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The Impact on Motorists from the 2021 Law Change for Car Number Plates

June, 8 2023

DVLA Number Plate News Personalised Registrations Registration Plates

A change in the law two years ago introduced an enhanced quality standard for all new car number plates.

The updated regulations took effect from September 2021, and drivers that breach them are liable for a fine or worse.

A vehicle will also fail an MOT if it has incorrectly displayed plates.

What is the difference between the old British Standard and the new one?

British Standard number plate as of September 2021

The British Standard BS AU 145e sets the characteristics of a number plate, including its readability, colour, strength and reflectivity. This standard replaced the former BS AU 145d.

Digits must now be solid black, while products with 3d-style digits using black and grey lettering - including digits that mimic the appearance of carbon fibre - are no longer legal for new vehicles.

Plates are now more resilient than previously required by BS AU 145d, including testing their resistance to abrasion.

Changing the space around the registration number also makes it easier for Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras to read them, day or night.

What is a carbon number plate?

A carbon number plate was a type of plate that used a printing technique to make the numbers and letters appear to be 3D. It's worth noting that it is different from a solid black so-called 3D or 4D digit, which are still road legal.

Carbon number plates gained popularity among car owners looking to enhance the visual appeal of their vehicles, their striking appearance at close range setting them apart from traditional black digits.

Are carbon number plates illegal?

Yes they are. The new British Standard BS AU 145e, introduced in 2021 for newly manufactured registration plates, prohibited the use of carbon or other 3D-look number plates on vehicles.

It applies to all plates supplied after September 1, 2021. Plates made to meet the previous standard can remain on a vehicle if they were bought and fitted before that date.

Consequences of the new rules


Priorities across police forces in the UK will, of course, vary between areas, but vehicle owners should educate themselves on the changes to avoid falling foul of the updated restrictions.

As mentioned above, having incorrect number plates on a car is punishable by a fine. In some cases, the registration number may be confiscated.

You are also at risk of an insurance company refusing to pay out in the event of an accident if the car has incorrectly displayed plates, because it might be deemed to not be road legal.

Safety and Identification Concerns

One of the primary reasons for the introduction of a new British Standard for number plates was to address safety and identification concerns.

Number plates with 3D-look or two-tone lettering can be harder to read from certain angles or in poor lighting conditions.

This can impede with accurate identification of a vehicle, crucial for law enforcement when attempting to locate stolen vehicles or those involved in criminal activity.

Legal alternatives

Fortunately, there are several alternatives available on the market.

Traditional acrylic number plates with solid black printed digits, widely used and compliant with the new regulations, are the most common choice.

Some drivers, however, are opting for one of a growing range of so-called 3D and 4D plates. These digits are affixed on the surface of the plate and are typically between 3 and 5mm high. The description 3D plate is commonly used for digits made of a black gel material. 4D often refers to a solid acrylic digit. These have become popular because they add a distinctive look to a car while remaining legal.

Buy a road legal number plate from National Numbers - your 'number plate know-it-alls!'

At National Numbers, we know our stuff.

Our team has been in the number plate industry for more than 40 years and our parent company since before number plates were invented. Our knowledge - not to mention high standard of customer service - is unmatched.

That's why National Numbers is the best place to secure your personalised registration and fully road legal number plate for the UK and driving on holiday abroad.

Browse our number plate options online today, or call our sales team on 01642 363738 for help finding the perfect registration and number plate for your vehicle.

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