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Driving licences

This information applies to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

When you need a licence

You need a licence to drive most vehicles on a public road. A public road is one which is the responsibility of the local authority or the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

You do not need a licence to drive any vehicle on a private road. A private road is one to which the public does not have access, for example, a road on a private estate.

However, there are some vehicles which do not require a licence, either on a public or a private road. The most common examples of these are bicycles and horse drawn carts.

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Age requirements for driving

Ages at which you can drive

The type of vehicle you can drive depends upon when you got your licence and your age. The rules changed about this on on January 19 2013. Your licence will tell you what you can drive.

If you haven’t passed your test yet, you can see the types of vehicle you can drive at different ages at www.gov.uk.

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The type of vehicle the licence covers

Your licence will tell you the types of vehicle you are allowed to drive. You can find out more about the categories at www.gov.uk.

Vans, lorries and passenger carrying vehicles

These vehicles do not require a special licence but do require you to have additional entitlements, for example to drive vans, lorries or passenger carrying vehicles. If you are unsure what type of licence you need you should consult the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), in Northern Ireland Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA), - for address, see under heading Further help.

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Types of driving licence

A driving licence is either a ‘provisional’ licence or a ‘full’ licence.

Provisional driving licence

You must apply for a provisional licence if:-

  • you have never had a full licence; or
  • you are unable to show you are entitled to a full driving licence.

If you want to drive a motorbike, and are applying for a provisional licence, you should indicate this on the application form. If you already have a full licence covering groups B, C1, D1 or P (see under heading The type of vehicle the licence covers), you can use it automatically as a provisional licence for driving a motorbike.

Restrictions on the use of a provisional licence

A provisional licence has certain restrictions on its use. If you have a provisional licence to drive a motorbike:-

  • you must not drive a motorbike that is above 125cc, in Northern Ireland, in addition, you must not drive a motorbike that is above 14.6bhp
  • you must not drive a motorbike on a public road unless you have taken or are in the process of taking a compulsory basic training course
  • you must not carry a passenger on the motorbike
  • you must display ‘L’ plates (‘D’ plates in Wales) on the front and back of the vehicle
  • you must not drive on a motorway.

If you have a provisional licence to drive a car or other vehicle (except a motorbike):-

  • you must display ‘L’ plates on the front and back of the vehicle (or ‘D’ plates in Wales)
  • you must not drive on a motorway
  • if the vehicle has more than one seat, you must have someone with you whenever you are driving. The person supervising you must sit in the front passenger seat and be fit to drive the vehicle, for example, they must not be drunk. They must also be aged 21 or over and have had a full driving licence for at least three years.

However, if you have passed a driving test and are still waiting to receive a full licence you are not subject to the above restrictions.

Full driving licence

You are entitled to apply for a full driving licence if you have passed a driving test in the UK within the previous two years.

If you have a full driving licence issued outside of the UK, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, see under heading Driving Abroad.

Restrictions on the use of a full licence

A full licence does not have any restrictions on its use other than those relating to:-

  • the age of the driver (see under heading Age requirements for driving)
  • supervision of learner drivers (see under heading Types of driving licence)
  • the type of vehicle the licence covers (see under heading The type of vehicle the licence covers)
  • the medical condition of the driver, for example, defective eyesight which cannot be corrected by glasses. You must tell the DVLA about any health condition that might affect your ability to drive
  • in Northern Ireland, once you have passed your driving test, you must display 'R' plates at the front and back of the vehicle for one year. You must not exceed the speed of 45 mph.

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How to apply for a driving licence

You can get information on how to apply for a driving licence at: www.gov.uk.

Licences are issued in two parts. One section is a credit card sized photocard and contains details of the categories of vehicles which you are entitled to drive. The other section is a paper document setting out your licence entitlement history and any valid endorsements, including penalty points and disqualification periods. These licences are called photocard licences.

