How to apply for a driving licence in the UK

June 09, 2022 by

Having a driving licence can open up a whole world of freedom and excitement, as well as many employment opportunities.

But before you hit the road, there are three main steps you have to complete. A Provisional Licence application, a theory test and a practical examination. Here’s how to do it.

Apply for a Provisional Licence

Before applying for a Provisional Licence, you have to meet the basic age requirements (at least 16, though you can’t drive a car until 17) and also demonstrate you have good enough vision by reading a number plate from 20 metres away.

You’ll also need to prove that you are who you say you are, so you’ll need two forms of ID: a passport, your National Insurance card, birth certificate, bank statement, PASS proof of age card, marriage certificate or birth certificate will suffice, but at least one document must be photographic. 

Your identity document and photograph need to be signed by a UK resident with a valid photocard driving licence of their own.

Next, apply for your Provisional Licence online using the government’s official site.

The cost to apply is £34, payable online. You can also apply by post by filling out form D1 from your local Post Office. 

You cannot start to drive until your Provisional Licence arrives, which may take up to three weeks.

The Theory Test

Some people fear their Driving Theory Test more than their practical examination, though in truth it’s not that horrific. Just make sure you revise and remember that if you do fail, you can always try again. 

The theory exams are based on three elements – an understanding of road laws, your knowledge of traffic signs, and hazard perception. The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has put together a handy video guide to the theory element of the test. 

To help you gear up for the theory test, the DVSA has a selection of practice tests online.

The Theory Test pass mark is 86%, so you’ll need to answer 43 out of 50 multiple choice questions correctly to pass. Once you feel ready to take your theory test, the fee is £23 for cars or motorcycles and you can book it online.

When you take the test, you’ll have 57 minutes to answer all 50 questions, which will cover all manner of subjects from vehicle maintenance to dealing with emergencies.

You’ll then need to pass a second part of the theory examination in the form of a hazard perception test, where you’ll be shown 14 different clips of real-life driving situations and will have to use your computer mouse to click on hazards as they develop. The DVSA has put together a practice video to help you prepare

The Practical Test

The final step to getting a driving licence is to pass your practical test, and that involves demonstrating your ability to drive a car safely in front of a registered DVSA examiner.

To practice driving you must display L-plates and be accompanied by a fully insured driver who has at least three years of driving experience of their own. You cannot start practising until your Provisional Licence has arrived and you have taken and passed your theory test.

Most people will book a series of lessons with a registered driving instructor, although there is no law to say you can’t be taught by a friend or family member. Once you or your instructor believes you are ready to take a practical test, you can book it online

The cost for a car driving test is £62 and you can pay by debit or credit card when you book. You must be at least 17 years of age to drive in the United Kingdom, so you’ll need to wait until then to make your appointment for your practical driving exams. On the day of the test, you’ll need to take your provisional licence and theory test pass certificate with you.

You can use your instructor’s car or your own for the test, but the vehicle must be in fully roadworthy condition and will be inspected by the examiner before the test.

Both before and during the test, the examiner will ask safety questions, as well as some about basic vehicle maintenance, so make sure you swat up – you can also revisit some of the mock theory exams and hazard perception tests just to get your mind in gear. 

There will follow two practical test elements. A general ability exam that lasts about 40 minutes and will involve the examiner getting you to drive on various road types and in multiple traffic conditions and to perform certain manoeuvres, such as a hill start, a parking task, a turn in the road or a safely controlled emergency stop.

The examiner will grade you with minor and major faults. Minor faults will be elements such as hesitation or minor road positioning infringements. You can still pass with up to 15 of them. A major fault is an instant fail and means you have done something during the exam that the examiner feels is dangerous.

After the general driving ability exam, you’ll then be asked to drive independently for 20 minutes. The examiner will usually input a destination for the sat nav for this, or may ask you to follow certain road signs. You won’t be penalised for taking a worn turn providing you don’t then do anything wrong to get back on track – the examiner is only interested in your car control and your ability to operate the vehicle safely.

At the end of the test, if you’ve passed, you can then apply for your full licence online.

If you’ve successfully passed your theory and practical examinations and have a test pass certificate, you do not need to wait for your official Driving Licence to arrive in the post before you drive a car on the road, but you do need to be fully insured.