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In the United Kingdom, the driving licence is the official document which authorises its holder to operate various types of motor vehicle on highways and some other roads to which the public have access. In England, Scotland and Wales they are administered by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and in Northern Ireland by the Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA). A driving licence is required in the UK by any person driving a vehicle on any highway or other road defined in s.192 Road Traffic Act 1988 irrespective of ownership of the land over which the road passes thus including many which allow the public to pass over private land; similar requirements apply in Northern Ireland under the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1981.
The use of driving licence cards as a proof of identity of a person is murky within UK law as it is approached today. Identity cards for UK nationals were introduced in 2009 on a voluntary basis, and the attempt to introduce a nationwide identity-card scheme in 2010 was reversed mid-course and quashed, its in-progress database unilaterally halted and then destroyed.
Only workers in certain high-security professions, such as airport workers, were required to have an identity card in 2009, and this general lack of ID being compulsory tends to remain the case today. Therefore, driving licences, particularly the photocard driving licence introduced in 1998, along with passports are now the most widely used ID documents in the United Kingdom. Given many people do not carry their passports in public without an advance knowledge that they are going to need them, this leaves driving licences as the only valid form of ID to be presented, if requested by an authority for a legitimately-given reason. Colloquially, in day-to-day life, most authorities do not ask for identification from individuals in a sudden, spot check type manner, such as by police or security guards, although this may become a concern in instances of stop and search.
In the UK, the minimum driving age for a car or van is 17 while a moped or restricted-power motorcycle can be ridden at 16. Anyone receiving Disability Living Allowance at the higher rate (mobility component) may drive a car or van from the age of 16. Until a United Kingdom driving test (which consists of three sections: theory and a hazard perception test followed by a supervised driving examination) has been passed a driver may hold only a provisional licence and be subject to certain conditions.
The conditions attached to provisional licences of a particular category of vehicle are:
In Northern Ireland, learner drivers are limited to a speed of 45 mph (72 km/h), and drivers who have passed their test within the previous year must display "R" plates (restricted) and are also limited to a speed of 45 mph (72 km/h) until the expiry of the restricted period. "R" plates are similar in style to "L" plates, with a thick-set dark orange R displayed on a white background.
After passing a driving test, the provisional licence may be surrendered within two years in exchange for a full UK licence for the relevant kind of vehicle. Full car licences allow use of mopeds and motorcycles provided a CBT (Compulsory Basic Training) course is completed (the requirement to have a CBT in Northern Ireland was introduced on 21 Feb 2011). There are no restrictions on newly passed drivers in England, Wales or Scotland (unlike Northern Ireland), but if a newly qualified driver is given six penalty points within two years of passing, the licence is automatically cancelled and the driver must pass the full test again. The six points remains on the new licence until their designated expiry time. It is optional to display newly passed green on white 'P' (for Probationer) plates on the vehicle of newly passed drivers.
Motor car licences issued in the United Kingdom distinguish between automatic and manual transmission vehicles dependent upon whether or not a driving test was passed in a vehicle with manual transmission (unless a vehicle test was taken in the UK before such discrimination was made). Whilst a manual transmission vehicle licence permits the holder to drive a vehicle of either kind, an automatic transmission vehicle licence is solely for vehicles with automatic transmission. The licence also shows if a driver requires glasses or contact lenses to meet the legal driving requirements, if known.
There is no maximum age for driving or holding a driving licence, but holders must renew their licences at age 70 and every three years thereafter, at which times they must self-certify their continued fitness to drive.
Whilst the DVLA has included Welsh on driver licences issued in Wales for many years, requests for Scots Gaelic – also an official language in the UK – to be included on licences issued to drivers resident in Scotland have so far been rejected.
Driver registration was introduced in 1903 with the Motor Car Act. Holders of the sulphur-yellow coloured document were entitled to "drive a motor car or motor cycle". The wording changed in 1930 after which holders were allowed to "drive or steer a motor car or to drive a motor cycle". It was not clear why a motor cycle would not need to be steered. Shortly afterwards, the document cover changed to a dark red colour: holders were for a period entitled to drive a vehicle of "any class or description". Subsequent changes saw the document list precisely those vehicle types for which holders were licensed.
Competency tests were introduced in 1934 by the Motor Vehicles Regulations 1935; they were suspended in 1939 for seven years due to the Second World War and in 1956 for one year due to the Suez Crisis. The only person in the United Kingdom who is not required to have a driving licence in order to drive is The Queen. She also does not require number plates on any vehicles which are personally owned by herself or her closest family members.
Until 1973, driving licences (and tax discs) were issued by local authorities, and had to be renewed every three years. In 1971, the decision was taken to computerise the licensing system to enable it to be linked to the Police National Computer, as well as extending the life of the licence up to the driver's 70th birthday, and extendable at intervals thereafter, subject to the driver's fitness to drive.
Until July 1998, driving licences outside Northern Ireland did not have photographs. Anyone who holds a licence issued before this date may retain their photo-less licence until expiry (normally one's seventieth birthday) or until they change address, whichever comes sooner. The new "photocard" driving licences are a two-part document, a plastic photocard which has to be renewed every ten years, for a fee, and a paper sheet (the "Counterpart Driving Licence") which is valid until the holder's seventieth birthday. The Counterpart details the individual's driving entitlements and convictions ("endorsements"). Endorsement codes stay on the licence for 4 or 11 years depending on the offence.
