Driving Licence Categories Explained

UK Driving licence - HGV Training Network

Given the number of different vehicles on UK roads, it’s understandable that many of them require specific licences to operate safely and legally. Larger vehicles like HGVs, for instance, require drivers to undertake specific HGV training and gain the appropriate licence to drive on UK roads and keep the distribution market moving smoothly year-round.

If you’re looking into obtaining a new driving licence or are interested in driving vehicles outside of standard cars, this could come in handy. Here’s a quick guide on driving licence categories and what vehicles they allow you to drive on UK roads.

Different types of vehicles and their respective licences

1) Cars

Interestingly, while cars are the most commonly used vehicle on the road, the allowances given to drivers through their licence differ depending on when they pass their test. A standard car driving licence is also known as a Category B licence, however:

If you passed your test before January 1st, 1997, you’re allowed to drive a car with a trailer totalling no more than 8,250kg in weight. You’re also authorised to drive a minibus with a trailer, but this trailer cannot exceed 750kg.

If you passed your test after this date, you could only drive vehicles up to 3,500kg in weight – though your vehicle may have up to eight passenger seats, which offers more variety outside of standard cars. You can also attach a trailer of no more than 3,500kg.

If you passed your test and received a Category B Auto licence, you are only permitted to drive automatic vehicles – gas vehicles are off-limits to you.

2) Mid-sized vehicles

These vehicles consist mostly of vans, requiring you to earn either a Category C1 or C1E licence.

With a Cat C1, you may drive vehicles of between 3,500 and 7,500kg in weight, while also towing a trailer of up to 750kg.

The Cat C1E, on the other hand, allows for the above, but the trailer may exceed 750kg if you wish – but the total weight of both cannot exceed 12,000kg.

3) Large vehicles

Large vehicles – usually referring to lorries and HGVs – require drivers to have earned a Category C or Category CE licence before driving them (Note: be careful not to confuse this licence with the above category, as their names are very similar).

With a Cat C licence, you may drive large vehicles over 3,500kg in weight, as well as a trailer of up to 750kg. But the total combined weight must not exceed 32 tonnes.

A Cat CE licence allows for the same limitations, the only difference being the trailer can exceed 750kg. Again, the 32 tonne ruling applies.

4) Minibuses

Those wishing to drive minibuses require a Category D1 or D1E licence. However, in both cases, the minibus must not have more than 16 passenger seats or be longer than 8 metres in length.

The Cat D1 licence entitles you to drive minibuses with a trailer of up to 750kg in weight, while the Cat D1E allows you to tow a heavier trailer, though the total mass of both must not be over 12,000kg.

5) Buses

Bus drivers must earn a Category D or Category DE licence before they can accept passengers on Britain’s roads. While most buses don’t tow trailers, once again, the difference in licences is in relation to the weights of the trailer’s they’re authorised to tow.

Cat D drivers may drive buses with more than 8 passengers and tow a trailer of up to 750kg in weight, whereas Cat DE drivers may drive buses while towing trailers over 750kg.

6) Motorcycles

The restrictions surrounding motorcycles differ from those of cars because they are, for the most part, in relation to the power output of the bike. 

For light motorbikes (bikes with an engine size not exceeding 125cc, a power output of 11kw and a power-to-weight ratio not exceeding 0.1kw per kg) you will need a Category A1 licence.

For those wishing to drive slightly larger and heavier motorbikes (with a power output not exceeding 35kw and a power-to-weight ratio no more than 0.2kw per kg), a Category A2 licence.

Finally, the Category A licence allows drivers to drive all of the above motorbikes, as well as bikes with a greater power output of 35kw.

Seek appropriate training for the driving licence you need

With the above in mind, if you require a new licence to drive a certain vehicle, or if you wish to enter a new profession where driving these vehicles is a must, it is important to seek out experienced and reliable training providers who are qualified to teach you the necessary skills and deliver your new licence at the end of the course.

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