Foreign drivers flock to switch licences

South African driving licence
7 Nov, 2012 11:53am Julie Sinclair

More than a million drivers have converted to UK licence with no training

More than one million motorists have converted foreign driving permits to a British licence over the past 15 years, without needing any training on British roads.

The amazing figure was obtained via a Freedom of Information request by insurer, and prompted the cover provider to call for mandatory formal training for these motorists, who could have learned to drive in countries as far flung as Zimbabwe.

Chief claims officer Robin Reames said: “UK roads are very different to those overseas, so it’s vital new motorists learn as much as they can, which could include a few lessons from an instructor.”

But Auto Express has found that not all insurers can judge whether these drivers pose a greater risk on UK roads, as they don’t collect data on where their policyholders obtained their licence – and this includes Plus, the Motor Insurance Bureau admitted this data isn’t currently available on the Motor Insurance Database, which insurers use to share data.

The DVLA explained motorists obtaining their licence in some countries outside the EU can legitimately drive here for up to 12 months, before converting to a UK licence without extra lessons or a retest, as their training is seen to be equivalent to ours. But it admitted the system was open to abuse.

A spokesman said: “We’ve heard of drivers exchanging a licence from a country we don’t recognise, say India, for a Hong Kong licence, then converting this licence to a UK one. We plan to close this loophole with a new law that could come in this year.”

Top licence switchers

Below are the top 10 countries with the highest number of drivers converting to a GB licence in the past 15 years.

Position Country Number
1 South Africa 149,897
2 Poland* 135,079
3 Australia 103,052
4 New Zealand 56,478
5 Hong Kong 46,312
6 Northern Ireland 43,570
7 Zimbabwe 37,839
8 Japan 37,348
9 Lithuania* 32,546
10 Italy 30,890

* Since 2004