A driver's license (UK: driving licence; US: driver's license or driver license; Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong: driver's licence; Hong Kong: 駕駛執照; Japan: 運転免許証 Unten menkyo sho) is an official document which states that a person has the necessary qualifications to drive a motorized vehicle, such as a motorcycle, car, truck, or a bus.
Driver's license are generally granted after the bearer has passed a successful driving test. Different categories of licenses may exist for different categories of motor vehicles. The difficulty of the driving test varies considerably between jurisdictions.
European Union after standardisation in 1998
In most European countries a person has to be at least seventeen or eighteen years old to drive a car, but by European law it is possible that EU-Countries can allow that 17-year old persons can drive a car. Currently under discussion in Northern Germany.
Some categories like C and D will be issued for 5 years only. After expiration there is medical checkup necessary in order to renew the license for another 5 years.
Categories valid in all EU-countries
- Category A
- Category A limited
- Motorcycles up to a power of max. 25 kW.
- Category A1
- Light Motorcycles with a displacement of max. 125 cm³ and 11 kW (minimum age: 16 years, (speed limit of max. 80 km/h in some countries).
- Category B
- Passenger vehicle with a max. mass of 3,5 t and not more than 8 seats (excl. driver); with a trailer with a max. mass of not more than 750 kg or a max. mass up to the mass of an empty car if the total mass of both is less than 3,5 t.
- Category C
- Vehicles of more than 3,5 t mass and not more than 8 + 1 seats (Lorry); with a trailer with a max. mass of not more than 750 kg.
- Category C1
- light lorry with a mass not more than 7,5 t; with a trailer with a max. mass of not more than 750 kg.
- Category D
- Vehicles with more than 8 + 1 seats (buses).
- Category D1
- light buses with max. 16 + 1 seats.
- Category E (combined only with B, C, C1, D or D1)
- other trailers which are heavier than 750 kg. In combination with C1E and D1E max. total mass of vehicle and trailer is 12 t and the mass of the empty vehicle must be higher than the mass of the trailer. Carrying passengers in a trailer of category D1E is prohibited.
Furthermore there are more national categories for tractors, very light motorcycles, motorised wheel chairs and military categories such for driving tanks.
In the U.S. and Canada, the driving age is determined by the state or province, with the most common age being sixteen. Most states and provinces also have restricted driver's licenses (also called learner's permits), which allow a person to drive provided they are accompanied by a licensed driver. There has also been a trend toward "graduated driver's licenses", in which new (especially young) drivers are gradually allowed more driving privileges instead of being given complete driving privilege all at once. Learner's permits are granted by some states to drivers as young as fourteen.
In the United States and most of Canada, a driver's license has a unique number or alphanumeric code issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles (or equivalent), a photograph of the bearer, a copy of his signature, the address of his primary residence, the type or class of license, the physical characteristics of the bearer (like height, weight, hair color, and sometimes even skin color) and birthdate.
The classes of licenses are usually organized so that Class A is usually the license that indicates a person can drive the heaviest and largest vehicles. The license held by the vast majority of ordinary drivers is Class C or Class D, depending upon how the government sets the weight limits for each class. Motorcycles are usually Class M.
Because there is no national identity card in the United States, the driver's license is often used as the de facto equivalent for completion of many common business (and governmental) transactions. As a result, driver's licenses are the focus of many kinds of identity theft.
The driving age for a car or van is seventeen, while a moped or restricted-power motorcycle can be ridden at sixteen. Until a driving test has been passed (which consists of three sections: a theory test, a hazard perception test and a supervised driving examination) a driver will hold a Provisional Licence, and must display learner plates (a large red L on a white background) on the front and back of the vehicle. They must also be accompanied by an adult who is at least 21 years of age and has held a full driving license for at least three years. 
Registration was introduced in 1903 with the Motor Car Act . Competency tests were introduced in 1935 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. 
Licensing laws in Australia differ between different states and territories, however, most involve a similar procedure, with most having a graduated licensing scheme of some kind.
