Driving licence in the United Kingdom

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Driving licence in the United Kingdom
Issued by  United Kingdom
Type of document Driving licence
Purpose Identification

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[1] 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.[2][3] 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[4] and be subject to certain conditions.

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 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,[6] 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.[7]

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 Feb 2011[8]). There are no restrictions on newly passed drivers in England, Wales or Scotland (unlike Northern Ireland[9]), 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] The six points remains 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 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.[12]

Forklift trucks require a separate licence, issued by third-party training companies rather than the DVLA/DSA, which regulate all other vehicles.[13]

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.

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 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".[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; 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.[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, 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.

Other than in 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, 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:[21]

  • 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.

Theory testing[edit]

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[edit]

This is a list of the categories that might be found on a driving licence in the United Kingdom.[22]

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]
  • 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 whilst driving or in charge of a vehicle.[citation needed] 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.[23][24] 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[25] allows a police officer to require a driver to produce a driving licence within seven days at a police station chosen by the driver.

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). Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  6. ^ Motorways Traffic (England and Wales) Regulations 1982 reg. 11 ISBN 0-11-027163-7
  7. ^ "Motor vehicle documentation learner and restricted driver requirements". Nidirect.gov.uk. 2009-10-04. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  8. ^ "Statutory Rules of Northern Ireland DVA website" (PDF). doeni.gov.uk. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 August 2012. 
  9. ^ "Motor vehicle documentation learner and restricted driver requirements". nidirect. 2009-10-04. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  10. ^ "Road Traffic (New Drivers) Act 1995, ss.1 to 4". Statutelaw.gov.uk. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  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. ^ "DirectGov - The vehicles you can drive or ride and minimum ages". Direct.gov.uk. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  23. ^ ""Endorsements, penalty points and disqualification", Direct.gov.uk". Gov.uk. 2013-07-19. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  24. ^ "New Driving Laws and What They Mean For Drivers". absolutereg.co.uk. 2015-08-06. 
  25. ^ "Road Traffic Act 1988". Legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 

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