James Callow

Have you ever wondered exactly what the driving licence is actually for. Why is there both a photo id card and a paper counterpart?

In this post, I’ll be able to explain why you have a driving licence and what it identifies.

First of all, let’s start with the fundamental question.

Why do I need a Driving Licence?

Without holding an official driving licence, it is illegal to drive on a public road in the UK. A Public road is classed as one which is under the authority of the Department of the Environment, Transport and local regions.

You can drive on a Private Road without a driving licence. A private road is once considered to not provide access to members of the public. For example: this could be a road on a private estate or land. Some vehicles do not need a licence whether or not they are on private or public land and these are a bicycle and a horse drawn cart.

What does my Driving licence tell me?

Your licence will tell you the type of vehicle you can drive – Vans, Passenger Vehicles and Lorries require you to have added entitlements to your licence. If you are unsure about what you need, then give the DVLA a call and they will be able to assist you with your enquiries.

 It displays a digital copy of your signature. One thing  I have learnt from speaking to people learning to drive when they are in their teens, is that some have found their signature changes over the years. Remember to sign with the same signature shown on your driving licence or update your licence to reflect the changes.

Replacing a driving licence

This will cost £20. You must replace your licence if it’s been lost, stolen, defaced or destroyed.

Your replacement licence should arrive within 1 week if you apply online.

Changing the name or address on your driving licence

There’s no charge for this service. However, there’s a £20 fee if you’re a photocard licence holder and want to change your photo at the same time.

Renewing a driving licence

Photocard licences are only valid for up to 10 years, although you’re normally entitled to drive until your 70th birthday. You must renew your photo every 10 years – you’ll receive a reminder to do this before your current licence ends.

Reason for renewal Fee
From age 70 Free
For medical reasons Free
Bus or lorry drivers Free
After disqualification £65
If disqualified for some drink-driving offences where the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) needs to arrange medical enquiries £90
After revocation (under the New Drivers Act) £50
Renewing an expired driving licence £20

Exchanging a driving licence

Reason for exchange Fee
Add entitlement to full or provisional licence Free
Paper licence to photocard with change of details (eg, name or address) Free
Paper licence to photocard with no change of details £20
Removal of expired endorsements £20
Full Northern Ireland licence to a GB licence Free
Full European Community, European Economic Area or other designated foreign licence, if a previous GB licence held Free
Northern Ireland licence with a GB test pass Free

Your Photocard is barcoded to link it with your paper counterpart.

It has a digital copy of the photograph you sent with your application.

 It displays your driver number:

A            B        C    D   E

GARDN 605109 C99 LY 60

A = This is the first five letters of your surname. If your surname

has fewer than five letters, the remaining spaces will be

made up using the number 9 (for example, MAN99).

B = The first and last numbers are the year of your birth.

The second and third numbers are the month of your

birth. (If you are female, ‘5’ is added to the second

number and the total used as the second digit. So if

you are a woman born in October the second and third

numbers would be 60.) The fourth and fifth digits are the

day of the month you were born on.

C = This is the first two initials of your first names. If you

have only one initial, the second character will be a ‘9’.

D = Computer check digits, randomly produced as a security


E = This is the licence issue number, which will increase by

one with every licence issued.

What is the difference between a provisional and a full licence?

A provisional licence has certain restrictions to it.

It allows you to drive under supervision(that person must be fit to drive). You must display ‘L’ plates on the front and back of your vehicle when you are driving and you must not drive on a motorway.

 The only change to this is: once you have passed your driving test and before you receive your full licence, you can drive a car without being subject to the above conditions.

 A Full Licence allows you to drive a vehicle without supervision.

What else does it show?

Name. Date of Birth. Date and Place of Issue. Issuing Authority Stamp. Ghost Image of Your photograph (to prevent the licence from being copied)

What is the Paper Counterpart for?

The first part of the driving licence holds a digital copy of your signature, name and address and driver number.

The second part of the counterpart shows penalty points and endorsements and is a required document when the penalty points are endorsed by a Magistrates Court.

The third part of the licence can be used for  to tell the DVLA about a change of address.

What about a Driving licence which has been issued abroad?

If your driving licence has been issued in another EEA country and as long as it is full and valid, you may be able to drive in the UK and not exchange it immediately for a GB licence. The rules are different though, if it relates to a vocational one.

Certain countries can exchange their driving licence to a GB licence after a year. These are: Australia, New Zealand, Barbados, Japan, Canada, Republic of Korea, British Virgin Islands, Hong Kong, Monaco, Singapore, Zimbabwe, Switzerland and South Africa. You must change your licence within the year to keep it.

For any other country, you must take a UK driving test after the twelve months grace and you must apply for a GB provisional driving licence before booking a test.