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Your Driving Licence Explained

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Last updated: 23/07/2020 | Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

As you know, you need a licence to drive cars on British roads. But take a look at your licence and you might see a lot of information on there that you might not understand. This guide explains what is on your driving licence, and why it is important to know what everything means.

In This Guide:

Types of driving licence

There are a few driving licence categories, including European and international licences. In this section, we take a look at the different types of driving licences.

Provisional licence – You are required to have a provisional licence before you start driving lessons, and you can apply for one up to three months before you turn 17 (or on your 16th birthday if you want to ride a moped).

Apply online at Gov.UK, you will need to pay a fee and supply your national insurance number, as well as another form of identification (such as a full UK passport if you have one).

UK full licence – You can get a full licence once you have passed both the practical and theory assessments of the driving test. The DVLA must be notified when you have passed, which is usually done by your driving examiner. Any driving offences are now stored electronically and viewed on the DVLA website. You need to apply for this licence within two weeks of passing your test or you will have to re-sit the test. Also, you must renew your licence every 10 years to ensure that the photo is up to date.

UK automatic licence – This licence only allows you to drive a car with automatic transmission or an automatic gearbox. If you hold a full UK licence then you can also drive an automatic car, but an automatic licence does not permit you to drive a car with a manual gearbox. When buying car insurance, insurers will need to know the sort of licence that you hold.

European licence – If you move to another country within the EU you can drive there with your UK licence. There is a new format for EU licences to meet a standard European format. When existing UK licences are renewed, they will be changed to this new format. If you are renewing or exchanging your licence in the EU country you have moved to, this is done by the authorities in the country that you currently live in.

International driving permit – If you are driving abroad, you must have your UK driving licence. In EU countries you don’t need an additional licence. In some countries outside the EU, you may need an international driving permit, which you can buy from the Post Office or other organisations such as the AA. You must be at least 18 to be eligible. This licence allows the holder to drive a private vehicle abroad, and it’s valid for a year after the date it was issued.

What do the sections of the driving licence mean?

All driving licences are now issued in an EU format, which is a plastic photocard and paper counterpart. Licences with the old format style are still valid and will be updated as they are renewed and replaced.

Front of the licence (full licence and provisional) has the following fields:

1. Your surname

2.Your title, first name and middle names

3. Your date and place of birth

4a. The date that the photocard was issued

4b. The date that the licence will expire

4c. The authority that issued the licence (for the UK, this will be the DVLA)

5. Your unique driver number, which is comprised of the first letters of your surname and a sequence of numbers and letters

6. Your photograph, which is black and white

7. Your signature, which is digitally reproduced and burned into the photocard from the signature you’ve given on the application form

8. Your permanent address. If you move, you must send your licence back to the DVLA to have it updated

9. Entitlement categories – the capital letters show the categories of entitlement covered by the European Community Directive, and national categories are in smaller letters

Back of the licence

9. Pictogram entitlement categories – these images represent the types of vehicles in those categories shown.

10. This shows the earliest date from which a category is valid. A provisional licence shows each licence category for vehicles you are permitted to drive, while a full UK licence displays the codes and dates for the vehicle types you are qualified to drive

11. This shows the date which a driving category is valid until

12. Information codes/ restrictions, such as medical restrictions, vehicle adaptations and general restrictions. For example, the code 01 means you must wear glasses or contact lenses as a corrective eyesight measure whilst driving

What does this mean for your car insurance?

Insurance companies will often ask for copies of your licence and documentation when issuing a new policy. This can save you money in the event of an accident; anyone found to have withheld information from their insurer risks their claim being invalid. Under the Road Traffic Act, the insurer is liable to pay for third-party losses, and validating the accuracy of the information provided reduces the chances of this happening, with savings that can be passed on to you directly.

If you have a provisional licence, you don’t need insurance if you only plan to drive accompanied by a professional driving instructor. However, if you want to learn in your parents’, a friend’s, or even your own car, you either need to be a named driver on their policy or search for temporary car insurance for learner drivers. Provisional driver insurance providers are more likely to take on learner drivers, while standard insurance providers may be more reluctant to insure someone who has not qualified for their full licence.

Manual cars can be cheaper to insure than automatic ones, and you cannot drive a manual car if you have an automatic licence. Automatics can be more expensive to insure because of higher claim costs, and automatic gearboxes can cost more to replace than a manual, meaning that having a full licence can result in cheaper car insurance deals compared than having an automatic licence.

In terms of driving abroad, your insurer must cover you for at least the minimum level of legal insurance in EU countries. For countries outside the EU, check directly with your insurer whether your policy covers you.

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