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Legal Formats, Styling and the Law

The most important point to remember is that it is an offence to rearrange your registration number to make it resemble a name or word more closely. DVLA make this clear even though some of the private number plates issued by them are obviously intended to suggest names or words.

Remember, the actual reason for displaying registration numbers on vehicles is so the keeper can be identified easily for law enforcement purposes.

The Current Format for Registration Marks

The current format was introduced on September 1st 2001. This was necessary since the previous format, with a prefix year letter, had run out because the end of the alphabet had been reached.

The format consists of two letters, two numbers, followed by a space, then three more letters.

After consultation it was decided that the first two letters would be the local memory tag i.e. the DVLA local office where the vehicle was first registered. According to the Police, the first few letters are more likely to be remembered by a witness observing a vehicle involved in a crime, thus giving investigations a place to start. For example, NT or NU prefixes indicate a vehicle registered in the North (Middlesbrough or Newcastle local DVLA offices, respectively).

The two numbers are the age identifier, for example, '60' indicates September 2010; '53' indicates September 2003 and '11' identifies vehicles registered in March 2011.

The final three letters are allocated randomly.

There are two issues of registration numbers each year - one in March and one in September.

Number Plates on Cars, Vans and Four Wheeled Vehicles

Font Size, Measurements and Spacing

Front number plates must show black characters on a white background and the rear number plate must have black letters on a yellow reflective background.

The specific measurements are as follows:

  • Height of characters: 79mm
  • Width of characters: 50mm (except for '1' or 'I')
  • Space between characters: 11mm
  • Space between groups: 33mm

Number Plates on Motorcycles

Motorcycles registered from September 1st 2001 must only display a number plate at the back.

Font Size, Measurements and Spacing

The law is as follows:

  • Height of characters: 64mm
  • Width of characters: 10mm (except for '1' or 'I')
  • Space between characters: 10mm
  • Space between groups: 30mm

Number Plates on Tricycles

Tricycles manufactured from motorcycles must follow the above requirements for motorcycles, whereas tricycles made from four-wheeled vehicles (e.g. quad bikes) must meet the requirements of these vehicles.

Backgrounds, Identifiers, Flags and Fonts

Honeycomb backgrounds are illegal but 3D lettering and a border are allowed. The following flags are allowed:

  • Union Jack
  • St. George Cross
  • St. Andrew Cross (or Saltire)
  • Welsh Dragon

The following identifiers are also allowed:

  • GB
  • UK
  • CYM
  • ENG
  • SCO
  • WALES

The various identifiers must be displayed on the left hand side of the number plate. The flag must be placed above the identifier, neither of which can be more than 50mm wide.

Displaying the Standard GB Sticker

This is still required, however if you display the Euro symbol and the GB (Great Britain) identifier on your number plate, then you do not need a separate GB sticker.

The Euro symbol also has definite requirements:

  • Minimum height: 98mm
  • Minimum width: 40mm
  • Maximum width: 50mm
  • Reflective background with 12 reflective yellow stars
  • Sign of the member of state (GB) in white or yellow

Last updated: Thursday 18th August 2016

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