All you need to know about your provisional driving licence

If you’ve not passed your driving test but you’re itching to get behind the wheel, it’s probably time to sort out a provisional driving licence. 

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As an unqualified driver you’ll need a provisional licence before you take to the roads. This applies if you’re being supervised by a fraught relative or registered driving instructor.

You’ll also need a provisional licence before you take your driving theory test. This is a two-part test that learners must pass before booking a practical driving test or a motorcycle practical test:

  • a multiple choice test
  • a hazard perception test.

Getting your provisional licence doesn't mean you can drive wherever you want, in whatever vehicle you choose. Your licence comes with certain restrictions in place until you pass your test and you can apply for your full driving licence.

So, before you don the driving goggles, leather gloves and silk scarf, let’s find out what the provisional licence is all about…

When you can start driving

If a car is your preferred mode of transport, you will normally be able to get behind the wheel on your 17th birthday, and if you’re looking to take lessons as soon as you’re old enough, you can apply for your provisional licence up to three months before you start driving.

One exception to this is if you’re getting the higher rate of the mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA), in which case you can drive at 16.

You can also take to the roads at 16 if you want to ride a moped, which is basically any motorbike with an engine size no bigger than 50cc. But you will need to have passed your motorbike compulsory basic training (CBT) test.

If you are 17 or over and have a provisional licence, you can ride a motorbike with an engine capacity up to 125cc and engine power up to 11kW.

If you pass your test at 17, you’ll need to retake at 19 to ride motorbikes with an engine capacity of 395cc and above (and engine power of 20 to 35kW), and again at the age of 24 to ride bikes with an engine capacity of 595cc and above (and engine power of at least 40kW).

For a list of the types of vehicles you can drive at what age and on what licence, check out the relevant section on Gov.uk.

Provisional licence restrictions

If you have a provisional licence to drive a car, you'll need to be aware of the following restrictions:

  • When driving, you must be accompanied by someone aged over 21 who has held a full driving licence for at least three years
  • The person accompanying you must sit in the front passenger seat and be fit to drive – so that means you can’t give an older friend a lift home from the pub after they've had a few drinks!
  • You must display ‘L’ plates on the front and back of your vehicle (or ‘D’ plate in Wales)
  • You can only drive on the motorway in England, Wales and Scotland if you are accompanied by an approved driving instructor and driving a car fitted with dual controls

If you have a provisional licence to ride a motorbike you are also not allowed to carry passengers. This rule does not apply to car drivers, provided the front seat passenger is over 21 and fit to drive.

These restrictions are lifted as soon as you pass your driving test, even if you have not yet received your full licence.

Applying for a provisional licence

When it comes to applying for your provisional licence you can either do so online or by post by completing a D1 application form which you can get from a Post Office or by ordering one on the DVLA website.

When applying, as well as meeting the minimum age requirement, you will also need to provide the following:

  • Proof of identification, such as a passport
  • Any addresses you have lived at in the past three years
  • Your National Insurance number
  • A colour passport-style photograph

You will also have to meet the minimum eyesight requirement. You must be able to read a car number plate made after September 2001 from a distance of 20 metres. You may wear your glasses or contact lenses if necessary.

There’s also the small matter of a £34 fee which you can pay using debit or credit card. If you are applying by post, the fee is higher at £43, and you'll need to send it by cheque or postal order (not cash).

Sorting your car insurance

Car insurance costs for newly qualified drivers are generally quite high so , they can be even higher if you’ve not passed your test as you are a greater risk on the roads.

But the good news is, you can keep the cost of your cover down in a number of ways. Taking your driving lessons with a professional driving school, for example, can help as you won’t have to take out car insurance as you will be covered on your instructor’s policy.

Any fuel costs and road tax fees will also be covered in the tuition fees. This means that even if lessons seem expensive, they could actually be a good way to cut down initial driving costs.

If, on the other hand, you are being taught to drive by a friend or relative and you are using their car for lessons, you can be added to their policy as a named driver which should work out cheaper than taking out your own policy.

Alternatively, if you're learning in your own car you will need to take out an insurance policy for learners.

This can be expensive, but adding the person teaching you as a named driver can bring down the cost and they can also drive the car instead of you if necessary.

However, you must never put the named driver as the main driver of the vehicle if this is not the case as this is a form of insurance fraud known as ‘fronting’. Getting caught doing this could land you with a driving ban before you’ve even hit the roads.

For more ways to cut the cost of cover, check out our money saving tips.

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