Driving licence in the United Kingdom

The front and reverse sides of a full UK driving licence.

In the United Kingdom, the driving licence is the official document which authorises its holder to operate various types of motor vehicle on public roads. 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). Whilst a licence is required to drive on a public road,[1] any person may drive on private land with the consent of the landowner, but it is illegal – regardless of any licence – to drive without lawful authority on any common public land, such as moorland.[2]

Contents

Background

In the United Kingdom, the minimum driving age for a car or van is 17 while a moped or restricted-power motorcycle can be ridden at 16. Anyone receiving Disability Living Allowance at the higher rate (mobility component) may drive a car or van from the age of 16.[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] It is optional to display newly passed green on white 'P' (for Probationer) plates on the vehicle of newly passed drivers.

UK licences distinguish between automatic and manual transmission vehicles, dependent upon which type of vehicle the driving test is passed in. 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.

Forklift trucks require a separate licence, issued by third-party training companies rather than the DVLA/DSA, which regulate all other vehicles.[12]

Whilst the DVLA has included Welsh on driver licences issued in Wales for many years, requests for Scots Gaelic – also an official language in the UK – to be included on licences issued in Scotland have so far been rejected.

History

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".[13] 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".[13] 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.[14] She also does not require number plates on any vehicles which are personally owned by her.[15]

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,[16] 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.

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:[17]

  • 1–5: The first five characters of the surname (padded with 9s if less 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.[18]

Theory testing

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 earnt 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 codes

This is a list of the codes that might be found on a UK driving licence.

Licence code Vehicle type Minimum age Notes[Notes 1]
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 Motorcycle 17 Motorcycles up to 25 kW (33 bhp) and a power to mass ratio not exceeding 0.16 kW/kg. Motorcycle combination with a power mass ratio not exceeding 0.16 kW/kg.
A Motorcycle 21 [Notes 2] Any size motorcycle with or without a sidecar.
B1 3 or 4 wheeled light vehicles 17 [Notes 3] Motor tricycles/quadricycles up to 550 kg (1,200 lb) unladen.
B Cars 17 [Notes 4]
  • Motor vehicles with a MAM not exceeding 3,500 kg having not more than 8 passenger seats with a trailer up to 750 kg (1,700 lb).
  • Combinations of vehicles in Category B and a trailer, where MAM of the combination does not exceed 3,500 kg (7,700 lb) and the MAM of the trailer does not exceed the unladen mass of the towing vehicle.
    Example: A vehicle with an unladen weight of 1.25 tonnes and a MAM of 2 tonnes coupled with a trailer with a MAM of 1.25 tonnes could be driven by the holder of a category B entitlement, as the MAM of the combination does not exceed the unladen weight of the towing vehicle.
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 Vehicles between 3,500 kg and 7,500 kg with a trailer up to 750 kg.
C1+E Medium sized vehicle with trailers 18 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 18 Vehicles over 7,500 kg with a trailer up to 750 kg.
C+E Large vehicles with trailers 18 Vehicles over 7,500 kg with a trailer over 750 kg.
D1 Minibuses 18 Vehicles with between 9 and 16 passenger seats with a trailer up to 750 kg. See also under B
D1+E Minibuses with trailers 18 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 18 [Notes 7] Any bus with more than 8 passenger seats with a trailer up to 750 kg.
D+E Buses with trailers 18 Any bus with more than 8 passenger seats with a trailer over 750 kg.
f Agricultural tractors 16 [Notes 8] N/A
g Road rollers 21 [Notes 9] N/A
h Tracked vehicles 21 N/A
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)
Notes 
  1. ^ MAM = Maximum authorised mass
  2. ^ Age 21 or 2 years from date of standard A 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 member of armed forces; age 18 under certain other circumstances
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ 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

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[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.[19] Endorsements remain on the licence for four, rather than three, years to ensure that offences are not removed while still legally applicable.

References

External links


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