Riding a motorbike in the UK on a US license: What are the rules?
October 14, 2013 9:00 AM   Subscribe

I moved to the UK earlier this year for work, and have recently bought a Vespa scooter. I had an unrestricted motorcycle license in the US (Illinois, specifically). I'm in the process of getting the Vespa insured, and am applying for my provisional license (with the aim, of course, of taking CBT and getting a full license down the road.) As I understand it, I'm technically allowed to ride on my US license for the first 12 months I'm here. I also understand that, were I a British citizen acquiring his first motorcycle license, I would not be allowed to carry a passenger until I'd passed the test for a full (not provisional) license. Does that rule apply to me as well? Also, do the 'L' plate restrictions change at all for my situation?

I've read the information/links posted here, which were all very helpful. But I fear I'm suffering from the same "information overload" as the OP, at least as pertains how the general rules apply to my situation as a resident with a foreign license. The tool on gov.uk that I used to discern that I could drive on a foreign license is, sadly, pretty scant in the details department.

As far as plates, it seems that, in the normal process for a British citizen, having a provisional license would mean that I have to display 'L' plates -- which bar the carrying of a passenger. But if I'm driving on a foreign license, does UK law consider me a learner driver? I don't want to get into a situation where I put on an L plate to be safe because I don't have a full UK license, but which would on the other hand mark me with a red flag if I'm (legally) carrying a passenger.

In the end, of course, barring other information, I'm going to play it safe (as one should do with anything motorbike-related!). But I was curious to see if anybody could give me concrete information, as looking for information on UK motorbike law on the internet has definitely felt like a case of drinking from the firehose.

(Short version: I want to play by the rules, whatever those may be, but I don't want to leave my wife at home stewing in jealousy because I was too conservative in my reading of the law.)
posted by mattstan to Law & Government (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: According to the Convention on Road Traffic, if you've got a category A license it works (nearly) everywhere for the first year of residence. After that, you revert to the provisional license. So the highest category of license applies.

I'd do that without worries, but given that you are concerned, and it does seem tricky to find authoritative web sources, why not call the DVLA to check?
posted by ambrosen at 10:00 AM on October 14, 2013

Be careful - my understanding is that once you have a UK driving licence, including a provisional, that is the only one that counts. As such, whether you have a US licence or not won't make any difference. That said, if the scooter is under 125 CC you can drive it on a provisional, if you've taken CBT within 2 years. If you want to be totally golden, act as if you're a UK citizen without a driving licence. NB! This isn't legal advice - only the result of watching Road Wars on Sky a bit too often...
posted by prentiz at 10:01 AM on October 14, 2013

Best answer: My reading is that you can ride on your US licence for 12 months for the classes of vehicle that you are allowed to drive or ride on that licence. After that, you have to take the UK test for whatever you want to do - drive a car, ride a bike etc.

As a provisional licence holder you would be restricted in terms of the capacity of bike you can ride - up to 125cc, you have to put L plates on it and you cannot carry a passenger.

You don't want to put L plates on while you're riding on your US licence and you would need to clear with your insurance company what licence you were riding on. I think that you don't need L plates even if you've done your CBT and are 'learning' unless you are using your own bike for lessons with the instructor, in which case they'll probably insist you put L plates on for the duration of the lesson. A bike school bike will also come with L plates.

If in doubt, you can call 0300 790 6801 or pop into your local police station and ask. You need to ask them specifically the point prentiz raises - i.e. before the 12 months is up, if you have a provisional UK licence does that supercede your foreign one? I don't think it does, or else you would have to stop, say, commuting the moment you applied for your new licence.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:04 AM on October 14, 2013

Best answer: This suggests Muffinman is right and that you are still OK for 12 months, albeit the page is specifically about Northern Ireland. Worth checking though
posted by prentiz at 4:11 PM on October 14, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, all! I phoned the DVLA, and they confirmed that:

1. my US license is valid here for the first 12 months;
2. the conditions of my US license apply in the UK — i.e., I am allowed to carry a passenger while my US license is valid here; and
3. once I've acquired a provisional license, it does not supersede my US license in that respect — i.e., I will still be able to carry a passenger while I practice for the full test.

Thanks as well for the reminder to discuss my license situation with my insurer.
posted by mattstan at 8:33 AM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

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