16 things you should know about your driving licence

Around 75% of Britain’s adult population has a driving licence – it’s one of life’s essentials for most people.
But do you know what information yours includes? Are you aware which categories of vehicle you’re entitled to drive? And are you sure that all your details are up to date?
It’s easy to get in a muddle with things like renewals, address changes, and categories of vehicle. And a simple mistake could land you in serious trouble: your licence might become invalid, and you could even get your vehicle seized and have to take out impounded car insurance to get it back.
So to help you stay on the right side of the law, we’ve compiled a list of 16 things you should know about your driving licence.

 1. Provisional licences
To put your driving career into gear, you’ll need a provisional licence. Getting one is an exciting rite of passage for many teenagers!
In the UK, you can apply for this three months before you turn 16. If you’ve got a UK biometric passport, you can simplify the application process by requesting that the DVLA uses the same signature and photo. Currently, a provisional licence costs £34, and takes around a week to arrive.
Your provisional licence allows you to start learning to ride a moped at 16. You’ll usually have to be 17 before you begin learning to drive a motorbike or a car under supervision on public roads, but youngsters with certain mobility impairments can start on their 16th birthday.
So how do you turn your green provisional licence into the real deal? Read on to find out!

2. Passing your theory test

You’ll need to take a driving theory test to check you understand the Highway Code. It consists of 50 multiple choice questions, plus a video-based hazard perception test.
Older people might tell you that it’s easy – but the test has become much harder since it was first introduced in 1996. You have to score at least 43/50 on the multiple choice questions, and 44/75 on the hazard perception element to get a pass.
You’ll be given your results at the test centre. If you pass, you have two years in which to take your practical test, otherwise you’ll have to take your theory test again.

3. Passing your practical test

Now comes the bit that most people find scary!
There are a few parts to your test, which lasts around 40 minutes. You’ll begin with a quick eyesight test, and some vehicle safety questions. Then you’ll get in the car with the examiner for a general test of your driving ability, including demonstrating that you can reverse your vehicle.
Your examiner will note down any errors as you drive. You can make up to 15 minor errors and still pass, but just one major error will result in a fail.
At the end of the test, your examiner will tell you how you did. If you’ve passed, congratulations! Your driving career starts now.
Usually, the test centre will handle all the admin for you. There’s no fee for upgrading your provisional licence into a full one, which you’ll receive within a few weeks. You can start driving independently while waiting for it to arrive.
If you fail, don’t be put off. Rebook your test, get in a bit more practice, and try again. Good luck!

4. Your photocard

Receiving your first proper driving licence through the post is a hugely proud moment.
The current pale pink design was launched in 2014, and contains a host of security features to prevent forgeries or misuse.
There’s a huge amount of important info crammed into one card, and most of it is in tiny writing! So what is included?

5. Basic details

Your name and address are featured, and if either of these changes, you must inform the DVLA promptly or risk a fine.
It’s especially important to update your address, as failure to do so could mean that you don’t receive essential correspondence such as licence renewal reminders, which could land you in even bigger trouble. In certain scenarios, you might even get stopped by the police, who could seize your vehicle. Getting it back is expensive, and is likely to mean you have to take out impounded car insurance.
Your address must be in Britain. If you’re moving abroad, you’ll need to register to drive with the authorities in your new home.
Remember: if your driving licence is stolen in a bag that also contains your house keys, it’s pretty much an invitation to burglars!
Your photocard also displays your unique driver licence number. Top marks if you can memorise all 16 characters of yours!

6. Categories of vehicle

Your driving licence will state which categories of vehicle you are entitled to drive. Standard cars with manual transmission fall into category B, but if you passed your test in an automatic car, you’ll be entitled only to drive B auto.
When driving a new vehicle, always check that you are correctly licensed. There are rules around towing trailers, for example, that could catch you out.
The categories have changed over the decades, and newer drivers have different entitlements from those who passed their tests decades ago. So never assume that you can drive a larger vehicle because an older friend or relative says you can – check your licence to be sure.
If you don’t have the right licence for the vehicle you’re driving, police can seize it and impound it. You’ll have to recover it from the vehicle pound, which is both costly and a hassle. You’re likely to need special impounded car insurance before your vehicle will be released to you.

