Why your parents can legally drive a minibus but you probably can’t – and what the strange letters on your licence mean


THE back of driving licences can be confusing for anyone, but it is important you check it to know what vehicle you are legally qualified to drive.

The reason you need to understand the confusing letters and numbers at the back is that if you are driving a vehicle that is not covered by your licence, your insurance will be automatically invalid. 


Check the back of your driving licence to ensure you are properly qualified to get behind the wheelCredit: Alamy

 And to make matters even more confusing, the date when you passed your driving licence can also limit what type of vehicle you can’t drive but your parents probably can.

Indeed, the laws have changed over the years, and this has impacted your UK standard driving licence.

The biggest change came into force on January 1, 1997, and it limited the type of vehicle you are able to drive without additional tests to legally drive such as category A, C, and D vehicles – motorcycles, vans and lorries.

If you have passed your test before 1997, you are automatically legally allowed to drive a minibus, for instance. But if you have passed your test after 1997, you are not qualified to do so.

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As of this month, those who sit their driving licences are now only allowed to drive category B, F, K, Q, and AM vehicles – standard cars, agricultural tractors, mowing machines and small two or three wheeled vehicles.

“There are many different types of vehicles, and it is important for drivers to know what they are legally allowed to drive so that they avoid penalties and ensure their motor insurance is valid,” founder of insurance comparison platform Quotezone.co.uk, Greg Wilson, said.

“The rules of the road are constantly evolving. 

“2022 has been a significant year for change, most notably the updates to the Highway Code in January that gave more priority to vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians, so it’s best practice for all road users to keep themselves up to speed with the latest additions.”

Here, we break down what the letters and numbers on the back of UK driving licences mean and what you need to look out for – it could save you a fixed penalty fine of £300 and six penalty points.

What the confusing letters and numbers on your licence mean

  • AM: Two or three wheeled vehicles with a maximum speed of between 15.5 and 28 mph, and maximum weight of 350kg. 
  • A1: Motor tricycles with a power output of up to 15kW. Motorbikes with an engine size up to 125cc, power output of up to 11kW, and a power to weight ratio no more than 0.1kW/kg. 
  • A2: Motorbikes with a maximum power output up to 35kW, and power to weight ratio of 0.2kW/kg. This also covers motorbikes in the A1 category. 
  • A: Motorbikes with power output over 35kW, or power to weight ratio of 0.2kW/kg. Motor tricycles with a power output over 15kW. A1 and A2 motorbikes are also covered. 
  • B1: Motor vehicles with four wheels with a maximum weight of 550kg if they are designed for carrying goods, or 400 kg if they are not carrying a load. 
  • B: A standard car. If you passed your test after 1st January 1997, you can drive vehicles with a maximum combined weight of 3500kg and eight passenger seats. You can also drive motor tricycles with a power output over 15kW if you are over 21.  If you passed before 1st January 1997, you can drive a combined weight of 8250kg, and a minibus with a trailer over 750kg. 
  • C1: Vehicles with a maximum weight between 3,500 and 7,500 kg, with a trailer up to 750kg. 
  • C: Vehicles over 3,500kg, with a trailer up to 750kg.
  • D1: Vehicles with no more than 16 passenger seats, a maximum length of 8 metres, and a trailer up to 750kg. 
  • D: Any bus with more than eight passenger seats, with a trailer up to 750kg. 
  • BE: Vehicle with maximum weight of 3,500kg with a trailer. 
  • C1E: C1 category vehicles with a trailer over 750kg, however the combined weight cannot exceed 12,000kg. 
  • CE: Category C vehicles with a trailer over 750kg. 
  • D1E: Category D1 vehicles with a trailer over 750kg, yet the combined weight cannot exceed 12,000kg.
  • DE: Category D vehicles with a trailer over 750kg. 
  • F: Agricultural tractors. 
  • K: Mowing machines and pedestrian-controlled vehicles. 
  • Q: Two and three wheeled vehicles without pedals, with a maximum engine size of 50cc and speed of 15mph. 

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