Motorists in the UK must have a valid and appropriate licence before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle.
In this guide, we explain the law on what is known as ‘driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence’, the penalties for breaking the law and the possible defences you may be abler to rely on if you are facing a charge.
What is the offence of driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence?
The offence of driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence is set out within section 87 of the Road Traffic Act (RTA) 1988, which deals with the requirement of drivers of motor vehicles in England, Scotland and Wales to hold a valid driving licence.
Contrary to section 87(1) of the RTA, it is an offence for a person to drive a motor vehicle of any class on a public road otherwise than in accordance with a licence authorising that individual to drive a vehicle of that class. This means that you must have a valid driving licence authorising you to drive the particular class of vehicle in question, otherwise you will be committing the s.87(1) offence of driving otherwise in accordance with a licence.
It is also an offence, contrary to section 87(2) of the RTA, for a person to cause or permit someone else to drive a vehicle on a public road otherwise than in accordance with a licence. As a separate but similar offence, this means that if you allow or authorise someone else to drive a vehicle without a valid licence, you may again be liable to prosecution.
How does driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence happen?
There are various ways that a person may commit the offence under section 87(1) of the RTA of driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence, including:
- where a qualified motorist is driving but their licence has expired
- where a provisional licence-holder is driving without displaying L plates
- where a provisional licence-holder is driving unsupervised, where learner drivers must be accompanied by someone aged 21+ who has held a full licence for 3 or more years
- where a motorist is driving a category of vehicle that their licence does not permit
- where a motorist is driving contrary to any conditions that they are required to meet.
The section 87(2) offence of causing or permitting another person to drive a vehicle on a road without a valid licence will arise where, for example, you supervise a learner driver but without complying with the rules around provisional licence-holders. You may also be guilty of a section 87(2) offence if you allow someone to drive a vehicle where their licence does not allow them to drive the particular class of vehicle in question.
To drive a particular class of vehicle, a motorist will need what is known as an ‘entitlement’ for that category on their driving licence. For example, you will be committing the offence of driving without a valid licence if you drive a motorhome or van but only hold an entitlement to drive a car. You must have the additional licence category on your driving licence to allow you to do this. Equally, you will be committing an offence if you let someone else drive your motorhome or van when they do not have an entitlement to do so, even if you yourself are licensed to drive this class of vehicle.
Importantly, the entitlements set out on a driving licence may depend on when the licence was first obtained. In many cases, to be able to lawfully operate vehicles other than cars, such as passenger-carrying vehicles, heavy goods vehicles or motorbikes, you will be required to pass additional competency tests in order to obtain the correct licence.
Driving entitlements will be listed as either letters or alphanumerical codes on the reverse side of a motorist’s licence under column 9. These could include, for example:
- Category B1: where you can drive vehicles with 4 wheels weighing up to 400kg unladen, or up to 550kg if designed for carrying goods
- Category B: if you passed your driving test prior to 1 January 1997, you will usually be allowed to drive a vehicle/trailer combination up to 8,250kg maximum authorised mass (MAM), as well as a minibus with a trailer over 750kg MAM
- Category B: if you passed your driving test either on or after 1 January 1997, you can drive motor vehicles with up to 8 passenger seats, weighing up to 3,500kg MAM, plus a trailer of up to 750kg. You can also tow a heavier trailer if the total MAM of the vehicle/trailer combination is no more than 3,500kg
- Category C: you can drive motor vehicles over 3,500kg, with a trailer up to 750kg
- Category CE: you can drive category C motor vehicles, together with a trailer over 750kg.
A person’s licence entitlements may also have additional restrictions, where the numerical codes printed on the back of the licence under column 12 will tell you what conditions must be met to be able to drive legally. As such, if you or the driver in question fails to comply with these conditions, you may again be guilty of an offence. This is because a licence will only be valid when used in accordance with any specified conditions of issue.
Common licence restrictions include:
- 01: eyesight correction, for example, wearing glasses or contact lenses
- 101: not for hire or reward, ie; not to make a profit
- 103: subject to certificate of competence
- 106: restricted to vehicles with automatic transmissions
- 108: subject to minimum age requirements.
You can manually check columns 9 and 12 on the back of your driving licence, or someone else’s licence, cross-referencing the meaning of each code with the information provided on the UK Government website under ‘driving licence categories’ and ‘driving licence codes’. Columns 10 and 11 of the licence will specify the ‘valid from and valid to’ dates for each vehicle category.
Alternatively, you can view your driving licence information online at GOV.UK, including what vehicles you are permitted to drive and what restrictions apply when driving those vehicles. To access the online service, you will need your National Insurance number, the postcode on your licence and your driving licence number. Another driver can also use this service to share their information with the owner of the vehicle they want to drive.
