I spend a lot of time here complaining about broken web sites, so it’s nice to be able to praise something that worked better than expected. And I’m slightly surprised to be able to report an impressive experience with a UK government web site.
One thing that I found whilst sorting through my study over the the weekend was my driving licence. It’s a provisional licence. I’ve never passed a driving test. I got a provisional licence when I was seventeen and over the next year I took many lessons and failed three tests. Back then (this was the late 70s) provisional licences were only valid for a year so once I gave up learning to drive I let my licence lapse and thought nothing more about it.
But then in 1996 I thought perhaps I would have another go so I applied for another provisional licence. By the time the licence arrived I’d lost any enthusiasm that I had and the new licence was just filed away and forgotten about. One thing had, however, changed in the intervening period. Provisional licences were no longer valid for just one year. This one was valid until (I think) my 70th birthday.
So on Saturday I found this long-forgotten, but still valid licence. The first thing I noticed about it was that it was still registered to my last address (it’s been ten years since we moved). The second thing that I noticed was a threat of a £1000 fine for failing to inform them of a change of address. Of course that really means that you’ll be fined if you get caught driving with a licence that has an out of date address, so there’s not much chance of me ever being fined. But I decided that it was worth getting it updated and put it aside in a small but growing pile of things to be addressed later.
Late on Sunday I was going through that pile and came to the licence. The instructions were to fill in your new address on the back of the licence and to send it back to the DVLA who would then issue a corrected replacement. Before doing that I decided to check if I could do this online.
I found the DVLA web site which quickly lead me to the Driving Licensing Online site where I found the link that I was looking for. As I was going through the process I realised that there might be a problem. My licence was of a pretty ancient vintage and new licences have a photo on them. I could see disaster looming. I was sure that I was going to end up with a form to print off and send in along with a photo. But that’s not what happened. What happened was a lot cleverer than that.
The system realised that I was a registered driver (albeit a provisional driver) and that it didn’t have a photo of me. It then asked if I had a passport and when I said yes, it offered to use the photo from my passport on my new licence. Not only does this demonstrate a level of technical ability and standardisation that is rarely seen in organisations of this size, but (far more importantly in my opinion) by asking for my permission before doing this, it shows an awareness of privacy issues that is, in my experience, even rarer.
I assume that had I said no, then I would have still ended up with a form to print off and instructions to send it in with a photo. But because I was happy for them to link these two records, I was able to do it all online. And it was free too. I half expected them to try and charge me fifteen of twenty quid.
So I’m now expecting my new driving licence to arrive in the next few days. I don’t know whether or not I’ll actually use it to start learning to drive again, but it’ll be a useful piece of ID to carry around. All in all, I was very happy with the way it all worked out.