8 June 2015. Mark the date in your calendar. Circle it with a bright yellow highlighter. Cancel any other plans you may have made. For that is the day when the DVLA’s new driving licence changes come into effect. The paper counterpart to our photocard licences will become invalid.
What’s the reasoning behind this change? According to the DVLA’s most recent Strategic Plan, it’s all part of an effort to cut red tape and therefore costs. It ain’t cheap or efficient to keep sending out those paper counterparts. Instead, all of the information that was printed on them will be transferred online, for us to look at whenever we want. We will keep our existing photocards as proof of both our identities and the fact that we can drive.
It all sounds lovely, like some sort of national spring clean. The DVLA is even advising us to throw out those outmoded papers! They’re not needed any more!
Except the reality might be a whole lot messier. Already, people are concerned about what these changes will mean for their holidays this summer. Will foreign car hire firms, who have traditionally insisted on seeing the counterpart, be aware that they’re no longer valid currency? Or will they refuse to provide cars for Brits who aren’t carrying paper?
The official response is that we shouldn’t worry. Just as we can go online to view our driving details, so too can other interested parties, such as car hire firms or employers. All that’s necessary is for you to log on to theGovernment’s special website with your driving licence number, your National Insurance number and your postcode, and the system will create a code by which others can view your record for the next 72 hours.
Sound simple? Well, it may be if you do all that at the comfort of your own desktop computer, with all the relevant numbers before you, ahead of going on holiday. But it’s a different proposition if you’re already abroad when you need a code. That could leave you relying on your mobile phone network’s expensive data charges, or on the DVLA’s own premium rate helpline. It could be a rather expensive business.
And that assumes that car hire firms will accept the new setup in the first place. If they continue to insist on seeing the paper counterpart, then all the data in the world would come to naught. That’s why organisations such as the AA are advising motorists to rethink what the DVLA is telling them – and hang on to their bits of paper.
But perhaps the greatest inconvenience is for those who don’t have easy access to the Internet. Some of these people will be able to get by with the old paper licences, if they still have one, as they will remain legal after 8 June. But, as soon as they renew or update that licence, it will be replaced with the same photocards – and online records – that the rest of us use. All roads lead, it seems, to the Information Superhighway.
Such is the march of progress. The decluttering of our glove compartments will be good news for many of us. For others, it’s worth remembering, it may not be quite so welcome.