Getting a Driving Licence in the UK
Information on driving permits in Great Britain: details on applying for a learner's licence and registering for a driving test in England, Scotland and Wales...
To drive legally in the UK, a driver must be the minimum age of 17 years, hold the appropriate driving licence for the vehicle and meet the legal eyesight standards.
Visitors of 17 years and older, with a valid permit issued elsewhere in the world, may drive in the UK for up to 12 months. After 12 months, some foreign licences remain valid for use in the UK for a limited period; some may be exchanged for a UK licence; some cease to be valid and a full driving test must be taken, for a British licence to be issued.
- To find out which licences may be used and for how long, and which must be exchanged, see the Guide Exchanging a Foreign Driving Licence in the UK
Types of Driving Licences
The minimum age for driving a car is 17 years. For mopeds it is 16 and for motorcycles, depending on the power of the bike, it may be from 17 to 21 years.
There are two types of licence:
Provisional licences are for drivers who:
- Have never had a full licence
- Are not able to show they are entitled to a full driving licence
There are certain restrictions for holders of a provisional licence, both for car and motorcycle drivers:
- Car drivers must be accompanied by a front-seat passenger seat who is over 21 and has had a full driving licence for at least three years
- Motorcyclists must not drive a motorbike that is above 125cc, in Northern Ireland, or a motorbike that is above 14.6bhp.
- In England, Wales and Scotland, a motorcyclist must not drive a motorbike on a public road unless they are taking a compulsory basic training course
- Motorcyclists must not carry a passenger on the motorbike
- L-plates (D-plates in Wales) must be displayed on the front and back of the vehicle
A full licence is issued to a driver that has passed a driving test in the UK, within the previous two years.
How to get a Driving Licence in Great Britain
In order to qualify for a driving licence for a vehicle or motorbike, candidates must pass both a theory and hazard perception test followed by a supervised driving test.
Enrolment at a driving school is not mandatory, although learner drivers must be accompanied by a driver aged at least 21, and with a minimum of three years' driving experience.
Learner plates 'L' plates ('D' plates in Wales) must be fixed to the front and back of the car.
Driving instructors must be registered and approved by the Driving Standards Agency before they can charge a fee for lessons.
Legal obligations of drivers
Third party insurance is obligatory in the UK. In addition to the minimum insurance requirements, all vehicles must be registered with the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency (DVLA), have a valid tax disc and an MOT test certificate, if applicable, before being taken on the road.
A Valid MOT test certificate is required on any vehicle that is 3 or more years old.
- GOV.UK has further information on MOTs and vehicle insurance
The DVLA must be informed of any medical condition that may affect a person's ability to drive. Check if a medical condition must be reported to the DVLA
Applying for a Driving Licence
Before learning to drive a motor car, moped or motorcycle, the learner must have a provisional driving licence. This can be applied for in person, by completing a D1 form at a post office and sending it to the DVLA or by completing the form online.
A provisional driving licence can be applied for at 15 years and 9 months old. The provisional license states when the applicant can begin driving different vehicles. Applicants have to wait until their 17th birthday to drive a car. Those who have applied for, or receive the enhanced rate of the mobility component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), can apply for a provisional licence and take the driving test at 16 years old.
- Gov.UK has more information on applying and the documents required
- The same site also has more information on vehicles that can be driven and the minimum age
The Driving Test
There is a fee for both the theory and practical test.
The theory test
Once the provisional driving licence has been received, the learner driver may take their theory test. The theory test must be successfully passed before the practical test can be booked. The theory exam includes multiple choice questions and a hazard perception test. To prepare for the test, candidates need to study the Highway Code.
- Find the nearest theory test centre
- Read more on what is involved in the theory test
- See some free sample theory tests
Facilities are available for people whose first language is not English, either by voiceover or a translator. Other options are available for people with specific needs, for example reading or hearing difficulties.
The practical test
It is usually necessary to pass the theory test before booking a practical test. The number on test pass certificate is required when booking a practical test. The test starts with an eyesight check, then a test of knowledge of The Highway Code and then a test to check the ability to drive safely. If the eyesight test is failed, the exam may not be continued. If the eyesight check is passed, the rest of the exam continues and lasts approximately 50 minutes.
