Driving licence law change 'to halt illegal trade'

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Media captionRoads minister Stephen Hammond said the move would make Britain's roads safer

Laws on obtaining UK driving licences are to be changed after BBC London revealed a loophole was facilitating an illegal trade in the documents.

Last year the BBC found an arrangement between the UK and Hong Kong was being exploited by agents illegally obtaining UK licences for foreign drivers.

Motorists wanting to exchange non-EU licences must now prove they have passed a test in a designated country.

Roads minister Stephen Hammond said the move would make Britain's roads safer.

Nationals from India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Malaysia, the USA, Israel and China are among those the UK government does not permit to swap their foreign licences into a full UK licence without a test.

Fake addresses

Motorists from all countries are allowed to drive in the UK for a year before being required to take a driving test if they do not qualify for an automatic swap of their foreign licence.

An investigation for BBC London's Inside Out programme last year revealed agents in the capital were arranging to swap foreign licences into UK ones via a Hong Kong licence, which the UK does accept automatically, to bypass the rules.

A BBC researcher's Indian licence was swapped by an agent into a full UK licence.

The BBC tracked down the original applications and found fraudulent details had been used as proof of address in Hong Kong and fake addresses scrawled on envelopes.

On Tuesday the government announced it is to change the law so requests to exchange driving licences from outside the EU will only be accepted if the licence holder can prove they passed a driving test in a country where the testing standards are comparable with those in Britain.

Rigorous test

MP Stephen Hammond said: "It is obvious to everyone that drivers who have not been through a rigorous driving test will not be as safe as those who have.

"This change in the law will mean we can be sure that any foreign drivers exchanging their licence here have already passed a test of a similar standard to ours."

The UK driving licence has taken on more importance as an identity document and, in addition to driving, can be used to take a domestic flight, open a bank account, prove age or gain credit.

Professor Richard Aldrich, a terrorism and security expert from Warwick University, said: "I was really delighted that the government seems to be responding to the BBC investigation because this was a serious gap in the wire in terms of our security.

"A driving licence is effectively an ID card in the UK and can be used for a whole range of significant purposes including boarding a domestic aircraft, taking out a loan and even gaining entry as a visitor to a government building.

"The loopholes revealed by the BBC were shocking and remarkable precisely because this is our main form of ID"

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