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Vehicle registration plates are the mandatory number plates used to display the registration mark of a vehicle, and have existed in the United Kingdom since 1904. It is compulsory for most motor vehicles used on public roads to display them.
The Motor Car Act 1903, which came into force on 1 January 1904, required all motor vehicles to be entered on an official vehicle register, and to carry number plates. The Act was passed in order that vehicles could be easily traced in the event of an accident or contravention of the law. Vehicle registration number plates in the UK are rectangular or square in shape, with the exact permitted dimensions of the plate and its lettering set down in law.
Within the UK itself there are two numbering and registration systems: one for Great Britain, which is administered by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), and one for Northern Ireland, administered by the Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA): both have equal status. Other schemes relating to the UK are also listed below.
Number plates must be displayed in accordance with The Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001.
All vehicles manufactured after 1 January 1973 must display number plates of reflex-reflecting material, white at the front and yellow at the rear, with black characters. This type of reflecting plate was permitted as an option from 1968: many vehicles first registered before 1973 may therefore carry the white/yellow reflective plates and, where they were first registered during or after 1968, they may have carried such plates since new.
In addition, characters on number plates purchased from 1 September 2001 must use a mandatory typeface and conform to set specifications as to width, height, stroke, spacing, and margins. The physical characteristics of the number plates are set out in British Standard BS AU 145d, which specifies visibility, strength, and reflectivity.
Number plates with smaller characters are only permitted on imported vehicles, and then only if they do not have European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval and their construction/design cannot accommodate standard size number plates.
The industry standard size front number plate is 520 mm × 111 mm (20½" × 4⅜"). Rear plates are either the same size, or 285 mm × 203 mm (approx 11"x8") or 533 mm × 152 mm (approx 21"x6"). There is no specified legal size for a number plate. For example, the rear number plate of a Rover 75 is 635 mm x 175 mm.
The material of UK number plates must either comply with British Standard BS AU 145d, which states BSI number plates must be marked on the plate with the BSI logo and the name and postcode of the manufacturer and the supplier of the plates or
"(b) any other relevant standard or specification recognised for use in an EEA State and which, when in use, offers a performance equivalent to that offered by a plate complying with the British Standard specification, and which, in either case, is marked with the number (or such other information as is necessary to permit identification) of that standard or specification."
as specified in http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2001/561/schedule/2/made The Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001 (Statutory Instrument 2001 Number 561), Schedule 2.
Older British plates had white, grey or silver characters on a black background. This style of plate was phased out in 1972, and is now legal to be carried only on vehicles first constructed before 1 January 1973.
Motorcycles formerly had to display a front plate, which was usually but not always a double-sided plate on top of the front mudguard, curved to follow the contour of the wheel and visible from the sides. The requirement for the front number plate was dropped in 1975 because of the severe danger these presented to pedestrians in the event of a collision. Motorcycles registered after 1 September 2001 may only display a rear number plate, while motorcycles registered before that date can display a number plate at the front if desired. From January 1973 onwards, the front plate is white and the rear plate is yellow.
Specialist HM Forces vehicles use non reflective black plates with white lettering. This is because in combat, the reflective plate can be used for targeting by laser guided weapons. The UK forces use a completely different system of numbering.
From left to right, the characters consist of:
This scheme has three particular advantages:
|First letter||Official local mnemonic||DVLA office||Second letter (local office identifier)|
|A||Anglia||Peterborough||A B C D E F G H J K L M N|
|Norwich||O P R S T U|
|Ipswich||V W X Y|
|C||Cymru (Wales)||Cardiff||A B C D E F G H J K L M N O|
|Swansea||P R S T U V|
|Bangor||W X Y|
|D||Deeside||Chester||A B C D E F G H J K|
|Shrewsbury||L M N O P R S T U V W X Y|
|F||Forest and Fens||Nottingham||A B C D E F G H J K L M N P|
|Lincoln||R S T V W X Y|
|G||Garden of England||Maidstone||A B C D E F G H J K L M N O|
|Brighton||P R S T U V W X Y|
|H||Hampshire and Dorset||Bournemouth||A B C D E F G H J|
|Portsmouth||K L M N O P R S T U V W X Y|
|Note: HW for Isle of Wight residents only|
|K||Milton Keynes[b]||Luton[c]||A B C D E F G H J K L|
|Northampton||M N O P R S T U V W X Y|
|L||London||Wimbledon||A B C D E F G H J|
|Borehamwood||K L M N O P R S T|
|Sidcup||U V W X Y|
|M||Manchester and Merseyside||Manchester||A–Y|
|Note: MN and MAN reserved for Isle of Man|
|N||North||Newcastle||A B C D E G H J K L M N O (NF is not issued)|
|Stockton||P R S T U V W X Y|
|P||Preston||Preston||A B C D E F G H J K L M N O P R S T|
|Carlisle||U V W X Y|
|S||Scotland[a]||Glasgow||A B C D E F G H J|
|Edinburgh||K L M N O|
|Dundee||P R S T|
|Aberdeen||U V W|
|W||West of England||Exeter||A B C D E F G H J|
|Bristol||M N O P R S T U V W X Y|
|X||Personal export||A B C D E F|
|Y||Yorkshire||Leeds||A B C D E F G H J K|
|Sheffield||L M N O P R S T U|
|Beverley||V W X Y|
bThere is no official name ascribed to the letter K by the DVLA, although reference may be made to the 'K' in Milton Keynes - the new town that is located between the two 'K' DVLA offices.
cLuton DVLA office until 08/02/2010 when it closed and had all operations moved to Borehamwood.
