Driving licences are a necessity if you intend to drive anything on the UK’s roads. You might assume there’s just one type but, in fact, there’s a broad range of categories covering a myriad of different vehicles.
What is a UK driving licence?
A driving licence enables you to drive legally on UK roads, as well as while you’re on holiday in other countries. It takes the form of a photocard, handy for keeping in your wallet. There was previously a paper counterpart but this has now been phased out. If you previously had a paper version and are applying for an update, you’ll only get a photocard back.
Although you don’t have to carry your driving licence with you at all times – as you do in several European countries – it’s a good idea to keep it handy because it’s an easy form of identification in case you need it. If you’re stopped by the police and don’t have it to hand, you’ll usually be asked to take it to a police station within seven days.
Who can get a UK driving licence?
The youngest you can get your hands on a driving license is at 16, but that’s only for mopeds, small tractors, or cars if you receive a higher rate of disability allowance. A standard car driving licence is available from the age of 17, and you’ll have to wait until the age of 21 if you want to drive larger vehicles including full-size tractors, minibuses or lorries. Once you get to 24, you’ll be able to drive buses and powerful motorbikes, too.
To get a licence, you’ll need to take a test, which usually comes in the form of both a theory test and a practical driving exam. You can do these tests at any age over 17 but, if you want to drive a lorry or bus over the age of 45, you’ll have to renew your licence every five years until the age of 65.
Can you drive in the UK on a foreign licence?
If you have a non-UK driving license, you can still drive in the UK for at least a year. After this point, non-European Union or non-European Economic Area residents will have to take a UK driving test. EU and EEA licence holders are fine until the age of 70 before needing a UK licence. Rules are slightly different for those from certain Commonwealth countries and those who also drive on the same side of the road – generally the limit is five years.
However, if you’re intending to drive a lorry or a bus, things are a little different. If you’re visiting the UK from outside the EU or EEA, you’re only allowed to drive such a vehicle if you brought it into the country.
What vehicles require a UK driving licence?
Nearly all vehicles require some form of driving licence, even sit-on lawnmowers. However, you won’t need one for mobility scooters, electric wheelchairs or electric bikes – although you will need to be over the age of 14 to use one. A provisional licence will allow you to drive most of these as long as you have somebody with more than three years experience supervising you. For mopeds and motorbikes, you have to complete a CBT (compulsory basic training) course that allows you to ride by yourself for up to two years with ‘L’ plates before taking a test.
What are driving licence categories?
There’s a surprising number of driving licence categories. We’ve listed them together with a brief description of each and the required age limit. If you already have a UK photocard licence, you can look on the back to see the different categories you’re allowed to drive.
|AM||16||Mopeds and Quadricycles up to 45mph|
|A1||17||Mopeds up to 125cc and 11kW (14.75hp)|
|A2||19||Motorbikes up to 35kW (46.9hp)|
|B||17*||Any car (automatic-only licences are also available)|
|B (minibus)||21||Minibuses – only valid in UK and not for hire or profit|
|C1||18||Medium sized vehicles (e.g. large vans)|
|C||21||Large sized vehicles (e.g. non-articulated lorries)|
|C+E||21||Large sized vehicles with a trailer (e.g. articulated lorries)|
|F||17/18/21||Tractors (dependant on width)|
|H||21||Tracked vehicles (e.g. tanks)|
|K||16||Mowing machines or other pedestrian-controlled vehicle|
*those on higher disability allowance rate can drive at 16
Several of the above categories are also available with a separate ‘+E’ license, meaning you can also tow a trailer weighing more than 750kg. There are also different age limitations for those in the armed forces – generally the age limit is 17.
Find out more
If you already have a licence but aren’t sure what categories you can drive, take a look at the Government’s licence checker. If you’re about to start learning or have just torn up your ‘L’ plates for good, take a look at our list of best cars for learners and new drivers. For more great options, view our best new car deals.