Driving license in the UK, is the official document which authorises its holder to operate motor vehicles on highways and other public roads legally . It is administered in England, Scotland and Wales by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and in Northern Ireland by the Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA). A driving licence is required in England, Scotland, and Wales for any person (except the sovereign) driving a vehicle on any highway or other “road”, as defined in s.192 Road Traffic Act 1988, irrespective of the ownership of the land over which the road passes. Similar requirements apply in Northern Ireland under the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1981.
Prior to the UK leaving the European Union on 31 January 2020 and during the transition period which ended on 31 December 2020, a UK driving licence was a European driving licence, adhering to Directive 2006/126/EC and valid throughout the European Economic Area. A new updated design has been issued from January 2021, now simply reading “UK” in larger blue letters, where the EU flag with the circle of stars surrounding the “UK” code used to be.
Since July 2015, all UK driving licence photocards issued by the DVLA have displayed the Union Jack flag on the front of the driving licence. This does not apply to driving licences issued by the DVA in Northern Ireland.
As UK nationals do not normally have identity cards, a photographic driving licence can serve many of the purposes of an identity card in non-driving contexts, such as proof of identity (e.g. when opening a bank account) or of age (e.g. when buying age-restricted goods such as alcohol or tobacco).
Provisional licences and learner drivers
Applications for a provisional driving licence can be made in Great Britain from the age of 15 years and 9 months and in Northern Ireland from 16 years and 10 months. Once a United Kingdom driving test has been passed, the driving licence is valid for driving a moped or light quad bike from age 16, and a car from age 17, or 16 for those who receive, or have applied for, the higher or enhanced rate of the mobility component of PIP or DLA. A driving test consists of three sections: theory, hazard perception and a driving examination. Until this test has been passed, a driver may hold only a provisional licence and is subject to certain conditions.
The conditions attached to provisional licences for a particular category of vehicle are:
- L-plates or (in Wales only) D-plates (Welsh: Dysgwr, “learner”) 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 21 or above 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 passenger carrying vehicle with trailer.
- Motorcycle riders must not carry any pillion passengers.
- Coach or 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, excluding category B (car) licence holders who are learner drivers for the purposes of the trailer category BE, or unless supervised by an Approved Driving Instructor in a car fitted with dual controls.
In Northern Ireland, learner drivers are limited to a speed of 45 mph (72 km/h) and are not permitted on motorways regardless of whether or not they are under instruction by an ADI (Approved Driving Instructor), and drivers who have passed their test within the previous year must display R plates (restricted) and are also limited to a maximum 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 and most L plates have the orange R on the reverse side.
After passing a driving test, the provisional licence may be surrendered within two years in exchange for a full UK licence 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 February 2011).
Newly qualified drivers
There are currently no restrictions on newly qualified drivers in England, Wales or Scotland; however if a newly qualified driver receives six penalty points within two years of passing, the licence is automatically revoked and the driver must pass the full test again; this also applies in Northern Ireland. These six points remain on the new licence until their designated expiry time.
In Northern Ireland, new drivers must display orange “R” plates for 1 year after passing the test, and are limited to a maximum speed of 45 mph.
In the Isle of Man (a UK Crown dependency), new drivers must display “R” plates similar to those in Northern Ireland, but red, for 1 year after passing the test, and are limited to a maximum speed of 50 mph.
The rules on what a driver can tow are different depending on when they passed their driving test. If they passed their car driving test on or after 1 January 1997, they may drive a car or van up to 3,500 kg maximum authorised mass (MAM) towing a trailer of up to 750 kg MAM, and they may tow a trailer over 750 kg MAM as long as the combined MAM of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3,500 kg MAM when loaded. They must pass the car and trailer driving test to tow anything heavier. If a driver passed their car test before 1 January 1997, they are usually allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8,250 kg MAM. They are also allowed to drive a minibus with a trailer over 750 kg MAM.
On 16 September 2021, the Secretary of State for Transport laid a statutory instrument  to retrospectively grant the B+E (car and trailer) entitlement to all category B licence holders. From 15 November 2021, all standard car licence holders will be able to tow a trailer with a MAM of up to 3500 kg. Changes to these rules have been proposed by the DVSA, the changes were set to go ahead in November 2021 but are currently on hold.
Motor car licences issued in the United Kingdom distinguish between automatic and manual transmission vehicles, depending on 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 distinction was made). While 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 whether a driver requires glasses or contact lenses to meet the legal driving requirements, if known.
Drivers who obtained rights to drive category D1 minibuses before 1997 (by passing a test for the obsolete class A) must not drive such vehicles for hire or reward, nor accept any form of payment in money, goods or kind from any passengers carried.
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.[