The Sexist Detail On Your UK Driving Licence That You Never Noticed

Photo: Cory Bouthillette
Whether you’re a driver with a full licence, or you applied for a provisional licence mostly just to use it as a cheap form of ID (guilty!), chances are – if you're a woman – you may not have noticed a glaring example of everyday sexism to be found right at the top of it.
On the first line sits your surname – no problems there. The second line, on the other hand, contains your title. Mine is “Ms”, which I chose as a feminist protest, believing I was outsmarting the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) by withholding my marital status. (What is it to them, anyway? I thought.)
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But it turns out my protest was fruitless, because the DVLA doesn’t include men’s titles on their licences at all. Women’s titles are automatically included, with most opting for Miss, Mrs or Ms, while only honorific titles are included on men’s licences, such as Doctor or Reverend.
The utmost importance is placed on a woman's marital status, it seems, but a man’s isn’t even worth asking about. Not only does this suggest our gender affects our ability to drive (nope, those sexist driving jokes still aren’t funny), it also arguably breaches section 19 of the Equalities Act 2010, as The Guardian pointed out.
So why are men's and women’s licences printed differently? Zoe O’Connell, now a Lib Dem councillor for Cambridge, raised the issue with the DVLA seven years ago in a Freedom of Information request. “There is no reason for any form of gender identification on official documentation,” she said, adding: “When it comes to titles on driving licences, why should someone need to know if I’m married?” reported The Guardian. The response, however, was pretty unsatisfying in that the DVLA referred to its “recording” of titles rather than their inclusion on the licence in the first place.
More recently, in March 2017, another woman, Emma James of Guildford, reportedly wrote to the DVLA questioning the system. “The DVLA does not print Mr on licences but does print Miss, Mrs, Ms or other," the organisation confirmed, before clarifying that you can ask for your title to be removed from your licence by sending your current one back to the DVLA with a covering letter.
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In response to questioning, the DVLA said anyone could opt for the "No Title" option on its online application form, but this is seventh on a list of eight options highlighted. (The Guardian asked both the DVLA and the Department For Transport why men's and women's licences are printed differently, but both refused to comply.)
However, even if you plump for the "No Title" option, it doesn't necessarily guarantee that your licence will be printed correctly. In March, two women accused the DVLA of sexism after they received licences saying "Mrs", despite electing to have no title included.
Colleagues Ashley Kent and Elin Roberts, both of whom are scientists from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, complained about the mistake on Twitter, tweeting the DVLA's official account to ask if it could be corrected. And the DVLA's response was predictably disappointing.
The DVLA explained away the practice, adding, "I'm afraid it can't be removed." Roberts followed up by saying she wanted to issue a formal complaint, and the DVLA responded by linking her to the complaints procedure.
Kent said she was shocked when she initially noticed the difference between her and her husband's licences. "I would really hope that people wouldn't discriminate against me because my title is shown on my licence," she told MailOnline. "I would hope they'd treat me the same whether I am a married or unmarried man or woman.
"I can understand that there is a case for businesses or organisations knowing if they are complying with equality regulations or not, so they can say 'we know that we are employing people who fit into certain categories' but the fact is that the DVLA don't require this information for a man, leads me to question why they need it for a woman."
Roberts said the fact that men don't have titles on their licences while women "must" is an equality issue. "Why do they even need to know my gender? It doesn't affect my ability to drive. It is something that is, in my opinion, irrelevant," she told MailOnline.
If your title was incorrectly included on your licence, or you're as incensed as we are by the DVLA's apparent interest in our marital status (but not men's), you can write to DVLA, Swansea, SA99 1BN. Pens at the ready.
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