Photocard driving licences were introduced in the United Kingdom, replacing the paper ones

Thursday 23rd July 1998

Photocard driving licences were introduced in the United Kingdom, replacing the paper ones. Driver registration was introduced in 1903 with the Motor Car Act. Holders of the sulphur-yellow coloured document were entitled to “drive a motor car or motor cycle”.The wording changed in 1930 after which holders were allowed to “drive or steer a motor car or to drive a motor cycle”. It was not clear why a motor cycle would not need to be steered. Shortly afterwards, the document cover changed to a dark red colour: holders were for a period entitled to drive a vehicle of “any class or description”. Subsequent changes saw the document list precisely those vehicle types for which holders were licensed. Competency tests were introduced in 1934 by the Motor Vehicles Regulations 1935; they were suspended in 1939 for seven years due to the Second World War and in 1956 for one year due to the Suez Crisis. The only person in the United Kingdom who is not required to have a driving licence in order to drive is The Queen. She also does not require number plates on any vehicles which are personally owned by herself or her closest family members. Until 1973, driving licences (and tax discs) were issued by local authorities, and had to be renewed every three years. In 1971, the decision was taken to computerise the licensing system to enable it to be linked to the Police National Computer, as well as extending the life of the licence up to the driver’s 70th birthday, and extendable at intervals thereafter, subject to the driver’s fitness to drive. Until this day driving licences outside Northern Ireland did not have photographs. Anyone who holds a licence issued before this date may retain their photo-less licence until expiry (normally one’s seventieth birthday) or until they change address, whichever comes sooner. The new plastic photocard driving licences have to be renewed every ten years, for a fee. Until 2015 the licence consisted of both the photocard and a paper counterpart which detailed the individual’s driving entitlements and convictions (“endorsements”). The counterpart was abolished on 8 June 2015 and the information formerly recorded on it is now available online via the View Driving Licence service. Licences issued to residents of England, Northern Ireland and Scotland appear only in English, whilst those issued to residents of Wales appear in both English and Welsh. Each licence holder in England, Scotland and Wales has a unique driver number, which is 16 characters long. The characters are constructed in the following way:
1–5: The first five characters of the surname (padded with 9s if fewer than 5 characters)
6: The decade digit from the year of birth (e.g. for 1987 it would be 8)
7–8: The month of birth (7th character incremented by 5 if driver is female i.e. 51–62 instead of 01–12)
9–10: The date within the month of birth
11: The year digit from the year of birth (e.g. for 1987 it would be 7)
12–13: The first two initials of the first names, padded with a 9 if no middle name
14: Arbitrary digit – usually 9, but decremented to differentiate drivers with the first 13 characters in common
15–16: Two computer check digits.
17–18: Appended, two digits representing the licence issue, which increases by 1 for each licence issued.
Each Northern Ireland licence holder has a unique driver number which is 8 characters long. The characters are not constructed in any particular pattern

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