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Everything you need to know about UK P plates


If you’ve recently passed your driving test in the UK, you’re likely familiar with those conspicuous L plates that adorned your car. While L plates definitely serve the purpose of making it clear to other drivers that you’re a learner, they’re not exactly the most aesthetically pleasing addition to your vehicle.

So now that you’ve graduated to a fully fledged driver, you might be grateful to get rid of these L plates or you might want to swap them out for something more appropriate for your new status. This is where P plates come in. However, some people are still confused about how and when to use them. 

P plates are for people who have just passed their test and want to keep other drivers in the loop on their level of driving experience. Driving alone for the first while can be nerve wracking, so these can help put you at ease and even preemptively make your excuses for any mistakes that you will no doubt make on your driving journey. 

But beyond this, P plates exist for more serious reasons. Newly qualified drivers face a higher risk of accidents than other road users. Tragically, too many young people in the UK lose their lives in motoring accidents each year. In fact, one in five new drivers crash their car within a year of passing their test, so if you’ve recently paid for new driver car insurance that might give you some explanation as to why it’s so expensive.

Using P plates obviously won’t be able to stop you from getting into accidents, but they can help reduce your risk by warning other drivers that you aren’t the most experienced driver. Whether you choose to use P plates or not, this guide will give you everything you need to know to make that decision and appreciate the seriousness of road risks for you as a young driver. 

Before delving into all the details on P plates, it’s important to emphasise how much responsibility you hold as a new driver. The responsibility of being informed on road laws, and making good choices during this pivotal period is now completely on you. And your choices can have a serious impact on the safety of you, your passengers and others on the road.

What are P plates?

P plates, short for “probationary plates,” are designed for people who have recently passed their driving test and want to communicate their novice status to other road users. The transition from a learner to a solo driver can be nerve wracking, and these plates can provide a sense of reassurance. They also serve as a subtle way to preemptively apologize for any driving blunders you may make along your journey.

You are considered to be ‘on probation’ for two years after you have passed your driving test. This means if you get 6 penalty points during this time you will fully lose your license and will have to reapply for a provisional license, retake your test again, and you can forget about P plates because you’ll be back on your L plates. 

However, although the probation period lasts for two years, you are free to use and display P plates on your car for as long as you want. This flexibility is especially useful if you don’t get a chance to get much driving experience in the first few years after passing your test and getting your full license.

P plates rules in the UK

One of the main points here is that P plates are not compulsory. You have the freedom to choose whether or not you want to display them on your vehicle. This choice, while seemingly minor, can have a significant impact on your driving experience and how others perceive you on the road. They can mean that other drivers give you more room and time to make decisions, which can be comforting if you are driving in unfamiliar territory.

1. Do I legally need to use P plates in the UK?

P plates are not a legal requirement in the UK, they are completely optional. You can choose to display them on your car from the time immediately after you have passed your driving test, and you can continue to use them for as long as makes you comfortable.

2. How do I properly display P plates?

Unlike L plates, and because these are optional plates, there are no strict rules for how you have to display your P plates. But if you want to use them effectively it’s advisable that you place them at both the front and back of your car. It’s also important to check that they are clearly visible to other road users, and they should definitely not block your view of the road in any way. 

3. What are the official dimensions of green P plates?

Green P plates are typically modelled off L plates which have to be 178mm by 178mm. But there are no official dimensions specified for P plates. The main concern is making sure that they are large enough to be easily seen by others around you.

4. How long should I keep my P plates on?

This is a completely personal choice. There are no specific rules on how long you have to display them. Ultimately, it depends on how comfortable and confident you feel as a new driver. We recommend keeping P plates on until you feel entirely at ease and ready to remove them.

5. Where can I use P plates?

You can use P plates on all types of roads, including the motorway. But when it comes to travelling within the UK, these might not be as readily understood in all regions. 

Regional differences to be aware of 

Navigating the complexities of regional driving regulations underscores the importance of being a well informed and responsible driver. Your ability to adapt to different rules and practices in various parts of the UK can contribute to your road safety.

Northern Ireland R plates

Northern Ireland requires all new drivers with NI licenses to display red R plates (restricted driver plates) for the first year after passing their test. This also comes with restrictions like speed limits. New NI drivers are restricted to a maximum speed of 45mph speed for their first year on the roads. 

Because of this, P plates are not used at all in Northern Ireland. So if you are displaying them on your car while driving there, it’s important to know that not everyone is going to be as aware of their meaning and significance. 

Wales D plates

If you are driving in Wales you might see D plates on some cars. These aren’t used by newly qualified drivers, but in the interest of awareness of other drivers around you, it’s important to know that these are simply the Welsh alternative of L plates. They bear the Welsh word “dysgwr,” which means learner, and they can be used interchangeably with L Learner plates. 

Pros and cons of using P plates 

With the freedom to choose if you display P plates or not, it’s best to look at it from multiple perspectives before making your choice. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages that can help you decide if P plates are for you.

