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Your Driving Licence Explained

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Last updated: 15/02/2024 | Estimated Reading Time: 9 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, the different types of driving licences, and why it is important to know what everything means.

In This Guide:

What is a Full UK Driving Licence?

A full UK driving licence allows you to drive unsupervised on public roads and is issued after passing both your practical and theory driving tests. A full driving licence may be used to drive different types of vehicles depending on what category it is. You can find out the vehicle categories you can drive with your licence by looking on the back of it.
Your full driving licence replaces your provisional driving licence, but it isn’t issued automatically, so make sure you apply for it within two years of passing your driving and theory tests. Your full driving licence card will be pink instead of green like your provisional card.

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).  You can apply online at - 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. 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.

Difference Between a Full Driving Licence and a Provisional Driving Licence

Essentially, a full driving licence means you are allowed to drive without L plates or anyone supervising you, whereas drivers that only have a provisional licence must be supervised while driving at all times and use L plates on their vehicle. Full driving licenses are only issued after you’ve passed both your theory and driving test, making you fully qualified to drive on public roads alone.

What do the sections of the driving licence mean?

Driving licences have lots of different sections, which can be confusing if you’re not sure what they all 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.

Here, we’ll break down the different parts of your driving licence to help you understand all the information on it.

Explaining the Front of your Licence 

The front of your (full and provisional) licence 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

Explaining the Back of your Licence

The back of your driving licence has the following sections:
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 are the Categories on a UK Licence?

The categories on the back of your driving licence tell you what types of vehicles you’re allowed to drive. The website has a full list of driving licence categories with additional details, but here are some common ones you may have seen. If you aren’t sure exactly what vehicles your licence allows you to drive, or what restrictions you need to keep in mind e.g. size or weight, always check the comprehensive list on before driving.

Category Vehicle
A, A1, A2, AM Motorbike
B, BE Car
B auto Automatic
C, CE Large Lorry
D, D3 Bus
D1, D1E Minibus
F Tractor
G Road Roller

How Does your Driving Licence Affect 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.

Provisional Licences

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 Licences

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.

Driving Abroad

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.


How do I know if I have a full UK driving licence?

You can quickly tell if you have a full UK driving licence by looking at its colour. Full driving licences will be pink, whereas provisional driving licenses are green.

Does your licence number change from provisional to full?

Usually, your driving licence number doesn’t change when you get your full licence. Your driving licence is completely unique and can only be used to identify your licence, so it usually stays the same even when renewing your licence. However, if you legally change your name, your driving licence number may also change.

Is an automatic licence a full UK licence?

No, an automatic licence is not a full driving licence as it only permits you to drive automatic vehicles. Having a full driving licence means you can drive vehicles with a manual gearbox as well as automatic.

What is a driving licence issue number?

Your driving licence issue number is usually a two-digit number next to your driving licence number. It simply shows you how many times you’ve renewed or replaced your driving licence and isn’t a part of your licence number. Each time you get a new driving licence, this number should increase by one.

Where is my driver number on my licence?

Your driver number, or driving licence number, can be found just under your photocard licence expiry date. It’s made up of 16 numbers and letters that represent parts of your surname, birth date, and middle names, as well as computer-generated digits.

Can I drive a manual car with an automatic licence in the UK?

No, in order to legally drive a manual car on a public road, you must have a full driving licence. An automatic licence only allows you to drive automatic vehicles. If you only have an automatic licence and want to drive a manual car, you will need to take your driving test again and get a full driving licence.

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