Licences issued to residents of England, Northern Ireland and Scotland appear only in English, whilst those issued to residents of Wales appear in both English and Welsh.
Each licence holder in England, Scotland and Wales has a unique driver number, which is 16 characters long. The characters are constructed in the following way:
Each Northern Ireland licence holder has a unique driver number which is 8 characters long. The characters are not constructed in any particular pattern.
The theoretical tests in the United Kingdom consists of two sections, which are different for car and motorcycle tests:
Both sections of the theory test are completed on the computer, and both must be passed in order to pass the theory test.
This is a list of the categories that might be found on a driving licence in the United Kingdom. 
|Category||Vehicle type||Minimum age||Notes[Notes 1]|
|AM||Motorcycle||16||Light motorcycle with a design speed of less than 45 km/h (28 mph).|
|A1||Motorcycle||17||Light motorcycles with a cubic capacity not exceeding 125 cc and of a power output not exceeding 11 kW (14.6 bhp).|
|A2||Motorcycle||19||Motorcycles up to 35 kW (47 bhp) and a power to mass ratio not exceeding 0.2 kW/kg. Motorcycle combination with a power mass ratio not exceeding 0.2 kW/kg.|
|A||Motorcycle||24 [Notes 2]||Any size motorcycle with or without a sidecar.|
|B1||3 or 4 wheeled light vehicles||17 [Notes 3]||Motor tricycles/quadricycles up to 550 kg (1,210 lb) unladen.|
|B||Cars||17 [Notes 4]|
|B||Minibuses||21||Vehicles with between 9 and 16 passenger seats not for hire or reward. MAM not exceeding 3.5 tonnes or 4.25 tonnes including specialist equipment for the carriage of disabled passengers. No trailer of any size may be pulled. B licence must have been held for 2 years. Valid for minibuses only when used in the United Kingdom.|
|B (Automatic)||Automatic cars||17 [Notes 5]||As cars (B), but only those with automatic transmission.|
|B+E||Cars with trailers||17 [Notes 6]||As category B but with a heavier trailer that isn't covered in the descriptions for category B.|
|C1||Medium sized vehicle||18 [Notes 7]||Vehicles between 3,500 kg and 7,500 kg with a trailer up to 750 kg.|
|C1+E||Medium sized vehicle with trailers||21 [Notes 8]||Combinations of vehicles where the towing vehicle is in subcategory C1 and its trailer has a MAM of over 750 kg provided that the MAM of the combination thus formed does not exceed 12,000 kg and MAM of the trailer does not exceed the unladen mass of the towing vehicle.|
|C||Large vehicles||21[Notes 9]||Vehicles over 3,500 kg (including those over 7,500 kg) with a trailer up to 750 kg.|
|C+E||Large vehicles with trailers||21[Notes 10]||Vehicles over 3,500 kg (including those over 7,500 kg) with a trailer over 750 kg.|
|D1||Minibuses||21[Notes 11]||Vehicles with between 9 and 16 passenger seats with a trailer up to 750 kg. See also under B|
|D1+E||Minibuses with trailers||21[Notes 12]||Combinations of vehicles where the towing vehicle is in subcategory D1 and its trailer has a MAM of over 750 kg, provided that the MAM of the combination thus formed does not exceed 12,000 kg, and the MAM of the trailer does not exceed the unladen mass of the towing vehicle.|
|D||Buses||24[Notes 13]||Any bus with more than 8 passenger seats with a trailer up to 750 kg.|
|D+E||Buses with trailers||21[Notes 14]||Any bus with more than 8 passenger seats with a trailer over 750 kg.|
|f||Agricultural tractors||16 [Notes 15]||N/A|
|g||Road rollers||21 [Notes 16]||N/A|
|h||Tracked vehicles||21 [Notes 17]|
|k||Mowing machine or vehicle controlled by a pedestrian||16||N/A|
|l||Electric vehicles||17||Category now deprecated – tests no longer available (since 2001) for this category. Vehicles now fit into category B1 or B.|
|n||Vehicles used for very short distances on public roads||N/A||Category now deprecated – tests no longer available (since 2001) for this category. Vehicles now fit into category B1 or B.|
|p||Motorcycles||16||Engine capacity must not exceed 50 cc and the maximum design speed must not exceed 50 km/h (31 mph).|
|q||Mopeds||17||2-wheeled vehicles with engine size not more than 50 cc if powered by an internal combustion engine or maximum design speed of no more than 25 km/h (15.5 mph).|
The UK uses cumulative points systems, broadly similar but different in detail in different countries, for offenders.
Points are given for driving offences by law courts, and the licence is endorsed accordingly. A UK driving licence may be endorsed by the courts for various offences, not only for those committed whilst driving or in charge of a vehicle. If the individual committing the offence does not hold a valid driving licence the endorsements may be put by until a licence is held.
Most endorsements remain valid for 4 years; some (such as for drink or drug driving) are recorded on the licence for 11 years because more severe penalties apply to those convicted twice within 10 years of drink or drug driving offences.
Twelve points on the licence within three years makes the driver liable to disqualification under the "totting-up" procedure; however this is not automatic, but must be decided by a law court. Endorsements remain on the licence for four years, rather than three, to ensure that offences are not removed while still legally applicable.
Drivers are not legally obliged to carry a driving licence while driving, but section 164 of the Road Traffic Act 1998 allows a police officer to require a driver to produce a driving licence within seven days at a police station chosen by the driver.