Physical Number Plates

Most motor vehicles that are used on public roads are required by law to display a vehicle registration plate.

Number plates have existed in the UK since 1904. On 1 January 1904, the Motor Car Act 1903 came into force. The act required all motor vehicles to be entered on an official vehicle register. It was passed in order that vehicles could easily be traced in the event of an accident or violation of the law.

Click here if you want to buy a Perspex or plastic number plate.

There are two numbering and registration systems within the UK, one for Great Britain & now incorporates Northern Ireland administered by the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency), although Northern Ireland used to administer their own, but the DVA now only issue driving licences.   An example of a current GB number plate would be JB18 JBW and an example of a reg originating from Northern Ireland would be GAZ 1234.

The Letters Used On A Number Plate

Number plates have a code which indicates the age of the vehicle.  The letter or number denotes the year that the vehicle was first registered. Some letters on a number plate can be mistaken for other letters/digits, and so in order to avoid any confusion, the letters I, O, U and Z have never been issued as a year identifier: I is similar to the number 1; O is almost identical to 0; U can be mistaken for V; and Z is similar to the number 2.

Number Plates Styles, Colours and Layouts

All current vehicle registration plates must be displayed in accordance with The Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001. Characters on number plates purchased from 1 September 2001 must conform to set specifications as to height, width, spacing, stroke and margins. The standard size of the front number plate is 520mm x 111mm and the rear number plate is either the same size, or 285mm x 203mm or 533mm x 152 mm, however, there is no specified legal size for a number plate, for example, the rear plate on a Rover 75 is 635mm x 175mm.

The physical characteristics of these number plates are visibility, reflectivity and strength, which meets the specifications set out in the British Standard BS AU 145d. All number plates must conform to British Standard BS AU 145d, which should always be marked on the plate, along with the name and postcode of the manufacturer, and the supplier of the plates.

UK DVLA Registrations can be square or oblong but must be black lettering on a white back ground for the front number plate and black lettering on yellow for the rear plate. The current font used for UK number plates is the Charles Wright font. You may see personalised number plates with other fonts but they are not legal for UK road use.

You will also see many plates on vehicles showing the EU band or logo. Although legal this is not yet compulsory within the UK. Motorists without the EU logo may use their National Emblem – England using the English flag, Scottish with Scotland flag and the Welsh with the flag of Wales.

Silver letters on a black back ground were (and still are) used on vehicles first registered before 1968.  However, this style was phased out in 1972 and so, only vehicles that were first constructed before 1 January 1973 are legally allowed to display this style of plate. All vehicles manufactured after this date, must display plates made of reflex-reflecting material

Making Physical Number Plates

Traditionally, the actual plates were made up by the original supplier of the motor vehicle, and anyone with the correct equiptment could make up replacements. However, under the new law, in England and Wales number plates can only be supplied by a registered supplier. That supplier is required to verify the consumers identity, confirming they are the registered keeper of that mark or other authorised person. CarReg are a registered supplier.

Motorcyle Number Plates and Registrations

Motorcycles formerly displayed a double-sided number plate on top of the front mudguard, which curved to follow the contour of the wheel and was visible from the sides. However, because of the severe danger this presented to pedestrians in the event of a collision, this requirement was dropped in 1975. Motorcycles were then required to display a rear number plate, but a front number plate only if desired. However, any motorcycle registered after 1 September 2001 only need to display a number plate on the rear of the vehicle.

Number Plates and Registrations in the Armed Forces

The UK Specialist HM Forces use a completely different system of numbering and their vehicles use non-reflective black plates with white lettering as in combat situations, a reflective plate can be used for targeting by laser guided weapons. British Military vehicle number plates have been mostly either in a form of 2 digits, 2 letters, 2 digits since 1949, for example; ‘07 CE 08’, or 2 letters, 2 digits, 2 letters from 1995 onwards, for example; ‘JW 57 AB’. Before the mid-1980s, the two central letters signified the armed service or the branch or class of vehicle.