7. Dates of validity

Your driving licence includes the dates of its validity. You’ll need to renew every 10 years, which you can do online for a cost of £14. It usually takes a few weeks to receive your new photocard, but you can keep driving in the meantime.
The DVLA will remind you when it’s time to renew. If you fail to act but continue to drive, you are breaking the law. You risk a fine, and police might even stop you and seize your vehicle.
To release your vehicle from the pound, you’ll need to show you’ve renewed your licence, and provide other documentation including your impounded car insurance policy.

8. Your date of birth

This is included on your driving licence. Unless you’re disqualified for any reason, your licence is valid until the day before your 70th birthday, at which point you’ll have to renew every three years. These renewals are free of charge.
You won’t have to retake your test, but you will need to inform the DVLA of any new medical conditions that affect your ability to drive. Of course, you need to do this at any age, but such conditions do become increasingly likely as you get older.

9. Codes

Your driving licence might also include one or more code, which refer to any conditions that apply when you’re driving.
The most common is 01, which means you need eyesight correction – that is, glasses or contact lenses – in order to drive safely. Code 02 refers to hearing or communications aids. If either of these codes is on your licence and you drive without the necessary aids, you’re breaking the law and risk penalty points. Worse, you could cause an accident.
Many other codes refer to vehicle adaptations you need to drive safely if you have certain disabilities.
And code 115 is not a condition as such – it means you’ve agreed to donate your organs after your death.

10. Old paper counterparts

You might hear people refer to paper counterparts – so what are they?
Between 1998 and 2015, driving licences came in two parts: a plastic photocard, and a paper counterpart. If you were issued with any penalty points, you’d have to send off the paper counterpart for it to be endorsed.
In 2015, the paper part was scrapped, and records of endorsements were kept online. Since then, the DVLA has issued only photocards.

11. Presenting your licence

In the UK, you are not legally obliged to carry your licence with you when driving your vehicle. But if the police stop you for any reason, they can ask to see your licence. If you don’t have it with you, you’ll have to present it at a police station within seven days.
If your vehicle is seized and impounded for any reason – perhaps because it is not insured or taxed – your licence is one of several documents you’ll need to get it released. You’ll also have to provide evidence of impounded car insurance.

12. Points or penalties

Although we talk about ‘points on your licence’ for driving penalties, these don’t appear anywhere on your photocard. However, a record is kept online, and you still need to tell your insurance provider about them.

13. Driving bans

If you commit a serious driving offence, you could be disqualified from driving for a certain period. Alternatively, you could commit several minor offences and accrue 12 penalty points, which leads to an automatic six-month ban unless there are exceptional circumstances.
For bans of more than 56 days, you’ll have to reapply for your licence. The court will also tell you whether you need to take an extended driving test before you’re allowed back on the roads.
Remember: driving while disqualified is a serious offence that could land you in jail. It’s also likely to lead to police seizing the vehicle you’re driving. That vehicle can only be released from the pound to someone who can present a valid licence and various other documents, including an impounded car insurance policy.

14. Revoked licences

New drivers (under two years of being a full licence holder) who accrue six points will have their licences revoked. This is not quite the same as a driving ban: it means you’ll have to reapply for a provisional licence, and retake your tests. You can do this at any time – there’s no minimum period.
Simply checking your mobile phone while behind the wheel can lead to six points on your licence, so it’s essential that you take care on the roads.

15. Travelling abroad

If you’ve got a photocard UK driving licence, you are allowed to drive in EU countries, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland or Liechtenstein for varying lengths of time.
You might need an International Driving Permit (IDP) if you took your test in Gibraltar, Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man; you hold an old-style paper licence; or you are travelling further afield, including to the USA or Turkey.
There are a few different types of IDP, all of which are available from the Post Office. You’ll need to provide various documents and pay a small fee, and possibly get a certified translation of your UK driving licence, too.
Remember to check driving laws in the country you’re visiting – many places require you to have your licence with you at all times when you’re behind the wheel.

16. Replacing a lost or stolen licence

Finally, do you know where your licence is right now? Many of us put them in a safe place – then forget all about them.
If yours is lost or stolen, motoring offences could be committed in your name. So report any theft to the police, and get a replacement from the DVLA as soon as possible. It costs £20.

Get a quote from Insurance Factory today

Police can stop and seize vehicles that they suspect are being driven by someone without the correct licence. If this happens to you, we want to make it as simple as possible for you to get your vehicle back.
We arrange specialist impounded car insurance for 30 or 365 days. You will need to present evidence of cover, along with other documents including a valid driving licence, before your car or van will be released from the pound.
Get a quote for impounded car insurance from the Insurance Factory now.

Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.