Thousands of motorists risk being fined up to £1,000 because they are unwittingly driving without a valid licence.
Most drivers believed that because the paper license doesn't expire till your 70, the photocard would be the same.
They have failed to spot that their photocard licence automatically expires after ten years and has to be renewed. They blame the Government for this fiasco.
Drivers have to pay £17.50 to renew their card,which will earn the Treasury an estimated £437million over 25 years.
The first batch of ten-year photo licences was issued in July 1998, and the confusion has come to light as they start to expire.
DVLA figures reveal that while 16,136 expired this summer, so far only 11,566 drivers have renewed, leaving 4,570 outstanding.
With another 300,000 photocard licences due to expire over the coming year, the number of invalid licences could soar. A total of 25million have been issued.
At the heart of the confusion is the very small print on the credit card-size photo licence. Just below the driver's name is a numbered series of dates and details. Number '4b' features a date in tiny writing but the significance is explained only if the driver turns over the card and reads the key on the back which states that '4b' means 'licence valid to'.
Even more confusingly, a table on the rear of the card sets out how long the driver is registered to hold a licence - that is until their 70th birthday.
Motorists who fail to renew their licences in time are allowed to continue driving but the DVLA says they could be charged with 'failing to surrender their licence', an offence carrying a £1,000 fine.
The DVLA said yesterday that the date of expiry was carried on the new-style licences, but was unable to say whether motorists were told the licences would expire when they were first issued.
A spokesman said: 'It is important that photocards are updated every ten years to ensure the police and other enforcement agencies can identify whether a driving licence is being used fraudulently.'
The agency is sending reminders to drivers whose photocard is due to expire, and no one has so far been charged with failing to surrender their licence.
The Association of British Insurers and the Department for Transport said that insurance cover was not affected if drivers failed to update their photocard.
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