Driving Licences Categories and Codes - The 2020 Ultimate Guide

James Rodriguez James Rodriguez updated on July 24, 2020

On the back of your driving licence there's a grid of licence categories and codes with their dates of validity. 

You probably know you've got a regular car licence. But what do all those other categories mean?

If you're confused or simply can't tell your C1E from your AM, don't worry - we've got it covered. In this article, we'll explain the different codes on your licence, and tell you exactly what you're allowed to drive.

Why does my driving licence show different categories?

A driving licence isn't a 'one size fits all' document. You are licensed to drive a particular type of vehicle. 

For instance, you may be licensed to ride a moped, or a larger motorbike - those come in different categories. You may need to pass a further test to get some types of driving licence, and the minimum age can be different for different types of vehicle.

For instance, to get your C licence enabling you to drive Heavy Goods Vehicles, you'll need to pass the HGV test, and you'll also need to be over 21. Obviously, it wouldn't be a good idea to let someone who has only learned to drive an ordinary car get behind the wheel of a 32 tonne lorry without some extra training!

The driving licence categories on the back of your driving licence show exactly what kind of vehicle you're allowed to drive.

The DVLA licence categories have changed over time as new laws have been brought in. Some licence categories are no longer issued to new drivers because they have been superseded, but drivers who already had the entitlement retain that category on their licences. And most importantly, driving licence B category - cars - gives different entitlements depending on when you passed your driving test.

What can I drive on a normal car licence?

If you have a normal car licence, category B will show as valid and you can drive a car or a small van. (If you took your test on an automatic, you'll have category B auto instead, and you will not be allowed to drive cars with manual transmission.)

Exactly what category means depends on when you took your driving test:

Driving test dateDriving authorizations
You passed your driving test before 1 January 1997You can drive any vehicle and trailer combination up to 8,250 kg Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM).
You passed your driving test afterwardsYou can drive vehicles up to 3,500 kg MAM with up to 8 passenger seats, with a trailer up to 750 kg. Or you can drive a different combination of vehicle and trailer as long as the total MAM isn't more than 3,500 kg.
Driving authorizations according to the driving test date

A Category B full licence also lets you ride a motor trike above 15 kW power output, as long as you're over 21.

Maximum Authorised Mass is the weight of a vehicle including the maximum load that it can safely carry. You can find the MAM in the manual for your car - it's usually also shown on a sticker somewhere in the car. MAM is sometimes also referred to as Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW).

Usually a full car licence in category B will also give you entitlement for a number of other codes such as l (electric vehicles such as milk floats), f (tractors), and k (pedestrian-controlled vehicles like mowers that you have to walk behind).

What are the commonest driving licence categories?

The commonest full driving licence category is the basic car licence, category B. 

While most licences have provisional entitlement for motorcycles (A1), the number of drivers who have taken the full motorcycle test is much lower. Most licences also give AM moped entitlement.

There are also a number of categories that almost all licences have added though relatively few people use them. For instance, if you've ever wanted to drive a tractor, just take a look and see if you have category f (confusingly, it doesn't get a capital letter). Chances are, you're already legal to hop on your tractor and drive away!

What does B1 mean on a driving licence?

B1 is a quadricycle category - four wheeled vehicles weighing up to 400kg unladen (500kg if they are goods vehicles). This is a really uncommon code nowadays in the UK. There's no longer a B1 test, so the category is only available for drivers who are swapping over an EU licence that includes B1 entitlement (and probably Brexit will change that).

What do the driving licence categories mean?

The tables below show the different UK driving licence categories and codes,by type of vehicle. We start with the lightest and smallest - mopeds, and go up to the heavier categories, for which you'll need to take an extra test. The DVLA driving licence categories and codes have evolved over the years, as types of vehicle have changed and new laws have been introduced. 