- Comprehensive information on the driving test in most of the UK
- More information on the driving test in Northern Ireland
The candidate needs to take the following to the practical test:
- Insured and licensed vehicle with L plates
- Theory test certificate
- Copy of the appointment letter, or email confirmation for the test date
- Provisional driving licence (and photographic ID if the licence is a paper version)
The examiner notifies the candidate immediately after the test if they have passed or failed. If they have passed, they can choose to have their driving licence issued automatically. The examiner scans the provisional driving licence, and sends the information through electronically to the DVLA. A pass certificate is given as proof, until the new driving licence is sent by the DVLA (usually within four weeks).
If the candidate fails the test, the examiner provides some feedback. Another test may be taken, no sooner than three working days, after the previous test.
The practical driving test includes a section on independent driving, which involves driving following directions and traffic signs for approximately ten minutes. This part of the exam is to test a person's ability to make independent decisions when driving.
Mainly for new drivers, the Pass Plus scheme is a six-hour course, which allows drivers to qualify for a car insurance discount. The course must be completed with an Approved Driving Instructor; it prepares a driver for all driving conditions.
- More information on the Pass Plus scheme
An application for a driving license can be made as soon as the applicant has passed the practical driving test. The driving licence is issued by the DVLA in England, Wales and Scotland. In Northern Ireland driving licences are issued by the Driver and Vehicle Agency.
The licence is the size of a credit card, and bears a photograph with details of the category of vehicles the holder is entitled to drive.
As of June 2015 the paper counterpart document setting out any valid endorsements including penalty points is no longer issued or valid. New penalty points are to be recorded electronically and the information held on the on the on the DVLA’s driver record. This record can be viewed online, by phone or post.
- Note: The new rule does not apply to photocard licences issued in Northern Ireland
Gov.UK have a free View Driving Licence Service where details such as penalty points can be viewed online. As of May 19 2015 a Share Driving License Service is also available. This allows driving licence holders to share their DVLA information with others online.
Renewal and validity
In the event of a name or address change, the driving licence must be updated. This can be done online, or by post. The new licence is issued free of charge, unless the photograph needs renewing.
A photocard style licence must be renewed every ten years, either by post or at selected post offices. In most cases, a renewal reminder is sent by post to the licence holder. There is a small fee for this service.
Driving licences are valid until the holder is 70 years old. The DVLA sends a renewal form approximately 90 days before the 70th birthday. Once a licence has been renewed, it is valid for a further three years.
- Read more on updating a licence
New drivers and penalty points
A licence is revoked, if a new driver accumulates six penalty points, within two years of passing their first driving test.
- Read more on driving disqualification
Mopeds, Scooters and Motorbikes
Mopeds and scooters drivers must be at least 16 years old; some other categories of motorbike may only be driven from age 17 and some from age 18.
To learn to drive a two-wheeler, first apply for a provisional driving licence and complete a compulsory basic training (CBT) course in order to validate it within two years. L-plates must be attached to the bike during the learning period.
A theory and practical test must be passed to ride a moped or motorbike.
- More information on getting a moped or motorbike licence from Gov.UK
Replacing a Driving Licence
In the case of a lost, stolen or damaged licence, a replacement can be applied for by telephone, by post or online. There is a charge for this service. If the licence is lost or stolen, the police should be informed.
- Apply online to replace a lost, stolen or damaged drivers licence
Penalties and Endorsements
Penalty point endorsements are added to a licence when a driver is convicted of committing certain driving offences. As of June 8 2015 new penalty points will only be recorded electronically. They will no longer be printed or written on either photocard licences or paper driving licences. This information will be held on the DVLA's driver record database. This record can be viewed online, by phone or post.
- GOV.UK has a free View Driving Licence Service where details such as penalty points, disqualifications and what vehicles can be driven can be viewed online
- A licence holder can apply to the DVLA to have the endorsements removed for a small charge.
Drivers who have been disqualified, should receive a reminder from the DVLA eight weeks before the end of the disqualification period, to apply for a new licence. If a reminder is not sent, a D1 form should be filled in and sent to the DVLA, as with all new licences.
- Read further information on penalties and disqualification
- Drivers' Customer Services (DCS)
- Tel: 0300 790 6801, Monday to Friday from 08:00-20:30, Saturday from 08:00-17:30
- For information on getting a driving licence in Northern Ireland see the Driver and Vehicle Agency website
- Information on driving licences from Yourdrivinglicence.co.uk