gov.uk. 2013-07-19. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  25. ^ "New Driving Laws and What They Mean For Drivers". absolutereg.co.uk. 2015-08-06. 
  26. ^ https://www.gov.uk/driving-licence-codes (OGL 3.0)
  27. ^ "Road Traffic Act 1988". Legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  28. ^ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/culture-obituaries/music-obituaries/8386589/Smiley-Culture.html

External links[edit]