Driving licence categories for Mopeds

Driving Licence CodeExplanationRestrictions
AMTwo and three wheelers up to 28 miles per hour and light quad bikesMinimum age 16
PTwo-wheelers limited to 31mph and 50ccThis isn't issued any more on new licences; it has been merged with category AM
QTwo and three wheeled vehicles without pedals, limited to 50cc and 15 mphMinimum age 16
Driving licence categories for mopeds - explanation and restrictions

Driving licence categories for motorbikes and quad bikes

Driving Licence CodeExplanations Restrictions
A1up to 125cc engine, 11 kW power output (15kW for tricycles), and power to weight ratio not more than 0.1kW/kgMinimum age 17
A2motorbikes up to 35 kW power output and 0.2 kW/kg power to weight ratioand all bikes included in A1Minimum age 19
Aall motorcycles and tricyclesMinimum age 21
B1vehicles with 4 wheels up to 400kg unladen (500kg if for carrying goods)More common on older licences
Driving licence categories for motorbikes and quad bikes - explanation and restrictions

Driving licence categories for cars

Driving Licence CodeExplanationRestrictions
Category B, if you passed your test before the end of 1996Any vehicle and trailer combination up to 8,250kg maximum authorised mass (MAM), minibus with a trailer over 750kg MAM.Minimum age 17 (though since this only applies to those who took the test before 1996, those with this category will certainly be old enough!)

Category B, if you passed your test on or after 1 January 1997
Any vehicle with up to 3,500kg MAM and up to 8 passenger seats,  plus trailer up to 750kg.
Heavier trailers if total MAM of vehicle and trailer is not more than 3,500kg.
Includes motor tricycle over 15 kW for drivers over 21 (but not on provisional licence)
Physically disabled drivers get A1 and A tricycle entitlement with provisional category B licence.
Minimum age 17
B AutoOnly vehicles with automatic transmissionMinimum age 17
BEVehicle of up to 3,500 MAM with trailer(Trailer's MAM restricted to 3,500 MAM if the validity of your BE entitlement began after 19 January 2013)Minimum age 17
Driving licence categories for cars - explanation and restrictions

Driving licence categories for larger vehicles

Driving Licence CodeExplanationRestrictions
C1vehicles between 3,500 and 7,500kg MAM with trailer up to 750kgMinimum age 18
C1EC1 category vehicles with a trailer over 750kg.
The combined MAM of both cannot exceed 12,000kg.
Minimum age 18
Cvehicles over 3,500kg (with a trailer up to 750kg MAM).Minimum age 21
CEcategory C vehicles with a trailer over 750kg.Minimum age 21
Driving licence categories for larger vehicles- explanation and restrictions

Driving licence categories for buses and minibuses

Driving Licence CodeExplanationRestrictions
D1vehicles with:
no more than 16 passenger seatsa maximum length of 8 metresa trailer up to 750kg
Minimum age 21
D1ED1 category vehicles with a trailer over 750kg MAM.
The combined MAM of both cannot exceed 12,000kg.
Minimum age 21
Dany bus with more than 8 passenger seats (with a trailer up to 750kg MAM).Minimum age 21
DED category vehicles with a trailer over 750kg.Minimum age 21
Driving licence categories for buses and minibuses - explanation and restrictions

Driving licence categories for other types of vehicle

Driving Licence CodesVehicle type
FAgricultural tractor
GRoad roller
HTracked vehicles
KMowing machine, pedestrian-controlled vehicle
lElectrically propelled vehicle (not including electric motorcycles or cars)
MTrolley vehicles
NExempt from duty
Driving licence categories for other vehicles

What are driving licence groups?

Before 1990, the different  categories of driving licence were known as 'groups'. The way they work is the same - it's just the word that has changed.

Don't confuse these with car insurance groups, which are something completely different. 

Check out our guide to car insurance groups.

What can I drive without a licence?

You don't need a licence to drive a mobility scooter, a powered wheelchair, or an electric bike in the UK.

In Northern Ireland, you'll need a moped licence to ride an electric bike.

Can my licence be restricted?

Your licence may be restricted in certain ways. For instance, it may only let you drive if you're wearing your specs or contact lenses, or you may only be allowed to drive a modified vehicle.

