The categories on your driving licence can be confusing, especially as the rules vary depending on when you passed your test.
A B or B1 licence usually entitles you to drive a 3.5 tonne van. But you may need a C1 licence to drive vehicles larger than this.
Regardless of when you got your licence, you should be able to drive some of the most popular small vans without needing a dedicated van licence.
What vans can I drive with a standard licence?
The vans you can drive on a standard car licence depends on when you passed your driving test. The rules are a lot more generous if you passed before 1997.
If you passed your driving test before 1 January 1997 you’re likely to be entitled to drive a van and trailer combination up to 8,250 kg maximum authorised mass (MAM).
MAM is how much the vehicle would weigh on a weighbridge. So it includes:
The vehicle weight
Luggage or cargo
Petrol and oil
This means you could drive a 7.5 tonne van with a 750 kg trailer. You’re also allowed to drive a minibus with a trailer over 750 kg.
If you passed your test on or after 1 January 1997, you could drive vehicles up to 3,500 kg MAM. The vehicle can carry a maximum of 8 passengers. It can also have a trailer with a maximum weight of 750 kg.
So long as the MAM of the vehicle and trailer is no more than 3,500 kg you could also tow heavier trailers.
Cat B licence holders in general can also drive electric vans of up to 4,250 kg. Electric vans are generally heavier than diesels because of the weight of the battery.
Category B1 is no longer an option for a standard licence.
Minibus, bus and coach licence categories
If you want to drive a minibus, bus or coach for a living, you might need to take a specific test. Once you’ve passed, you get 1 of the following codes on your licence:
No more than 16 passenger seats, with a maximum length of 8 metres. Can pull a trailer of up to 750 kg
Any D1 vehicle with a trailer over 750 kg MAM. Combined MAM of vehicle and trailer can’t exceed 12,000 kg
Any bus with more than 8 passenger seats, with a trailer of up to 750 kg MAM
Any category D vehicle with trailer weighing more than 750 kg MAM
Are there any restrictions when driving a minibus?
You might be able to drive a minibus with up to 16 passenger seats on a standard licence - if you passed your test before 1997. And that’s also if you don’t get paid for driving the minibus, for example if you’re a volunteer driver for a charity.
If you want to drive a minibus for a living, you might need to get your passenger carrying vehicle (PCV) D1 licence.
If you’re thinking of taking the minibus abroad, it’s worth checking the rules in the country you’re planning on visiting.
Charging for minibus running costs
If you need to charge for the running costs of a minibus you need a permit from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).
You could then charge running costs provided:
The vehicle can carry between 9 and 16 passengers
You’re driving it for a voluntary organisation that benefits the community - for example an educational, religious or sports organisation
The minibus service is only available for members of that organisation - not to the general public
Category C1 licence
The C1 licence enables you to drive medium and larger sized vehicles.
Before 2013, drivers who were qualified to drive heavier vehicles had a separate licence displaying this information.
They’re now included on the licence with the following codes. Don’t forget to take your CPC with you if you’re driving for work though.
Vehicles between 3,500kg and 7,500 kg MAM with a trailer up to 750 kg
C1 vehicles with a trailer over 750 kg. The combined MAM cant’ exceed 12,000 kg
Vehicles over 3,500 kg with a trailer up to 750 kg
Category C vehicles with a trailer over 750 kg
How to get a C1 licence
To get a C1 licence you need to have a B licence and be 18 or over.
You also need to complete a medical assessment to ensure you don’t have any medical conditions or vision problems that could affect your driving. At this stage you can then apply for a provisional C1 licence.
To get your full C1 licence you then need to pass 3 theory tests and a practical test.
What licence do I need to drive a HGV?
If you want to drive vehicles heavier than those allowed by your existing licence then you need to get a HGV licence.
Say you passed your test after 1997 and wanted to drive a 7.5 tonne van. You first need to get a provisional category C1 licence.
Then you need to do the CPC. For this you generally need to be 18 and already have a full category B licence.
The CPC comes in 4 parts. If you want to drive for a living you need to take all of them.
If you’re not going to get paid for driving, then you only need to take the theory and practical parts of the CPC.
If you passed your test before 1997 your licence should let you drive a 7.5 tonne van.
But if you want to drive one for a living you still need to get a CPC.
What driving licence do I need for an ice-cream van?
There isn’t a specific ice cream van driving licence category.
If the van is the typical style ice cream van you need to see how heavy it would be with the freezer and all the frozen goodies on board. And you, of course.
If the MAM is less than 3.5 tonnes you could be fine on a category B licence. This also applies to burger vans, coffee vans and general catering vans as well.
But the driving licence is just the start – you might also need things like a street trading licence and public liability insurance.
Those with ice cream vans might also need to be aware of the rules on when and where you can use your chimes.
If your catering outlet is a trailer that’s towed to your pitch, things get more complicated. The GOV.UK site has the basics on towing.
Van driving in Northern Ireland
Requirements could vary in Northern Ireland so it’s best to have a look on the nidirect site to get the most up-to-date information.
Lower speed limits for vans
Something worth noting before you set off in your van is that speed limits for vans are lower than those for cars.
Speed limit for cars
Speed limit for vans
Speed limit when towing a caravan or trailer
And make sure you know how much clearance your van needs, as certain low bridges regularly trap vans - especially hire vans.