Driving licence in the United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom, the driving licence is the official document which authorises its holder to operate various types of motor vehicle on highways and some other roads to which the public have access. In England, Scotland and Wales they are administered 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 UK by any person driving a vehicle on any highway or other road defined in s.192 Road Traffic Act 1988 irrespective of ownership of the land over which the road passes, thus including many which allow the public to pass over private land; 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 (proof of identity (e.g. when opening a bank account) or age (e.g. when buying alcohol, fireworks etc.)).
Applications for a provisional driving licence can be made from the age of 15 years and 9 months. Valid for driving a moped or light quad bike from aged 16 and a car from aged 17 or 16 for those who get, or have applied for, the higher/enhanced rate of the mobility component of PIP or DLA. Until a United Kingdom driving test (which consists of three sections: theory and a hazard perception test followed by a supervised driving examination) has been passed a driver may hold only a provisional licence and be subject to certain conditions.
The conditions attached to provisional licences of a particular category of vehicle are:
- 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 at least 21 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, excluding B+E learner drivers.
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.
After passing a driving test, the provisional licence may be surrendered within two years in exchange for a full UK licence 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 Feb 2011). There are no restrictions on newly passed drivers in England, Wales or Scotland (unlike Northern Ireland), 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. The six points remains on the new licence until their designated expiry time.
Motor car licences issued in the United Kingdom distinguish between automatic and manual transmission vehicles dependent 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). Whilst 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.
Whilst 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.
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". The wording changed in 1930 after which holders were allowed to "drive or steer a motor car or to drive a motor cycle". It was not clear why a motor cycle would not need to be steered. Shortly afterwards, the document cover changed to a dark red colour: holders were for a period entitled to drive a vehicle of "any class or description". 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; they 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. She also does not require number plates on any vehicles which are personally owned by herself or her closest family members.
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, as well as extending the life of the licence up to the driver's 70th birthday, and extendable at intervals thereafter, subject to the driver's fitness to drive.
Until July 1998, driving licences outside Northern Ireland did not have photographs. 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 "photocard" driving licences are a two-part document, a plastic photocard which has to be renewed every ten years, for a fee, and a paper sheet (the "Counterpart Driving Licence") which is valid until the holder's seventieth birthday. The Counterpart details the individual's driving entitlements and convictions ("endorsements"). Endorsement codes stay on the licence for 4 or 11 years depending on the offence. This Counterpart was due to be phased out in January 2015; this has now been phased out as of 8 June 2015. The information currently recorded on the Counterpart is accessible online via the View Driving Licence service; a separate service will be made available for the use of third parties (such as car hire companies).
Licences issued to residents of England, Northern Ireland and Scotland appear only in English, whilst 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:
- 1–5: The first five characters of the surname (padded with 9s if fewer than 5 characters)
- 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 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.
The theoretical tests in the United Kingdom consists of two sections, which are different for car and motorcycle tests:
- Multiple choice questions – 50 questions with a choice of possible answers, with 57 minutes to answer them. Some questions may have more than one correct answer. At least 43 questions should be answered correctly to pass this section.
- Hazard perception tests – 14 video clips which feature everyday road situations. In each clip there is at least one developing hazard, but one of the clips features two developing hazards. 0 to 5 points are awarded depending on the time taken to notice a hazard. At least 44 points should be earned out of a possible 75 to pass.
Both sections of the theory test are completed on the computer, and both must be passed in order to pass the theory test.
Driving licence categories
This is a list of the categories that might be found on a driving licence in the United Kingdom.
|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 550 kg (1,210 lb) unladen. B1 before 13 January 2013 means 3/4 wheel light vehicle. but licences held still keep this entitlement. but be 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]||
|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).|
- MAM = Maximum authorised mass
- Age 24 or 2 years from date of A2 test pass.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Age 17 if you are a member of the armed services
- 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
- Age 17 if you are a member of the armed services; Age 18 under certain other circumstances
- 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
- 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
- Age 17 if the Maximum Authorised Mass of the tracked vehicle doesn’t exceed 3,500 kg
Points and endorsements
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 whilst driving or in charge of a vehicle. If the individual committing the offence does not hold a valid driving licence the endorsements may be put by until a licence is held.
Most endorsements remain valid for 4 years; some (such as for drink or drug driving) are recorded on the licence for 11 years because more severe penalties apply to those convicted twice within 10 years of drink 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, but must be decided by a law court. Endorsements remain on the licence for four years, rather than three, to ensure that offences are not removed while still legally applicable.
Drivers are not legally obliged to carry a driving licence while driving, but section 164 of the Road Traffic Act 1998 allows a police officer to require a driver to produce a driving licence within seven days at a police station chosen by the driver.
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