Penalties for driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence
The road traffic law in England, Scotland and Wales requires that anyone driving a vehicle on a public road should have a valid licence that permits them to drive the particular class of vehicle in question. This means that if you cannot produce a licence showing that you are legally driving a certain vehicle when requested by the police, or if you permit or cause someone else to drive a certain vehicle without them having the correct licence, then you could be charged with an offence under either section 87(1) or (2) of the RTA.
Driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence is what is classed as a summary offence. This is a criminal offence that is only triable summarily, so in the Magistrates’ court, rather than in the Crown court. This is because section 87 offences are regarded as relatively minor motoring offences, although the consequences can still be serious.
The possible penalties for driving without a valid licence is the imposition of 3 to 6 points endorsed on your licence, together with a fine of up to £1,000. Importantly, the court also has the discretion to impose a disqualification from driving in the most serious cases.
Although an outright driving ban will be reserved for those cases where a motorist has deliberately flouted the law, for example, a learner driver using a vehicle without any supervision whatsoever, if you already have points endorsed on your licence, disqualification can also follow under the ‘totting up’ procedure. This is where the accumulation of 12 or more penalty points within any 3-year period can lead to a ban.
For those of you who are fortunate enough to avoid a driving ban, the conviction will still be endorsed on your licence, under Code LC20, for a period of 4 years from the date of the offence. If you are convicted of causing or permitting someone else to drive otherwise than in accordance with a licence, the endorsement will appear as Code LC24. In either case, these endorsements will need to be disclosed for the purposes of obtaining vehicle insurance, with the associated increase in annual premiums that generally go with this.
Can you defend a charge of driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence?
To be able to drive legally in the UK, you must hold a driving licence that is in-date and permits you to drive the particular class of vehicle that you are proposing to drive on public roads. Whether this is a motorbike, the family car, a motorhome, mini-bus or lorry, you must have an unexpired driving licence proving that you are allowed to drive this class of vehicle both safely and competently. As such, if you are caught driving without a valid or appropriate licence, you may be prosecuted and penalised accordingly.
To be charged with the offence of driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence, the police must be able to demonstrate that you were driving. This may come about by them physically observing you behind the wheel of a particular vehicle and pulling you up on the roadside. It can also be done by capturing you driving on video or camera. At this point, the obligation will shift to you, as the defendant, to prove that you held a valid and appropriate licence at the time of the alleged offence. If you cannot produce a driving licence to show that you were driving legally at that time, for which there is no defence, then you will be convicted under section 87(1) of the RTA. This applies equally to section 87(2), where the driver involved is unable to provide proof of a valid and appropriate licence.
However, by seeking expert advice at the earliest possible opportunity from a specialist in motoring offences, this can help you to avoid or minimise the number of penalty points and fine that you may be given. It can also help you to avoid the possibility of a disqualification.
It is not uncommon for motorists to get behind the wheel of a vehicle without realising that they are committing an offence, especially when it comes to rental vehicles, and whilst ignorance is not a defence, it can help to mitigate the seriousness of an offence. In cases of innocent oversight, it is often possible to persuade the court to impose a penalty towards the very lowest end of the scale, such as 3 penalty points and a small fine.
There may also be cases where you have been wrongly charged with the offence of driving without a valid licence, for example, where you have failed to update your photograph on a photo-card licence, the police may have mistakenly charged you with a s.87(1) offence. Failing to update your photo is still an offence, under section 99(5) of the RTA (failing to have the correct information on your licence), but this is a non-endorsable offence. Further, a licence will remain valid until revoked by the DVLA. Until such time that DVLA provides written notification of the date of revocation, the licence will remain valid and so the offence under s.87(1), or s.87(2), will not be committed by the photo being out-of-date.
Importantly, if you drive while disqualified, an offence under section 103 of the RTA, this is a much more serious offence than driving without a valid licence. This is because you will be driving with the clear knowledge that you are not permitted to do so, having had your driving licence revoked by the courts. In these cases, you will be liable on prosecution to an unlimited fine and up to 6 months in prison, so legal advice should be sought immediately.
Driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence FAQs
What does driving not in accordance with a licence mean?
Driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence typically refers to a scenario where a provisional licence-holder drives without L plates or supervision, or a motorist drives a class of vehicle which they are not entitled to drive.
What is a LC20 driving conviction?
An LC20 conviction refers to the offence of driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence, for example, driving on a provisional licence without L plates, or driving a motorhome when you are only licensed to drive a car.
What is the penalty for inconsiderate driving?
The penalty for driving without reasonable consideration for other road users is 3 to 9 penalty points. This is distinct from driving without due care and attention, although that offence will also attract the same amount of penalty points.
What happens if you drive without a licence UK?
If you drive without a valid licence in the UK, you could be fined and given penalty points for driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence. However, if you drive whilst disqualified, you could be sent to prison.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.