Not only do all unqualified drivers need a provisional licence before they take to the roads - whether they’re being supervised by a fraught relative or registered instructor - they’ll also need one before they take their driving theory test.
However, once you have your provisional licence this doesn't mean you can drive wherever you want to in whatever vehicle you choose, as the licence comes with certain restrictions in place until you pass your test and can apply for your full driving licence.
So, before you don the driving goggles, leather gloves and silk scarf, let’s find out what this 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 in Northern Ireland, the bike must not exceed 14.6bhp (brake horsepower).
For a list of the types of vehicles you can drive at what age and on what licence, click here.
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 are not allowed to drive on the motorway on a provisional licence.
- You must display ‘L’ plates on the front and back of your vehicle (or ‘D’ plate in Wales).
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 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, with glasses or lenses if necessary, which means that you must be able to read a car number plate made after September 2001 from a distance of 20 metres. And you must not be prevented from driving for any reason.
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, as you can imagine, 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. The most obvious is to take your lessons with a professional driving school 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, so you can often bring the price down by putting an older, named driver on the policy – it’s a good idea for the person who’ll be teaching you to be the named driver in case they have to drive the car instead of you.
However, you must never name the older 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, click here.
And good luck when taking the test!