Right Driver

Vehicle documents: insurance, registration, MOT, licence and SORN

This article deals with the knowledge you will need for your theory test regarding documentation.

General documents for all vehicles

To drive on the road a learner must have a signed, valid provisional licence for the category of vehicle you are driving, valid insurance cover and have paid the appropriate vehicle excise duty.

If a police officer asks to see your documents and you do not have them with you, you may be asked to take them to a police station within 7 days. The documents will be your insurance certificate, driving licence and MOT certificate.

If you want to drive your vehicle in Europe you must carry your national driving licence with you at all times, plus the insurance certificate and vehicle registration document. Other documentation might be required, as well as certain equipment such as a warning triangle.


A cover note is a document issued before you receive your insurance certificate. It’s a temporary document that only lasts a limited period (usually one month). A newly qualified driver must have valid motor insurance for the vehicle they are driving. This also means that if you want to drive someone else’s vehicle or ride someone else’s motorbike you need to check that you are insured for it.

Once you have your full motor insurance certificate it will contain details explaining who is insured (e.g. you) and what is insured (e.g. the vehicle). The legal minimum insurance for you to drive or ride on the road is third-party. Third-party insurance covers injury to another person, damage to someone else’s property and damage to someone else’s vehicle.

Driving a vehicle or riding a motorbike without insurance cover is illegal and the maximum fine is unlimited. If you cause injury to anyone or damage to property, it could be very expensive and you could also be subject to a criminal prosecution. This is because you will need to pay for the damage yourself. Bear in mind even a minor fender bender can cause several thousand pounds worth of damage. You can arrange insurance cover with, an insurance company, a broker and some motor manufacturers or dealers.

If you have an at-fault accident for which your insurance will pay out, and your excess is £100 then you will need to pay the first £100 of the claim and the insurance company will pay the remainder.

If you are convicted of driving or riding while drinking or on drugs the cost of your insurance is likely to rise considerably.


A Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN) declaration is to tell DVSA that the vehicle is not being used on the road for 12 months. It means you don’t have to pay road tax for that year, and you must not drive the vehicle on the road. You must send a further SORN declaration after 12 months. A SORN is valid until the vehicle is taxed, sold or scrapped.

Registration and MOT

A Vehicle Registration Document contains a number of details that are unique to a particular vehicle, for example the make and model, the engine size and number of cylinders, the year of first registration and the registered keeper. You must notify DVSA of any changes to, for example, the registered keeper (e.g. the address or name of the owner), registration number or any modifications to the vehicle. It is the registered vehicle keeper’s responsibility to notify authorities of changes to the Vehicle Registration Certificate (V5C).

If you buy a new vehicle the dealer will register it with the licensing authority, who will send the registration document to you.

All vehicles over three years old require a valid MOT certificate. It’s to make sure they are roadworthy at the time of the inspection. Make a note of when it expires (one year after the test). Some garages and mechanics will remind you when your MOT is due if you have supplied them with contact details, but not all do. You can do your MOT up to one month in advance of the expiration and have the certificate post-dated.

You can only drive a vehicle over three years old without an MOT certificate if you are driving to an appointment at an MOT centre. This must be a pre-arranged appointment. However, you will need to check that you are still insured with your insurance company as many of them will have special conditions excluding them from liability if you drive without a current MOT.


Cars, coaches and heavy vehicles may be inspected at international ports by immigration authorities for national security reasons. This is to intercept illegal immigrants and any prohibited goods. The driver, vehicle owner and vehicle hirer can all be fined for bringing illegal immigrants into the UK. The current fine is £2000 per immigrant.

Excise duty (road tax)

You need current valid insurance when renewing your vehicle excise duty (road tax). The tax disc should be displayed at the bottom of the windscreen on the nearside (left-hand side). This allows it to be easily seen from the kerbside. It must be current, and you can’t transfer the disc from vehicle to vehicle.

The vehicle excise licence (road tax) can be renewed at post offices, vehicle registration offices, online, or by post. When applying make sure you have all the relevant valid documents, including a valid MOT test certificate where applicable.



If you would like a friend to help you learn to drive a car they must be at least 21 and have held a full licence for at least 3 years in the same category as the vehicle you are driving. It’s best to contract a qualified approved driving instructor (ADI) to help you learn.

Pass Plus

The Pass Plus scheme can be taken after you have passed your test. It will help you improve your driving skills and widen your experience, and you might be able to get a discount on your insurance.

Drink driving

If you have been convicted of a drink-drive offence while driving your car and you have been banned from driving this affects all of your driving entitlements.

