Ever since 1903, anyone driving a car in the UK has needed a driving licence. Over the course of more than a century, this humble document has undergone some remarkable changes to reflect the way we use the road.
Ready to dive into the history of the driving licence? Buckle up and enjoy the ride!
Motor vehicles were an increasingly common sight on Britain's roads towards the end of the nineteenth century, but they were subject to some incredibly strict rules. Each vehicle needed three crew members on board, and the speed limit was set at just 2 mph in towns. These rules were finally relaxed in 1896, helping to increase adoption of cars as a convenient mode of transport—and a comparatively speedy one, with a new speed limit of 14 mph.
In 1903, the government responded to the car's newfound popularity by bringing in the Motor Car Act. As well as introducing vehicle registration and increasing the speed limit, the act was most notable for introducing the first British driving licences. There was no need to take a test (at 8am or otherwise)—anyone over the age of 17 could get a licence just by applying to their local council. The first driving licence was available for just five shillings (or 25p—equivalent to roughly £28 today).
Unlike today's licences, you had to renew every year. Though subsequent acts introduced regulations such as road tax, compulsory insurance, and the Highway Code (as covered in the history of the Highway Code), licences themselves remained largely unchanged for over three decades. This all changed when, in 1934, driving tests were introduced for the first time. Existing drivers were allowed to carry on driving without needing to take the new test, but anyone who started driving from April 1st, 1934 had to pass by June 1935.
While testing was temporarily suspended during the Second World War and the Suez Crisis, it's been with us ever since—unfortunately for nervous learners!
Want to know more about the early years of driving tests? Check out this video for learner drivers from 1935!
When the first stretch of motorway was built in the late 50s, it paved the way for modern driving. Driving licences were changing too: from 1957, they were valid for three years rather than one.
During the 1960s, car ownership boomed, and major changes were afoot. The first approved driving instructor register was set up in 1964, and a centralised licensing system came in 1965. The new central office was based in Swansea, where it remains to this day.
1969 saw some changes which will be familiar to today's learners and drivers. The first change was that learners had to bring their licence to their test. If they didn't, examiners could refuse to conduct the test—a rule which remains in force. Meanwhile, separate licences for automatic and manual cars were introduced. This meant that drivers who'd learned in an automatic could no longer legally drive manual cars. Manual and automatic pass rates differ to this day.
The changes in the 1970s were even more radical.By 1973, there were more than 20 million drivers on Britain's roads. The old manual system was, therefore, increasingly unfit for purpose. So, in 1973, licensing was computerised. Out were the old red booklets—in were new green paper licences.
Then, in 1976, full driving licences became valid until a driver's 70th birthday, ending the need to renew every three years. The extension also applied to provisional licences from 1982.
Check out the DVSA's history of road safety for an even more comprehensive look at the way our roads have changed over the decades.
Image source: gov.uk
Today, we're so used to carrying around our pink photocard licences that it seems like they've been around forever.
In actual fact, they didn't exist until 1997. Before this time, drivers in Great Britain only had their green paper licence, which didn't include a photo. The paper and photocard licences existed side-by-side until June 2015, when paper licences were abolished. The following month, the Union Jack was added to all photocard licences for the first time. As licences themselves have changed, so too has the process of getting one. A written theory test was introduced in 1996.
In 2000, it became a touch-screen test, and a hazard perception section was added in 2002. Some learners still find this change a bit off-putting—if you're one of them, take a look at our guide to passing the theory test. Meanwhile, the practical has changed too: “show me, tell me” questions were introduced in 2003, followed by independent driving in 2010.
The most recent test changes came in December 2017, as we covered in our guide to the new practical driving test. Major changes included new "show me, tell me" questions, one of which is now while driving, as well as a new manoeuvre involving pulling up on the right.
Meanwhile, another key difference is that most driving tests now include sat navs, to reflect the widespread popularity of these handy devices. If you're thinking of buying your own, visit our article on different types of sat nav.
We know that the Queen occasionally drives her Jag, but what do you have in mind for your own first set of wheels? Cazoo is the best way to buy a car online — they'll even deliver it straight to your house!
Now that you know all about driving licences, why not get one of your own? Book a course with PassMeFast and get a full UK driving licence ASAP! You'll need your provisional licence to get started, so keep it safe! If it's too late and you can't find it, check out how to get a replacement provisional licence. Or, maybe you fancy a bit of driving test-related entertainment? This Emergency Stop Game blog post is certain to satisfy your need for diversion!
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