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The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) website crashed yesterday as holidaymakers battled with a new system required for hiring cars.
The government agency blamed “exceptional” demand for the online system designed to allow motorists to prove that they can legally drive when booking a rental car.
The site, launched yesterday after the abolition of the paper counterpart licence, which carried details of motorists’ penalty points, crashed when it was flooded with 30,000 enquiries in a few hours.
But the DVLA said that more than 20,000 drivers had managed to access the site without difficulty.
From now on, motorists hiring a car may have to produce a special temporary code as evidence of their convictions.
The DVLA said it had been working on the new system “for months”.
The Times and the BBC reported a queue of 20 forming at U-Drive in Bristol as staff struggled to access motorists’ details online. U-Drive said that the system had “fallen over a dozen times” in the morning.
A neighbouring business reported that customers were queuing into the street as they tried to ensure that they would be able to hire cars on holiday in the coming days.
Many firms said they would not ask for proof of a clean driving licence while teething problems were sorted out amid confusion over the new system.
Motoring groups warned that drivers risked being refused hire cars unless they retained their paper counterparts.
Under the system launched yesterday, motorists are required to log on to the DVLA website, or call the organisation, to access a code which is valid for three days. It can be passed to car hire firms as evidence of a valid licence.
DVLA chief executive, Oliver Morley, said: “We are aware some customers are experiencing issues with the website and we are working very hard to resolve this as quickly as possible. We are sorry for any inconvenience.”
Gerry Keaney, chief executive of the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association, said: “Replacing paper forms with digital services is a great idea, but the government has gone about this the wrong way by rushing the process.”
In the past, the paper licence has been required as proof of a clean licence when hiring a car abroad, although many hire firms have failed to ask for it.
Hertz and Enterprise said that British drivers would be allowed to present a plastic driving licence to rent a car in Spain.
Europcar said that it would require the new code but would also allow motorists to continue using their paper counterpart.
The new arrangements are valid in Britain only. Northern Ireland has a separate licence scheme.