Photocard licences must be renewed every ten years to ensure the photograph remains up to date.

Paper licences issued before the introduction of photocard licences remain valid until they run out or the details on them need to be changed.

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When you can start driving

If you have applied for a first provisional licence, you must not start driving until you receive the licence. This will usually be at least three weeks. If you have a medical condition, you may have to wait longer because more information may be needed before the licence is issued.

If you have had a licence before (and are still entitled to one) and are not applying for your first provisional licence and there are no medical problems, you are allowed to drive as soon as the application form reaches DVLA (DVA in Northern Ireland). You do not have to wait until you receive the licence.

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Compulsory basic training for motorcycles and mopeds

All learner moped and motorcycle riders (except for those listed below) must complete a compulsory basic training (CBT) course.

These people do not have to complete a CBT course:-

  • people who are learning to drive a motorbike and who have already obtained full moped entitlement as a result of passing a moped test on or after 1 December 1990
  • people riding a moped with the full entitlement given automatically with a full car licence.

CBT courses are run by motorcycle training bodies approved by the Driving Standards Agency. They are listed under ‘motorcycle training’ in the Yellow pages or ‘motorcycling instruction’ in Thompson directories. For further information about CBT courses, contact the Driving Standards Agency on 0115 936 6547.

If you have a provisional licence which is restricted to the use of motorbikes or scooters, this will last for an initial period of two years. If you have not passed the test by the end of two years you will have to wait one year before applying to renew the licence. During this year you will not be able to drive a motorbike or scooter.

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Problems with sight

In order to get or keep a licence, a minimum eyesight standard must be met.

If you need glasses or contact lenses to meet the eyesight standard, you must always wear them when you drive. If you drive without wearing your lenses or glasses, you are committing an offence.

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Disqualifications and endorsements

Disqualifications in England, Wales and Scotland

If you have been disqualified from driving, you can have a licence again either:-

  • at the end of the disqualification period; or
  • earlier if the disqualification is lifted.

If you intend to wait until the end of the disqualification period, you will usually receive a reminder from the DVLA eight weeks before the end of the disqualification period to apply for a new licence. If you do not receive a reminder, you should fill in form D1 available from the post office and send it to the DVLA.

You can apply to the court which dealt with your case to have the disqualification lifted if you have been disqualified for a minimum of two years. When you can apply, depends on the length of time for which you were disqualified.

For some driving offences a court can disqualify you and order that you be re-tested. If the offence is very serious the court can order that you are ‘disqualified until test passed’ and that you must take a double-practical driving test known as an ‘extended driving test’. You will therefore need to apply for a provisional licence. A fee is payable for this.

The rules about when to apply to the court are complicated and someone who is thinking about this course of action should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

Disqualifications in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, if you were disqualified for less than 56 days, the DVA will endorse your licence and give it back to you. You will not need to renew your licence at the end of the disqualification period. If you’re disqualified for 56 days or more you’ll need to reapply for a licence before you can return to driving. For further information see the nidirect website www.nidirect.gov.uk.

Endorsements

You may incur penalty point endorsements on your licence for being convicted of committing certain driving offences. After a certain time you can apply to the DVLA on form D1 (DVA in Northern Ireland on form DL1) to have endorsements removed for a small charge. The time you will have to wait to have endorsements removed from your licence will vary according to the type of driving offence committed. This is usually four years, unless you have been convicted of a drinking and driving offence (in which case it is eleven years).

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Lost, stolen or defaced licences

If your licence is stolen or lost, you should tell the police as soon as possible. You should also apply for a duplicate licence using form D1 (DL1 in Northern Ireland). You can obtain this form from the post office (also at local vehicle licensing offices in Northern Ireland) and send it to the DVLA (DVA in Northern Ireland). There is a charge for obtaining a duplicate licence. Duplicate licences may also be obtained by phoning the DVLA – for telephone number, see under heading Further help.

