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UK Driving Licence Explained

Posted by Greg Saunderson on

The latest government statistics estimate there are 32.7 million driving licence holders, that’s a massive 75% of English residents aged 17 and over, but how many of us understand the symbols and numbers on our driving licence or even what to do when we move house?

In this article, we aim to answer the most common questions asked about UK driving licences.

Jump to section:

How to change the address on a driving licence

How to renew driving licence

How do I renew my old paper licence?

Are paper licences still valid?

How often do I need to renew my driving licence?

How much does it cost to renew driving licence?

Do you have to cut up your old driving licence?

How much does a driving licence cost?

How much does a provisional licence cost?

Other driving licence fees

How can I find out my driving licence number?

Where is the issue number on my driving licence?

What can I drive on my licence?

Vehicle categories explained

Driving licence exeptions

What do the codes on a driving licence mean?

What is the traffic light symbol on my driving licence?

Do you have to carry your driving licence?

How to change the address on a driving licence

It’s free to change your address with the DVLA and the quickest and easiest way to do this is online.  

Processes will differ depending on whether you’re from  Great Britain or Northern Ireland and before you start filling in the forms you will need:

  • Your Driving Licence
  • Passport & National Insurance number (if available)
  • Your addresses for the last 3 years
  • Not to be banned from driving

If you are wanting to change your name at the same time then this has to be done by post.

Providing there are no other issues such as driving bans, you can continue to drive whilst waiting for your new driving licence to arrive.

moving boxes out of car

If you are moving abroad then you are unable to register your new address on a British driving licence and you need to contact the driving licence authority in your new country of residence.

Did you know you can be fined up to £1,000 if you do not tell the DVLA when your address changes? You should also remember to change the address on your vehicle log book, insurance and if you pay by direct debit your vehicle tax.

How to renew driving licence

If you have a valid UK passport you can renew your driving licence online.

To renew your driving licence online you will need to be a resident of Great Britain as the service varies in Northern Ireland. You’ll also be unable to renew your driving licence online if you are disqualified from driving.

 Before you start the online form you should have the following to hand:

  • Addresses lived at for the last 3 years
  • Your current driving licence
  • Your national insurance number
  • A method of payment where applicable (i.e. credit or debit card)

    If you do not have a valid passport then you can renew your driving licence at a post office, be sure to take with you:

    • Your photocard licence, if available
    • Payment information
    • Reminder letter - If you do not have your reminder letter you will be unable to renew without your photocard licence.

    You can also renew by post, collecting a D1 pack from the post office. Once you have completed the form you will need to include a recent passport photo, your current photocard licence and a check or postal order for any applicable fees. If you are changing your name you will also need to remember to include identity documents to support this.

    How do I renew my old paper licence?

    You can renew a paper driving licence online, at the post office, or by post. You will need:

    Online

    By Post or Post Office

    • Your driving licence
    • To be a resident of Great Britain
    • Meet the minimum eyesight requirements
    • Not be prevented from driving
    • A form of payment (ie credit or debit card)
    • Have either a UK passport or other form of identity
    • Your national insurance number
    • A list of your addresses for the last 3 years
    • D1 form, available from most post offices
    • Identity documents (original format only)
    • A colour passport photo
    • Payment method for any applicable fees (do not post cash)

     


    Are paper licences still valid?

    Paper licences are still valid in the UK, they only need to be replaced if:

    • You change address
    • Its lost, damaged or stolen
    • You change your name
    • It is no longer valid
    • You are getting a Driver Certificate of Professional Competence driver qualification card

    How often do I need to renew my driving licence?

    If you have a photocard driving licence, it will need to be renewed every 10 years. You should receive a reminder shortly before your licence ends.

    If you are over 70, your driving license should be renewed every 3 years.

    How much does it cost to renew my driving licence?

    It currently costs £14 to renew a UK driving licence online, there is no fee for those over 70 or who have a medical short-term driving licence.

    If you choose to renew your driving licence at a post office then it will cost £21.50 and if you apply by post it will be £17.

    If you are replacing a paper driving licence for a photocard with no change of details it costs £20.