Heavy vehicles and passenger carrying vehicles

A driver that is applying for a LGV or PCV licence for the first time needs uncorrected visual acuity in each eye of at least 3/60. A standard eye test card can check this. If you can’t meet the eyesight requirements if your eyesight changes, you must inform the authorities. You may be prevented from obtaining a lorry or bus licence if you have partial blindness, a heart condition or mental disorders. Contact DVSA’s Drivers Medical Branch for more information about medical standards.

To maintain your Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) you need to take at least 35 hours training every five years. This can be split into sessions of at least seven hours each. One training day a year can be spread over the five years if required. The penalties for non-compliance are the same as driving without a licence.

The holder of a full category C licence (large vehicles and lorries) you can tow a trailer with a maximum authorised mass (MAM) not exceeding 750kg.

The holder of a full category D (bus) licence can tow a trailer with a MAM not exceeding 750kg, and can drive an articulated bus (‘bendi-bus’), a bus with 25 passenger seats and a tri-axle double-deck coach. To drive a bus with more than 16 passenger seats requires a D licence. A D1 licence allows you to drive a bus with up to 16 passengers.

The Traffic Commissioner has the power to impose conditions on a passenger carrying vehicle operator’s licence.

Look out for restrictions for long vehicles. They might not be allowed on ferries, in some tunnels, on some level crossings and bridges, and in areas where it would be difficult or impossible to turn around such as where the angle of a corner is too tight or the road is a dead end with nowhere to turn.

Carrying passengers

Operators need to have an effective system to prevent the carriage of illegal immigrants into the UK that consist of vehicle security, vehicle checks and documentation. At international borders you will need to supply a list of passengers to authorities. They must all be accounted for. Documentation with advice on vehicle security and checks, and a checklist should be produced immediately if requested by an immigration officer.

If you are carrying passengers internationally you should load all luggage before any passengers are allowed on the coach. No one should be allowed to board if they don’t have a ticket.

If you want to drive a midibus for hire or reward, and it will have more than 16 passenger seats, the minimum licence you can drive it with is D.

The following must be clearly displayed on your bus: the seating and standing capacity, the emergency exit locations, the fuel cutoff switch, and the electrical isolator switch.

Carrying goods

It’s your responsibility as a driver to ensure that any goods carried arrive in the condition they were loaded in.

The CMR consignment note is generally required for carrying goods overseas for hire or reward. Of the four copies required, the consignor, consignee and originator all have a copy, and the fourth one travels with the vehicle.

If you are delivering chilled food (food transported at temperatures above freezing), you will need training in operating refrigeration units, and in hygiene procedures.

If you have been asked to drive a fully loaded petrol tanker with a MAM (Maximum Authorised Mass) of 10 tonnes back to the depot you must carry a valid DVSA ‘approved course’ certificate.


If you are disqualified because you are two and a half times over the legal limit, you will have to satisfy the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s Medical Branch that you do NOT have an alcohol problem, before your licence is returned.


Before taking a practical motorbike test you need a CBT (Compulsory Basic Training) certificate. Any DVSA-approved training body can carry out the CBT. A CBT certificate is valid for two years, within which time you must pass your practical test. If you don’t, you will need to retake and pass your CBT to continue riding.

You cannot pull a trailer on a motorbike as a learner.

With a provisional licence you must not ride on a motorway, ride without L plates displayed, or carry a pillion passenger.

You can ride a larger motorbike via Direct Access. While training through the Direct Access scheme you must be accompanied by an instructor on another motorcycle and be in radio contact. You must display L-plates on your motorcycle and follow all normal learner restrictions. The minimum test vehicle requirements for a motorcycle used to obtain the full category ‘A’ licence through the accelerated or direct access scheme are solo with minimum power of 40kW (53.6 bhp).

Carrying passengers

If you want to carry a pillion passenger on your motorbike you must have passed your full test and have your full motorbike licence. Your bike must have rear foot pegs and a seat for the passenger.

Bike engine size limitations

A full category A1 licence will allow you to ride a motorcycle up to 125cc. You will get this after you have passed your test on a motorbike between 75-125cc. The bike can have a power output of up to 11kW (14.6bhp). Check out what motorbikes you can ride as a learner.

Disqualifications and penalties

If you have passed your motorbike test and it’s your first full licence) i.e. you don’t hold another full licence in a different category and you get six penalty points within the first two years of having your licence, your licence will be revoked. You will need to ride as a learner until you pass both the theory and practical tests again.