If your licence is defaced or destroyed in some way so that the information on it is no longer clear, you have to apply for a duplicate licence (see above). You do not have to tell the police in this situation.

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Change of name or address

Paper driving licences

If you hold a paper driving licence and you need to notify a change of name or address, you must complete a D1 (DL1 in Northern Ireland) application form, available from most post offices.

Photocard driving licences

If you hold a photocard driving licence and you need to notify a change of address, you should complete the changes section on your paper counterpart licence and send it to the DVLA together with your photocard licence. If you need to notify a change of name, you should use form D1.

For both paper and photocard driving licences, documentary evidence of a change of name is required, for example, a birth certificate, passport or deed poll. You can continue to drive whilst you are waiting for the licence to be returned to you. The DVLA does not make a charge for changing the details of your name and address. However, you may be fined for not telling the DVLA about a change in your name or address.

In Northern Ireland you should apply to the DVA on form DL1

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Driving abroad

Licences issued in another European Economic Area (EEA) country

If you have a full Great Britain (GB) or Northern Ireland driving licence, you can drive in any Economic European Area (EEA) country on this licence. An International Driving Permit is not required if you have a licence. Countries in the EEA are Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway and the European Union countries.

You can exchange your GB or NI licence for one of the country in which you are living if you want to.

To find out which countries are in the European Union, see The European Union.

Driving outside the EEA

If you wish to drive in a country outside the EEA, you may need to apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP). If you need an IDP you may apply by post to one of the motoring organisations or get one in person from a major post office. You do not have to be a member of the organisation. You can only be issued with an IDP if you have a full GB or Northern Ireland licence.

If you go to live permanently in another country you may be able to exchange your licence for a driving licence in that country. You should check with the driver licensing authority in the country in which you are going to live. The appropriate embassy may be able to provide this information.

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Driving licences issued abroad

Licences issued in another European Economic Area (EEA) country

If you have a full and valid driving licence which has been issued in another EEA country (a ‘Community licence’), you may be able to drive in the UK on this licence. You do not have to exchange it immediately for a GB licence. Provided the Community licence remains valid in the issuing country, and it is a licence to drive an ordinary car you can use it to drive here until you are 70, or for three years after you become resident, whichever is the longer period. If it is a 'vocational licence', for example, a licence to drive a minibus or bus, the rules are different.

However, if you want to, you can exchange your driving licence for a full GB or Northern Ireland licence. You should complete form D1 (DL1 in Northern Ireland) available from post offices or local licensing offices in Northern Ireland and send your own driving licence with the application form. A photocopy will not be accepted. A fee is payable.

To find out which countries are in the EEA, see Timeshare and holiday clubs.

Licences issued outside the EEA

If you have a full and valid driving licence which has been issued in another country other than an EEA country you can drive in the UK on this licence for twelve months.

If you intend to be resident in the UK beyond this period, you can exchange your licence for a full GB or NI licence if it is a British Forces Germany licence or if it was issued in:-

Australia
Barbados
British Virgin Islands
Canada (GB licence only)
Falkland Islands
Hong Kong
Japan
Monaco
New Zealand
Republic of Korea (excluding motorbike licences)
Singapore
South Africa (GB licence only)
Switzerland
Zimbabwe

If you do not exchange your licence before the 12-month period runs out, you will not be able to drive. However, you have a period of five years from the date of last entry into the UK within which you can exchange your licence and then start driving again. If you do not exchange the licence within this period you will have to apply for a provisional licence in the normal way - see under heading How to apply for a driving licence.

If you have a driving licence issued in a country other than those listed above, you must take a UK driving test to obtain a full GB licence if you intend to drive after the initial twelve month period. You must obtain a GB provisional licence before booking a driving test.

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Further help

You can get more information about driving licences at: www.gov.uk.

In Northern Ireland, you can get more information about driving licences from the nidirect website at: www.nidirect.gov.uk.

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