It’s been a busy few months for changes to the rules of the road.
In October, new rules came in regarding who should be driving in central London, when the ULEZ was expanded.
Last month the new Highway Code got us all thinking about how we consider other road users, with a series of new rules introduced.
And now it’s the turn of number plates, with new rules coming into force for those driving at home and abroad.
Also known as a vehicle registration plate, number plates are attached to vehicles to identify them. Each plate displays a unique alphanumeric code which sticks with the vehicles throughout its lifetime (unless an owner chooses to buy a [personalised plate).
A made-to-order, personalised plate gives your vehicle that custom look, and it’s not just the rich and famous who choose to buy one - many people, or businesses, select numbers based on their name, hometown or hobbies. However, they still have to comply with the rules surrounding number plates.
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) maintains the database of all vehicle registrations in the UK.
Although number plates were first introduced in France in the mid-1890s, we didn’t see them in the UK until 1904, when they were comprised of a randomly assigned letter followed by a number between 1 and 9999. As motor vehicles were being manufactured in increasing numbers, the letter/number combinations were subject to several revisions as each system became exhausted.
This included changing the month new plates were introduced from January to August in 1967 in an effort to prevent those seeking a new car waiting until January and causing sales to slump throughout the rest of the year. This was replaced in 1999 with a new biannual scheme, with plates released every March and September, smoothed the bulges in car sales.
The current system was introduced in September 2001, and plates follow the format of two letters, then two numbers, followed by a gap and three letters.
Known as the ‘age identifier’, the numbers represent the six month period when the vehicle was first registered - either March to August, or September to February. Vehicles produced between March and August will display the last two digits of that year. So if the car was released in March 2019, its plate would show the number 19.
For cars registered between September and February, 50 is added to the year number. For example, a car produced in September 2019 would display the number 69.
The first two letters, also called a local memory tag, represent where the car was first registered. Each area in the UK is designated a letter - L for London, E for Essex, S for Scotland and so on, and this will be the first of the two letters.
The second letter of the set refers to the postal area the car was registered in. Each area can have multiple postal zones. For example a car registered in Essex will display letters EA through to EY, depending on the exact postal area.
The last set of letters are random combinations designed to maintain each vehicle’s uniqueness. In theory, several cars can have the same age identifier and local memory tag, so the final three letter combination is their unique identification.
The new rules are designed to make number plates more durable and improve their readability, with plates having to conform to the new British Standard for Retroreflective Number Plates - BS AU 145e.
Some of these changes apply to existing plates, while others are for newly registered number plates.
Solid black font
Previously, number plates have been permitted to feature a two tone font, with different shades creating a 3D appearance, but only solid black lettering is permitted under the new rules. This enables easier vehicle identification by Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) systems.
Owners of cars displaying the two tone fonts should change them to comply with the new rules.
The new rules cover the material the plate is constructed from. More durable than the older version, plates now have to pass ten toughness tests, including an abrasion test. Number plates have to withstand grit, road salt and a lot of other debris being thrown up at them, and these new plates are designed to remain readable and in one piece.
Part of the new legislation states that a BS AU 145e plate subjected to consistent force, as long as the adhesive pads are correctly placed, will take a minimum of 160 hours to remove!
Under the new rules, newly registered plates have to display some extra information.The supplier’s name and postcode should be included, and the manufacturer of the plate, along with the BS AU 145e code must also be displayed.
Green number plates have been in use on battery vehicles since December 2020, and are granted to newly registered zero-emission vehicles. Former Transport Minister Rachel Maclean said that including the green strip on number plates highlights the increasing number of cleaner vehicles, and encourages local councils to unlock a range of incentives, such as zero emission zones and free parking.
Unfortunately, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles aren’t eligible for green plates, and neither are low emission petrol or diesel vehicles.
With Britain leaving the European Union, drivers should remove or cover their old GB tags, replacing them with a UK sticker or number plate identifier when taking a vehicle abroad.
Number plate rules may have changed but the golden rule remains: to get on the road you need to be insured.
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