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Laws surrounding number plates from keeping them clean to being able to see them

Laws surrounding number plates from keeping them clean to being able to see them

"That car, with its yacht-like steering wheel and soft suspension, took me closer to heaven than anything I can remember"
Ben Collins, former Top Gear Stig

The average car owner here in the UK spends nine hours a week behind the wheel of their motor. This is a considerable amount of time when comparing it to other activities such as eating, which gets allocated 67 minutes a day. Despite the fact driving can often be a stress inducing experience, (especially when negotiating the motorway at 5mph through morning and evening rush hour), studies have actually shown that getting out on the open road can be a fantastic way of alleviating anxiety. Even the former Stig, Ben Collins backs this up when talking about filming Bond movie[AH1] , Skyfall: -

“When we filmed Skyfall I drove an Aston Martin DB5 across a mountain pass near Fort William before handing the keys over to 007. That car, with its yacht-like steering wheel and soft suspension, took me closer to heaven than anything I can remember.”

That said, when we’re driving, we want our car to look as good, and as personal to us as possible. Crystal Palace football star Andros Townsend sports a ‘AND 20S’ plate, while television presenter Coleen Nolan drives the road with ‘CN0 14N’ on her bumper. At the top end of the scale, Chelsea Football Club owner, Roman Abramovich, forked out a whopping £285,000 to get his hands on the registration of ‘VIP 1’, The license plate had previously been commandeered by Pope John Paul II, to be used on the popemobile during his papal visit to Dublin.

Personalised number plates are, in effect, the perfect way to make your car your own. Of course, people opt for the likes of eyelashes on their headlights, or ladybird covers on the top of their aerials. But a registration in the automotive industry is considered the ultimate mark of class. That said, if you were to get the registration replaced on your car, would you be aware of the mass of legislation which comes with it? In this article, we take a look at the various laws surrounding your plates, and what you need to do to stay between the white lines.

Age identifiers

The current system operating in the UK, which has been in place since September 2001, is simple to understand. Two numbers follow on from two letters, which are then succeeded by a further three letters, in a format such as this – XX11 XXX. The first two letters are known as the local memory tag and used to describe the area in which the car has been first registered. London, for example, has a local memory tag ranging from ‘LA’ to ‘LY’. However, no memory tag includes a Z, with it only being used as a random letter.

The following two numbers are the age identifier. From 1st September 2001 to the end of February 2002, each car registered in the UK was assigned the age identifier, ‘51’. The following six-month period, 1st March 2002 to the end of August, the identifier was amended to reflect the first half of the year, being ‘02’, and ‘52’. The remaining three letters are a random allocation — simple.

Things start to get complicated, however, when cars from 1983 to 2001 come into play. Instead of using two digits to reflect the age of a vehicle, they used a singular latter, excluding the letters ‘I’, ‘O’, ‘U’, and ‘Z’, due to their close resemblance to particular numbers.

In regard to legality and age identifiers, it is against the law to make your car appear younger through putting a registration plate on which is assigned to a more recent year than the car was actually registered. Take for example you had a car that was registered in 2012 — it is against the law to put a 2015 age identifier on it. However, it is completely legitimate to use a 2009 or a dateless one, as no deception is taking place.


In regard to the style of number plates, across the board there is a template which must be followed. Even though you may be able to find alternatives templates on offer, they aren’t actually legal for road use. White background plates on the front, and yellow on the back must be accompanied by a Charles Wright font, which has been set by the British Standard rules. As well as the font, and background, the spacing between the different letters and identifiers must infit with the preestablished regulations. The height and width of letters is also regulated. If you would like to include a flag on your vehicle’s plate, you may — however, it has to coincide with the country in which it was registered or be a union flag for the entirety of the UK. If you fail to comply with these, you will fall foul of a £1,000 fine, and instantly fail an MOT.


You may be unaware of the fact you could incur a fine and penalty points if you were to be driving around with a dirty number plate. This may seem unfair, however, the entire purpose of having a registration plate on your vehicle is to make it identifiable to authorities. Road service operated speed cameras, council-controlled bus lane cameras, and the police need to be able to see your number plate. In recent years, the police have been clamping down on motorists with plates which have been made dirty, or are obstructed by muck, dishing out fines of up to £1,000 — yes, a car wash is significantly more cost-efficient.


Transport laws, despite how much they can seem like a hindrance, are in place to safeguard motorists and the wider public alike. Therefore, stay within the rules and avoid being penalised.














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