Driving on a provisional licence

Learner driver
If you’ve not yet started taking driving lessons but can’t wait to get behind the wheel, there are a few things you’ll need to sort out before you can legally be let loose on the nation’s highways and byways. These include passing the driving theory test and finding a suitable victim instructor to accompany you on your unqualified excursions. Before any of that, though, you’ll need to make sure you have your provisional licence.

What is a provisional licence?

A provisional driving licence is a legal requirement for anyone who wants to take to the public road in any type of motorised vehicle, from a moped to an MPV. Although it works in much the same way as a full licence, there are some obvious differences - the first, and least important, being that the provisional is green while the full licence is pink. Potential colour clashes aside, holding a provisional licence means that, when driving, you must be accompanied by someone aged over 21 who has held a full driving licence for at least three years. Furthermore, that person  must sit in the front passenger seat and be in a fit state to drive – meaning that giving an older mate a lift home from the pub after they’ve had a few doesn’t count and is frankly out of the question. Provisional licence holders aren’t permitted to drive on the motorway and must also display ‘L’ plates (‘D’ plates in Wales) on the front and back of your vehicle. If you’re a motorbike rider you aren’t allowed to carry passengers and can only ride bikes with an engine capacity of up to 125cc, or 50cc if aged 16, provided that you have completed your compulsory basic training (CBT). Click here for a list of the types of vehicles you can drive at what age and on what licence.

When to apply for a provisional licence

If you’re going to need your licence to begin driving lessons then you can apply up to three months before your 17th birthday – this being the lower age limit for drivers in the UK. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule which mean that you can both apply for your licence and take to the road aged 16. The first is if you get the higher rate of the mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA). The other is if you plan on only riding a moped.

How to apply for a provisional licence

There are three ways in which you can apply for provisional licence; online via the DVLA website GOV.UK, at the Post Office who will check the application for a fee of £4.50, or by post after completing a D1 application form. You can pick up a D1 ‘Application for a driving licence’ from the Post Office or by ordering online at http://www.gov.uk/dvlaforms If applying by post, you will need to send proof of identification such as a passport, and your photo. However, if you apply online, DVLA can authenticate your identification electronically. All you need to do is enter your Passport number, details of any addresses you lived at in the last three years and your NI Number. DVLA will cross reference this with HM Passport Office and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and providing DVLA can authenticate your identification, you won’t need to send any physical identity documents. Furthermore, you can also use the photo from your passport on your driving licence so you won’t even have to send a photo. You must also be able to meet the minimum eyesight requirement of being able to read a car number plate  made after 2001 from a distance of 20metres, using lenses or glasses if required, and you must also not have been banned from driving or deemed unfit to drive for any medical reasons. Oh, and there’s a fee of £50, which you can pay using a debit or credit card when applying online, you cannot pay via debit or credit card when applying via postal application.

Sort your car insurance

If you’re taking lessons with a registered instructor or driving school, the cost of car insurance, fuel and road tax will be covered in the cost of lessons. There’s currently no minimum number of hours you need to practice before you can take your test, although the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) recommends 20 hours of extra practice in addition to any lessons with a professional tutor.


If you go with these recommendations, you’ll have to take out additional car insurance or be added on to another person’s policy as a named driver. The former option could work out quite costly, but it does mean that you will be able to start accumulating a no claims bonus.


However, one thing you’ll need to be mindful of is the fact that the policy price can triple once you have passed your test – so don’t just go with the cheapest quote: make sure you look at how much cover will cost once you’ve passed and work out which is the most cost effective longer term option. If you opt to be a named driver on someone else’s policy, make sure that’s what you are – a named driver and not the main driver. If you’re down as a named driver but in reality you’re actually the main driver, you’re committing a form of insurance fraud known as ‘fronting’. If convicted you could find insurers will simply refuse to offer you cover, and you don’t want to be stopped from driving before you’ve even started! 


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