In New South Wales, the minimum age for a Learner’s Permit is 16 for cars and 16 and 9 months for motorcycles, although the minimum age for a P1 licence is 17 and the mandatory periods of time between each licence makes the effective minimum age of full licensing 20. Since the introduction of an enhanced graduated licensing scheme in 2000, new drivers must proceed through 3 different stages before gaining a full, unrestricted licence. These are:
- A learner’s permit, gained after passing a computerised knowledge test, which allows the learner driver to drive accompanied by an full, unrestricted licence holder, usually either a parent or professional driving instructor. The driver is limited to a maximum speed of 80 km/h, a zero alcohol limit, cannot tow a trailer, and must conspicuously display black on yellow ‘L-plates’ at all times whilst driving. To proceed to a provisional licence, the learner driver has to complete at least 50 hours (verified by a log book completed by the supervising driver) of on-road driving experience and must hold the permit for at least 6 months.
- The next stage is the Provisional (P1) Licence, which is gained after passing a practical driving test. The licence holder can drive unaccompanied, but is limited to a maximum speed of 90 km/h, towing trailers of up to 250 kg, and a zero alcohol limit. They must display red on white ‘P-plates’ at all times. The licence holder is also limited to a total of 3 demerit points during the term of the licence as compared to the 12 point limit on unrestricted licences.
- After holding a P1 licence for a period of one year, the driver is eligible for the Provisional (P2) licence, after passing a computerised hazard perception test. The driver is limited to a speed limit of 100 km/h, zero alcohol limit, and a maximum of 6 demerit points. They must display a green on white ‘P-plate’ at all times. Holders of a P2 licences are also eligible to upgrade the class, such as those for heavier vehicles, of their licence. After holding the licence for 2 years, and passing another computerised test, the driver is eligible for a full, unrestricted licence.
There are several issues with the licensing scheme, however. The relatively high number of road accidents involving P-plate drivers and the high profile of P-plate drivers being involved in traffic offences such as speeding, has prompted calls for further driving restrictions, such as curfews and passenger restrictions, as implemented in other countries. Also, some consider 50 hours as being not enough experience for learner drivers. The blanket speed restrictions on learner and provisional drivers also poses problems, especially on faster country roads and on high speed freeways, especially with learner drivers being restricted to 80 km/h, although being expected to gain experience on these kinds of roads. In other states, such as Victoria, this problem is avoided by allowing learners to travel at higher speeds on freeways.
Drivers from overseas with equivalent unrestricted licences need to pass a practical driving test before being able to drive. Increasingly, this requirement is waived for people from countries with licensing procedures that are considered to be of similar standard, such as New Zealand. An acceptable translation of the licence is also required to be carried at all times if the licence is not written in English. In Australia, without any form of ID card, driver’s licences serve as the primary means of photo identification, although 'proof of age' cards are available for non-drivers. Licences are hologramed, and have a photo, signature, address of the driver, and whether or not the driver has indicated that they are willing to donate organs in case of death.
The Road and Traffic Authority of New South Wales
A ‘Demonstration’ Driver Knowledge Test for Learner Drivers
Road Users Handbook (PDF)
New Zealand has had a graduated driver licence system since 1987. It consists of three phases for a car licence:
- Learner Licence, which is gained after scoring 32 out of 35 (or better) on a multiple-choice test relating to road rules. Once gained, it allows a driver to drive during daylight hours, provided they display black-on-yellow learner plates and are accompanied by a "supervisor" (being any person who has held a Full Licence for at least two years). The learner license is a blue plastic card.
- Restricted Licence, which requires one having held a Learner Licence for six months (three months if aged over 25) and passing a twenty-minute practical driving test. This allows a driver to drive without L-plates, and without a supervisor between 5am and 10pm if not carrying passengers. It is a yellow plastic card.
- Full Licence, which requires having held a Restricted Licence for eighteen months, or twelve months for someone who has taken a defensive driving course (six and three months respectively for people aged over 25), and passing a more thorough, hour-long driving test. It allows a driver to drive at any time with passengers, and after two years to supervise Learner and Restricted drivers. It is green plastic card.
Alternatively, people who gained a licence before 1987 (and/or holders of overseas licences) can usually obtain a Full Licence without needing to take a driving test.
A Learner licence can be applied for at age fifteen. This means the minimum possible age to gain a Full Licence is sixteen-and-a-half.
The car licence allows the holder to drive a moped, tractor or all-terrain vehicle as well as a car, however, motorbikes and heavy vehicles require separate licences.
Driver licences carry a unique identifying number, date of birth and photograph of the holder, and apart from passports and a special-purpose 18+ card are the only legal form of ID for buying alcohol or tobacco. They also carry a legend declaring whether or not the holder wishes to donate their organs if they die on the road, however, the next-of-kin are consulted first and decide whether or not organs will be donated regardless of the wishes of the licence-holder.