    Do you have to cut up your old driving licence?

    Yes, if you are applying for a new licence you will be instructed to cut up and return your old driving licence to the DVLA.

    When your new licence arrives and at the end of your online application you will receive instructions on this.

    How much does a driving licence cost?

    If you are applying for your first full driving licence after passing your test it is free however, if you wish to replace the photo with that on your provisional licence it is £17.

    How much does a provisional driving licence cost?

    Applying online for your first provisional licence costs £34, if you wish to apply by post then it is £43.

    Other driving licence fees:

    Reason

    Online

    By Post

    Change photo

    £14

    £17

    Change photo and name

    NA

    £17

    Photo and address

    £14

    £17

    Add, renew or remove an entitlement such as being able to drive a bus or lorry

    NA

    Free

    Full foreign licence if a GB licence has not been held

    NA

    £43

    Disqualification excluding drink driving

    NA

    £65

    Disqualified for drink driving and need to pass a medical exam

    NA

    £90

    Disqualified from driving and no medical exam needed

    NA

    £65

    Given driving licence back after it was revoked under the New Drivers Act

    NA

    £50

    Given driving licence back after it was revoked for not handing over to authorities

    NA

    Free

     

    How can I find out my driving licence number?

    Your driving licence number is point 5 on the front of your photocard licence and is 16 characters long.

    front of driving licence

    1

    2

    3

    4

    5

    SMITH

    657054

    SM

    1FD

    01

     

    1. The first part of the number will be the first 5 letters of your surname. If there are less than 5 letters this will be padded out with additional 9’s
    2. The first and last numbers after your surname are the year of birth, the second and third numbers will be your month of birth. For females a 5 is added to the second number and the total used as the second digit. The fourth and fifth digits are your day of birth
    3. The third section of your driving licence number is made up of the first initial of your first name and your middle name. If no middle name is given you will see a 9
    4. The fourth part of your driving licence number is a randomly generated sequence of numbers

    Where is the issue number on a driving licence?

    Your driving licence issue number is next to your driving licence number and does not form part of the 16 characters, illustrated by point 5 in the previous image. For each driving licence you are issued this number will increase.

    What can I drive on my licence?

    The details of what vehicles you can drive can be found on the back of your photocard licence. There are different licence categories for Northern Ireland.

    Each type of vehicle is called an entitlement, these may have restrictions based on codes found on the licence.

    back of driving licence

    Vehicle categories explained

    On the back of your licence you will see pictures of vehicles that illustrate the types of vehicles. Each will have a combination of letters and numbers next to them that specify the types of vehicle and categories that you can drive:

    Vehicle Type

    Category

    Minimum Age

    Additional Driving Test Required

    Description

    Mopeds

    AM

    16

    Yes

    2 or 3 wheeled vehicles with a maximum speed of over 15.5 mph but no more than 28mph. This includes light quad bikes.

    Mopeds

    P

    16

     

    2 wheeled vehicles with speeds of over 28mph but no more than 31mph. If powered by an internal combustion engine, the engine size must be no more than 50cc

    Mopeds

    Q

    16

     

    2 and 3 wheeled vehicles without pedals and an engine size of no more than 50cc if powered by an internal combustion engine and a maximum speed design of no more than 15.5mph.

    This category includes trial e-scooters.

    Motorcycles

    A1

    17

    Yes

    Light motorbikes:

    • Engine size up to 125cc
    • Power output of up to 11kW
    • Power to weight ratio of no more than 0.1kW/kg

    This includes motor tricycles with a power output of up to 15kW

    Motorcycles

    A2

    19

     

    Motorbikes with:

    • A power output of no more than 35kW
    • Power to weight ratio of no more than 0.2kW/kg

    The vehicle should not be derived from a vehicle of more than double its power.

    You are also able to drive motorbikes from category A1

    Motorcycles

    A

    24

    Yes

    • Motorbikes with a power output of more than 35kW or a power to weight ratio of more than 0.2kW/kg
    • Motor tricycles with a power output of more than 15kW

    You are also able to drive motorcycles from categories A1 and A2.

