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What is a provisional licence

Rebecca Goodman
Written by  Rebecca Goodman
Saarrah Mussa
Reviewed by  Saarrah Mussa
Updated: 22 Aug 2023

A provisional driving licence is the first thing you need when learning to drive and you’ll need it for your theory, hazard perception, and practical driving tests.   

Everything you need to know about having a provisional driving licence  

Before you start learning to drive you will need to apply for a provisional driving licence. It is the key to booking each element of your driving test too, and you won’t be able to begin learning to drive until you have one. In this guide we look at how the provisional licence works, where you can get one, who can drive with one, and what it will let you do.  

What is a provisional driving licence?  

A provisional driving licence lets you get behind the wheels of a car and start learning to drive. You can do this with a professional instructor or with a friend or family member, just as long as they follow all the rules required. These include being aged 21 or over and having a full driving licence for at least three years.   

When you pass your driving test your provisional licence will be upgraded to a full driving licence. It lets you drive without anyone in the car and you’re also able to drive on motorways, which your provisional licence doesn’t allow.   

When can I get a provisional driving licence?  

To apply for your provisional driving licence, you must be at least 15 years and nine months old. You can use your licence to ride a moped or light quad bike when you’re 16 but you can’t use it for driving a car until you’re 17. The exception to this rule is if you receive a mobility allowance and, in this case, you can learn to drive a car and take the test at age 16.  

You will also need to be able to read a number plate from 20 metres away, and you need to have been given permission to live in Great Britain for at least 185 days.  

You can apply for the licence online at the DVLA and it costs £34. If you apply by post it costs £43.  

What can I drive with a provisional licence?  

You are allowed to drive a car, moped or light quad bike with your provisional licence. You can choose whether to drive an automatic or a manual car, but if you pass your test in an automatic car, you will only be qualified to drive these cars. If you pass your test in a manual car, you will be able to drive both types.   

How to apply for a provisional licence   

You will need to supply a few important documents when applying for your provisional licence, either online or by post. They include the following:  

  • Your ID: you’ll need either a valid UK passport or a birth or adoption certificate. If you don’t have these documents there is a list of alternatives, you can use on the website 

  • Your addresses for the last three years 

  • Your National Insurance number may be required 

  • A photo and signature, you may be able to use this from your passport 

  • Details of any medical conditions you have  

The process takes around one week if you apply online and no further checks are needed to be made by the DVLA. You can pay online too, with a MasterCard, Visa, Electron or Delta credit or debit card.  

If you apply by post you will need to fill in a D1 ‘Application for a driving licence’ form, which you can either order from the DVLA  or you can pick up one in most post offices. You will need to send a cheque or postal order with your application form for £43.   

What to do if I’ve lost my provisional driving licence?  

If you lose your provisional driving licence you can apply for a new one online and it will cost £20. You will need to give some details including your licence number, UK passport number, and your National Insurance number. You can also apply for a replacement licence on the phone on 0300 790 6801 or by post by filling out the D1 application form, as listed above.  

How to renew a provisional driving licence?  

You must renew your photocard provisional licence every 10 years and you can do this online for a fee of £14 at the website. You can also apply at a local post office which will cost £21.50, or directly to the DVLA by filling out the D1 form and paying £17.  

Provisional driving licence restrictions  

With a provisional driving licence there are some rules you need to follow. These include the following:  

  • You must display L plates (D plates in Wales) on the front and back of the car you’re driving 

  • You need to have the correct car insurance in place 

  • You’re not able to drive on the motorway 

  • If you aren’t driving with a qualified instructor, and it’s a friend or family member, they need to be 21 or over and to have had a full driving licence for at least three years  

Provisional driving licence responsibilities 

When you go out with a provisional licence, you will always need to have someone with you in the car. You also need to follow all of the rules of the road such as keeping to the speed limit and following any road signs.   

Car insurance on a provisional licence  

Before you start driving you need to make sure you have the correct car insurance in place. As you haven’t passed your test yet, you will need insurance to cover you on your provisional licence.   

If you are driving with a qualified instructor, they will have insurance arranged but you will need cover when you are driving with anyone else. 

You can either be added as a named driver on a parent or friend’s car, take out your own learner driver insurance, or you could take out a short term or temporary car insurance policy.   

Theory training and exams  

Your driving instructor will tell you when you are ready to book and take your theory test. It costs £23 and you can book your test online at the website. You will also need to take a hazard perception test and there are free mock tests online.  

You could also buy the official DVLA book for the theory and hazard perception tests which costs around £14. Your local library may also have a copy, or you could borrow one from a friend.  

Practical driving lessons and the driving test  

There are a few different options when it comes to driving lessons, you could buy a package of lessons, or you might opt for a short intensive course. The best choice for you will depend on your budget and the amount of time you have space. Going out with a friend or family member for extra practice can also help you to pass sooner.  

What to do once you have passed your driving test  

When you pass your driving test, the examiner will take your provisional licence and send it to the DVLA. It will then send you a full licence within three weeks, if not get in touch with it. Before you start driving you will also need to update your car insurance policy from learner driver cover to fully-qualified cover.   

You can either stay with your current insurer or take a policy out with a different insurer. It’s always worth comparing prices and policies before arranging this cover.