What are the codes for that?

The most common driving licence codes are

  • 001 - eyesight correction is required,
  • 002 - you must wear a hearing aid or communication aid, and
  • 115 - you are an organ donor.

Other codes restrict the type of vehicle that can be driven, for instance if you need modifications to the transmission, steering or pedals. 

What’s the difference between categories and codes?

Categories tell you what kind of vehicle you are allowed to drive.

Codes tell you about the conditions that are applied to your use of the licence. Those might relate to you - for instance, you need to wear your specs or contacts - or to the vehicle, if it has to be modified for you to drive it.

Are there different types of driving licence?

The two main categories of licence are a provisional licence and a full licence.

A provisional licence is the first licence that's issued to learner drivers. When they pass the test, they get a full licence.

The big difference? A provisional licence is green with an L-plate displayed on it. The full licence is pink.

However, a full licence can also carry provisional entitlement to other categories. For instance, you might have a full car licence, but only provisional motorcycle entitlement. You could also apply for provisional entitlement.to a bus or HGV category if you wanted to pursue a career as a driver - these provisional entitlements aren't given automatically so you have to ask for them.

You can (at the moment) also drive in the UK on an EU driving licence. You don't need to exchange it unless you lose it, it expires, or you get points on your licence. Things might change in 2021.

Drivers from most other countries can drive in the UK for twelve months but will then need to pass the driving test and get a UK licence. Drivers from the following countries, and from Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man, can exchange their licences without having to retake the test;

  • Australia,
  • Barbados, 
  • British Virgin Islands, 
  • Canada, 
  • Falkland Islands, 
  • Faroe Islands, 
  • Hong Kong, 
  • Japan, 
  • Monaco, 
  • New Zealand, 
  • Republic of Korea, 
  • Singapore, 
  • South Africa, 
  • Switzerland, and 
  • Zimbabwe

Strangely enough, you'll probably get a better quote as a provisional driver than you will once you've passed your test! This may sound strange, but it's quite logical; as a provisional driver you have to have a more experienced driver with a full licence in the car with you whenever you're driving. Once you get your full licence you're on your own - and that's a bigger risk for the insurer.

Drivers with a non-UK licence can find it difficult to insure a car in the UK. And insurers will ignore any No Claims Bonus that comes from another country, which could make your insurance more expensive.

There's also the International Driving Permit. This isn't a licence - you'll need your UK licence to get one. It's useful if you're driving abroad as it is issued in accordance with international guidelines and is a multi-lingual document, so it's accepted in numerous countries where your UK driving licence isn't enough.

Do I need a  driving license to get insurance?

Generally, you need a licence to get insured. If you don't have a driving licence you generally won't be able to insure a car. 

There are a few exceptions. If you're disabled, for instance, and unable to drive, but you own a car that your carers can use to help you get around, you may be able to get special car insurance.

Will insurance companies check my driving Licence with DVLA?

Yes, insurers will always check your licence. Thanks to a computer link with DVLA they can do so almost instantaneously.

They'll want to be sure that you have a licence, and that it permits you to drive the category of vehicle you want to insure. And they also want to see details of any penalty points and convictions, as well as how long you've held the licence. DVLA will also tell them if you've ever been disqualified from driving - so don't be tempted to lie. You'll be found out.

What happens if you get caught driving without a license and insurance?

Driving without a licence and driving without insurance are road traffic offences, and will result in getting points on your licence and a fine.

Driving "otherwise than in accordance with a licence" is offence LC20, carrying 3-6 points on your licence. That might cover not having a licence at all, driving on your own even though you only have a provisional licence, or driving a licence in a category for which you don't have an entitlement. If you're a learner driver and you get 6 points, you'll be disqualified from driving.

Offence IN10, driving without insurance, is seen as a far more serious offence than speeding. You'll get between 6 and 8 points on your licence and could get an unlimited fine if the case is taken to court. You'll also find it expensive to get insurance afterwards.