Newcomers or visitors to the UK who intend to drive while they are in the country should make sure that they familiarise themselves with the rules and regulations for driving.
Minimum Age for Driving on UK Roads
For most types of private vehicles the minimum legal age at which one can drive in the UK is 17. The main exceptions are for less powerful mopeds, where the legal age is 16, and larger motorcycles, where the minimum age is 21. Different rules also apply to larger vehicles and to vehicles designed to carry more than 8 passengers where the minimum age is usually 21.
There are some exceptions to the minimum age requirements including some people with disabilities and people in the armed forces.
Before learning to drive on UK roads, drivers must obtain a provisional licence from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). Applications are made on form D1 and the fee is currently £50. Forms can be ordered online from the DVLA website or collected from a Post Office. Applications may also be made online.
Drivers using a provisional licence may only drive if accompanied by someone who is over the age of 21 and has held a full driving licence for at least three years. In addition drivers on provisional licences must display learner plates whilst they are driving and are not allowed to drive on motorways.
To obtain a full driving licence all UK drivers must pass both a theory test and a practical driving test. The theory test must be passed before applying for the practical driving test. For holders of overseas driving licences the requirements depend on the nationality of the licence.
Driving in the UK on a European Driving Licence
Drivers who hold a full driving licence issued by a European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) country may use it to drive whilst visiting the UK. UK residents originating from any of these countries may also rely on their driving licence, but there are time limits.
For cars, mopeds and motorcycles EU / EEA licence holders may drive in the UK for three years, or until they reach the age of 70, after which they will have to exchange their licence for a UK licence. When exchanging a foreign driving licence for a UK licence the foreign licence must be surrendered and returned to the motoring authority which issued it.
Driving in the UK on a Licence Issued by a “Designated Country”
Drivers from Gibraltar and 15 other designated countries may drive in the UK for up to 12 months on a full driving licence issued by their own country. After 12 months residents from these countries must exchange their licence for a UK one. The designated countries include Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Drivers who do not exchange their licence after 12 months may not drive legally in the UK. However, they can apply to exchange their licence any time up to five years from when they became a resident.
Different rules apply to drivers from Northern Ireland, who may continue to drive on their licence until it expires. Drivers from Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man may usually drive on their licence for up to 12 months after which time they will have to exchange it for a UK licence.
Driving in the UK on a Licence Issued by Any Other Country
Visitors may drive on their foreign licence for up to 12 months.
UK residents from these countries must apply for a provisional licence and pass a UK driving test within 12 months if they wish to continue driving legally. During the initial 12-month period the usual provisional licence restrictions will not apply. However, if a driving test is not passed within the 12 months the usual provisional licence driving restrictions will apply to the foreign driver.
Other Requirements for Driving in the UK
In addition to having a valid driving licence, all drivers in the UK must have valid insurance: it is a criminal offence to drive in the UK without insurance. Private vehicles which are over three years old will also have to pass a yearly MOT check to prove that they are safe to be driven. Drivers of cars, motorcycles and other vehicles must pay road tax – evidence of which is provided by displaying a valid road tax disc in or on the vehicle at all times.