Benefits of using P plates

1. Signals inexperience

One of the primary benefits of displaying P plates is that they signal to other drivers that you’re a new driver. This awareness can encourage them to be more cautious and patient when sharing the road with you. In those early days of independent driving, a bit of understanding from fellow motorists can make a significant difference.

2. Makes others more understanding of mistakes

As a new driver, it’s natural that you will make some mistakes. Whether it’s stalling at a junction or hesitating when merging onto a motorway, these errors are part and parcel of the learning process. Displaying P plates can let other drivers know that you’re still finding your feet, and can prompt them to be more forgiving when you slip up.

3. Building your confidence

Confidence is a vital attribute for any driver, and P plates can help you with this. Knowing that other road users are aware of your status as a new driver can boost your self assurance as you gain experience behind the wheel.

4. Could contribute to keeping you safe

P plates immediately make other drivers more aware of you, so you will not as easily be overlooked on the roads. And if you are being given more time and a wider birth on the roads this can lead to fewer accidents as other drivers might be more prepared for you to make the kind of moves that can lead to accidents like harsh braking, hesitations and misjudgements.

Disadvantages of using P plates

1. Unwanted Attention

You might worry that P plates draw unnecessary attention to you, and can make other drivers think that you are an inexperienced or poor driver. While the intention behind displaying P plates is to foster understanding, it’s important to realise that not all drivers will react positively to them.

2. Encourage overtaking

In certain situations, drivers can be more likely to make hasty overtakes of vehicles displaying P plates, assuming that they will drive slowly. This behaviour can be frustrating and intimidating, especially if you’re trying to maintain a steady pace on the road.

3. Rare negative reactions

While uncommon, there are instances where P plates make some drivers more impatient and frustrated. It’s essential to realise that other drivers’ frustrations are not your responsibility to manage by speeding up or driving in a way you are uncomfortable with. 

Will P plates affect the cost of my car insurance?

As you’re probably well aware, the cost of insurance for new drivers can be expensive. Unfortunately, choosing to display P plates on your car won’t help you to get cheaper car insurance. These costs are high for a reason, and that’s simply because new drivers are more at risk on roads. So insurers will see you as a high risk to insure, and even with P plates your premiums will likely reflect this high risk. 

But it’s not all bad, you can find some other ways to get cheaper car insurance as a new driver from quotezone.co.uk. And the good news is that this cost will likely go down as time goes on, provided you do not get any convictions and build up your no claims discount.

Tips for navigating the road as a new driver 

When you start to drive independently it’s natural to experience a mix of excitement and nervousness. The early months of driving can really develop the driving skills that you’ve already learned and build your confidence on the road.

And to help you get the most out of this time and help you feel more at ease, here are eight valuable tips for new drivers:

1. Practice regularly

There’s no substitute for practice when it comes to building confidence behind the wheel. Start with short, familiar trips and progressively challenge yourself with more diverse routes.

Practice driving in various conditions, including different weather conditions, rural roads, urban areas and motorways. 

2. Start with familiar routes

Start out on roads you know well, like your local town or routes to familiar destinations. By driving on familiar terrain, you can reduce stress and concentrate on honing your driving skills.

3. Drive in light traffic

Initially, it’s a good idea to drive during off-peak hours, like early mornings, late evenings, or weekends. Light traffic conditions provide a less intimidating environment for you to practice and gain confidence.

4. Plan your journeys

Planning your routes in advance using maps or GPS navigation can put you at ease. Familiarity with your chosen route can boost confidence and make sure you don’t get lost. But it’s also important to try this without constant map navigation so you can use road signs and markings too. 

5. Drive at your own pace

Resist the temptation to exceed speed limits or take unnecessary risks while driving. It’s crucial to drive at a comfortable speed that allows you to react calmly to unexpected traffic situations.

6. Managing your stress levels

If you ever find yourself feeling overwhelmed or anxious while driving, find a safe spot to pull over. Take deep breaths, relax, and regain your composure before continuing your journey.

7. Minimise distractions

Giving the road your undivided attention is essential for driving. Avoid distractions like your phone, the radio, or passengers that take your focus off your driving.

8. Seek support and advice

Asking for advice from experienced drivers in your network is still ok after you’ve passed your test. No one expects you to be an immediate expert on everything. You can also elevate your skills by enrolling in advanced driving courses.

Overall, P plates are a valuable tool for new drivers in the UK, signaling your novice status and encouraging understanding from other road users. While they are not mandatory, they offer a subtle way to navigate the challenges of your crucial early years on the road. As you embrace your newfound freedom as a qualified driver, keep in mind the importance of responsible and safe driving practices to minimise risks and ensure a smooth and safe journey on the road for you and your passengers.



This article is intended as generic information only and is not intended to apply to anybody’s specific circumstances, demands or needs. The views expressed are not intended to provide any financial service or to give any recommendation or advice. Products and services are only mentioned for illustrative rather than promotional purposes

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