Welcome to this three part series of Motoring law tips for American drivers in the UK.
In this series, I’ll show you some of the everyday mistakes American drivers in the UK are making which are costing them money, points on their licence, and/or unnecessary criminal convictions.
Today, I’ll answer the question of whether you can drive in the UK on your American driving licence.
Many Americans do drive in the UK with their US drivers licence.
The problem is that some don’t understand the rules until after they are stopped by the police or receive a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NiP) in the mail. By then, they could be looking at fines, points endorsements and even their vehicles seized.
Here’s the scenario:
You’re driving your car with your Nebraska driver’s licence. You’ve thought about getting a UK licence, but have never gotten around to it.
One day, you’re driving down the Lea Bridge Road and you trigger a speed camera.
About a week later, you receive a Notice of Intended Prosecution in the mail.
Speeding and No Licence?
Are you going to get into even more trouble for not having a UK licence? Should you ignore the Notice of Intended Prosecution and hope it just goes away? How are points calculated? Can you be banned when you don’t have a British driving licence? What would happen to you car?
I’ll be dealing with these questions over the next few days. In the meantime, let’s start at the beginning:
Can I drive in the UK with an American licence?
The general rule is that you need to have a UK licence to drive in the UK. There are however some exceptions to that general rule. The exemptions are spelled out in section 88 of the Road Traffic Act, 1988.
One of these exemptions applies to people with full driving licences from other jurisdictions, such as the United States.
S88 of the Road Traffic Act, 1988 provides that visitors and new residents who hold a valid driver’s licence from another jurisdiction may not use that licence, “beyond the expiration of the period of one year or such shorter period as may be prescribed…”
“If a person resident abroad and temporarily resident in Great Britain holds a … foreign driving permit, it shall be lawful for him to drive during a period of 12 months from his last entry into the UK”.
The issue for you then may be what is meant by, “temporarily resident” and “his date of last entry into the UK”.
What the penalty for driving without a UK Driving Licence?
If you do not have a UK Driving Licence and are stopped by the police, you could be facing a 6 point penalty and a fine for driving otherwise in accordance with a licence, unless the up to one year s88 exemption applies.
You may also find that your insurance is not valid – which could lead to further trouble. I’ll be covering what could happen in that situation over the next few posts.
Different driving licence rules apply to foreign military personnel stationed in the UK
Different rules apply to US military personnel. As per the Status of Forces Agreement, US military personnel who are based in the UK can drive in the UK on their American driver’s licence. That means US Air Force personnel at Lakenheath or Mildenhall etc do not need to get a British driving licence.
My simple tip
If you are working in the UK and think you may be here over one year, consider taking an intensive driving course and getting a British Driving Licence sorted – before you get stopped by the police or flashed by a speed camera.