    Light vehicles and quad bikes

    B1

    17

     

    Vehicles with 4 wheels:

    • 400kg unladen
    • 550kg when designed for carrying goods

    Cars

    B (if test passed before 1 January 1997)

    17

     

    Usually, this allows you to drive a vehicle and trailer up to 8,250kg maximum authorised mass (MAM).

    This information should be checked on your driving licence.

    You are also able to drive a minibus with a trailer up to 750kg MAM.

    Cars

    B (tests passed on or after 1 January 1997)

    17

     

    This allows you to drive vehicles up to 3,500kg MAM with up to 8 passenger seats with a trailer up to 750kg.

    You can tow heavier trailers if the MAM of both the vehicle and trailer is no more than 3,500kg.

    If over the age of 21, you are allowed to drive motor tricycles with a power output of over 15kW.

    If you are physically disabled and have a provisional category B entitlement you also have provisional entitlement to ride category A1 or A tricycles.

    Cars

    B auto

    17

     

    You are entitled to drive a category B vehicle but only if it is automatic.

    Medium-sized vehicles

    C1

    18

    Yes

    Vehicles between 3,500kg and 7,500kg MAM with a trailer of up to 750kg

    Medium-sized vehicles

    C1E

    18

    Yes

    This allows you to drive C1 category vehicles with trailers over 750kg but the combined MAM of both must not exceed 12,000kg

    Large Vehicles

    C

    21

    Yes

    Allows you to drive vehicles over 3,500kg with a trailer of up to 750kg MAM

    Large Vehicles

    CE

    21

    Yes

    You may drive category C vehicles with trailers over 750kg

    Minibuses

    D1

    21

    Yes

    • Vehicles with no more than 16 passenger seats
    • Maximum length of 8 metres
    • Trailers of up to 750kg

    Minibuses

    D1E

    21

    Yes

    In addition to the D1, you can use trailers of over 750kg providing the combined MAM of both does not exceed 12,000kg

    Buses

    D

    24

    Yes

    This allows you to drive a bus with more than 8 passengers seats with a trailer of up to 750kg MAM

    Buses

    DE

    24

    Yes

    As with buses category D except you can have a trailer over 750kg

     

    Other categories you may see on a driving licence include:

    Vehicle

    Category

    Minimum Age

    Additional Driving Test Required

    Agricultural Tractor

    F

    17

     

    Road Roller

    G

    21

    Yes

    Tracked Vehicles

    H

    21

    Yes

    Mowing machine or pedestrian controlled vehicle

    K

    16

     

    Electrically propelled vehicle

    L

     

     

    Trolley vehicles

    M

     

     

    Exempt from duty

    N

     

     


    Next to each category, there is a valid from date and valid to date. If no date is shown, then you are not entitled to drive that category of vehicle.

    Driving licence exemptions

    Driving licences are not required for electric bikes, mobility scooters and powered wheelchairs.

    What do the codes on a driving licence mean?

    Driving licence codes differ from categories as they tell you what conditions apply. You will find them in section 12 on the back of your photocard driving licence.

    There are over 50 codes, some of the most common include:

    01 – Eyesight correction is needed such as glasses or contact lenses

    02 – A hearing or communication aid is needed

    79(3) – Restricted to tricycles

    118 – Start date is for earliest entitlement

    122 – This category of your driving licence is valid upon completion of a basic moped training course

    What is the traffic light symbol on my driving licence?

    The traffic light symbol on the back of your driving licence is a security feature and has no bearing on any endorsements.

    Do you have to carry your driving licence?

    There are no legal requirements to carry your driving licence with you, however, should you be stopped by the police they can ask you to show your:

    • Driving licence
    • Insurance certificate
    • MOT certificate
    police car with flashing lights

      If you do not have these documents on you, you will have 7 days to take them to the police station. If you do not take any requested documents to the police within 7 days you are breaking the law.

      Summary

      Hopefully, we have cleared up some of your driving licence questions. Find out more news in our blog including road sign meanings and UK speed limits and fines.


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