Drivers must carry their license at all times while driving. If they fail to do so they may face a fine of 55 NZD.
Land Transport Safety Authority car licensing site
The minimum age limit is 18 for cars (14 for mopeds). In fact, the Learner's Licence for cars is not given until at least the date of the applicant's 18th birthday and is withheld until the theoretical exam is passed. Learner plates (a magnetic or non-magnetic blue square with a white "L" on it) are to be used when the driver is one whom holds a Learner's Licence. Trips driven by the Learner Driver must be accompanied by an individual of at least 23 years of age who has possessed a valid licence for at least three years. Motorways may be accessed only by those who have "experience skills" and are "ready for the exam". Test drives must not interfere with traffic as usual. The official licence is given after a on-the-road exam, based on a successful theoretical examination. Public roads require a driver's licence, while private roads can be driven without one, subject to the land proprietor's consent.
Minimum age varies from 18 (for cars) all the way up to 26 (for large buses). Learner's licences, although granted, have little effect, as most training takes place within the confines of specially-designed training areas inaccessible, on paper, to the general motoring public. Previously, expressways were inaccessible even for holders of a normal driver's licence if they did not possess the licence for a full year; however, such a regulation has now been invalidated. Drivers with licences less than a year old, however, are still considered "intern drivers" or "new drivers" (in Chinese, 实习司机, shixi siji), and certain limitations apply to them (e.g., they must display a uniform label on the car when they're driving). The PRC considers the driving licence, under a new law, an administrative licence (in Chinese, 行政许可, xingzheng xuke).
Minimum age for cars is 18 years. Mopeds and smaller motorcycles (engine capacity less than 100 cubic centimetres) is 16 years. Most larger truck licenses require holder to be 21 years old. Although Norway is not part of the EU, the license is in the form of an EU license.
In the United States and Canada, persons who drive commercially (especially truckers and taxi drivers) are required to have special licences. For taxicab drivers, these licenses are usually called Chauffeur Permits. In most cases, commercial truckers must hold a commercial driver's license or CDL. In the United Kingdom, one must hold a Passenger Service Vehicle (PSV) licence to drive a bus carrying more than eight passengers, or a Large Goods Vehicle (LGV) licence to drive a lorry (truck) licensed to carry a weight greater than 3500 kg. The cost of taking the series of tests and examinations to obtain these licences usually means that an employer would subsidise their drivers.
The holder of a licence from any EU member country can drive in any other EU country. Most countries worldwide will also recognise the licences of citizens of foreign states wishing to drive as visitors. All EU member countries now issue licences in a standard format, regardless of the language of the licence.
The International Driving Permit (IDP) (sometimes erroneously called the International Drivers' Licence) is a booklet which is an authorized translation of a driver's home licence into many languages (especially languages with different scripts such as Cyrillic, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, etc.). In some cases, it is obtained from the Automobile Association or equivalent organization in the driver's home country; in other cases, it is delivered by the same government services that deliver ordinary licenses. The IDP has no validity except when used in conjunction with the driver's own licence. The existence of the IDP is motivated by many countries not recognizing driver's licenses written in foreign languages and not coming with an authorized translation.
The People's Republic of China at present does not recognize IDPs (although Hong Kong and Macao do) and requires drivers to get an additional PRC licence before being officially allowed on all roads.
Use as identification
Because the United States and Canada have no national identification cards and because of the widespread use of cars, drivers' licenses are typically used in both countries as a form of identification. Most state and provincial driver's license bureaus also issue identification cards for nondrivers.
Many European countries require drivers to carry ID cards as well as their licence. Citizens of the UK, which has no national ID card, may have to carry their passports instead when travelling in these countries. In the PRC, the driver's licence number is synonymous with the ID number of a Chinese citizen (up to 18 digits long).
Similarly, Saudi Arabia requiers all drivers to carry -in addition to license- ID cards and present them whenever requested. Using a driver's license instead is only permitted if the request is made for on-site inspection/identification purposes, especially at check points. Expats may be requested to present their visas too.
Under the US Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, the various states are encouraged to set up programs through which licensed drivers can make organ donations for the purpose of transplant by a notation on their license.
For information on driving, and especially on safe driving, see Driving.