In addition to the above local memory tags, personalised registrations are also offered with arbitrary "local memory tags" prefixes, except for the letters I, Q, and Z.
cLast year identifier from previous system
Some UK number plates conform to the 1998 European standard design, with black lettering on a white or yellow background. The standard design also incorporates a blue strip on the left side of the plate with the European Union symbol and the country identification code of the member state – this aspect of the design is not compulsory in the UK. The country identifier design is not compliant with the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic (Annex 4) which requires the classic white oval design to be displayed. However for many countries, the Geneva Convention has been replaced by the later Vienna Convention on Road Traffic.
Owners of vehicles registered in Great Britain which are not already displaying the EU format "GB" plate may choose to display plates with a national emblem plus lettering. Either the full wording or the abbreviation is used.
UK - UNITED KINGDOM
WALES - Wales
Although these plates are permitted throughout the entire UK, they are not recognised in other countries, therefore a motorist who drives a vehicle abroad displaying these plates must also affix a "GB" sticker.
The standard (79 mm height) typeface is set out in the Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001. An alternative (64 mm) font is provided for motorcycles (schedule 4 part 2, p. 24).
The standard font, unofficially known as Charles Wright 2001, is a subtly redrawn version of Charles Wright's original 1935 font. The width of the previous font was condensed from 57 mm to 50 mm to allow space for the extra letter and the optional blue EU strip. The letter O and the digit 0 are intentionally identical, as are the letter I and digit 1. But the typeface accentuates the differences between characters such as 8 and B, or D and 0, with slab serifs to improve the legibility of a plate from a distance. This is especially useful for the automatic number plate recognition software of speed cameras and CCTV. This accentuation also discourages the tampering that is sometimes practised with the use of black insulating tape or paint to change letter forms (such as P to R, or 9 to 8), or with the inclusion of carefully positioned black "fixing screw" dots that alter the appearance of letters on some vanity plates.
The design has similarities with the FE-Schrift number-plate font which was introduced in Germany in 1994 and which has been mandatory there since 2000. However, the UK design remains more conventional in its character shapes.
Registrations having a combination of characters that are particularly appealing (resembling a name, for example) are auctioned each year.
For the 07 registration period a higher than usual number of Scottish 07 codes were retained as Select registrations for sale and an additional allocation of Tx letter pairs were released for use by the local offices in Scotland with the same allocation as the Sx letter pairs (for example Edinburgh with SK to SN allocated had TK to TN added)[a].
In 2007 the Edinburgh DVLA office exceptionally issued TN07 prefixed registrations for some vehicles, instead of the expected 'SN07'. This was stated to be because of potential offence caused by interpreting SN07 as 'snot'. This is the first known use of the 'T' code as the first letter, as it was not allocated to a region in the 2001 system. Also, TF07 and TJ07 registrations have been issued in Glasgow, most probably because the SA07–SJ07 allocations were exhausted. Similarly, along with TN07, TK07 has also been issued by Edinburgh, probably for the same oversubscription reason as in Glasgow. It has also been observed that the TP07 mark has also been issued.
Vehicles registered under previous numbering systems continue to retain their original number plates. Subject to certain conditions, number plates can be transferred between vehicles by the vehicle owner; some of these transfers involve tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds changing hands, because of the desirability of a specific letter/number combination.
The first series of number plates was issued in 1903 and ran until 1932, consisting of a one- or two-letter code followed by a sequence number from 1 to 9999. The code indicated the local authority in whose area the vehicle was registered. In England and Wales, these were initially allocated in order of population size (by the 1901 census) - thus A indicated London, B indicated Lancashire, C indicated the West Riding of Yorkshire and so on up to Y indicating Somerset, then AA indicated Hampshire, AB indicated Worcestershire and so on up to FP indicating Rutland.
The letters G, S and V were initially restricted to Scotland, and the letters I and Z to Ireland. In both cases, allocations of codes were made in alphabetical order of counties, followed by county boroughs - thus in Scotland, Aberdeenshire was allocated SA, Argyll received SB and so on, while in Ireland Antrim was allocated IA, Armagh received IB, and so on.
When a licensing authority reached 9999, it was allocated another two-letter code, but there was no pattern to these subsequent allocations as they were allocated on a first come first served basis. London and Middlesex quickly took most codes with L and M as the first letter respectively, while Surrey, initially allocated P, took many codes beginning with that letter.
There are four interesting anomalies where a zero has been issued. The Lord Provost of Edinburgh has S 0 and his Glasgow counterpart has G 0 while the official car of the Lord Provost of Aberdeen has RG 0. In addition the Lord Mayor of London has the registration LM 0.
By 1932, the available codes were running out, and an extended scheme was introduced. This scheme placed a serial letter before the code, and had the sequence number run only to 999, thus restricting the number of characters in a registration to six. The first area to issue such marks was Staffordshire in July 1932 with ARF 1 etc., and all other areas in England and Wales, plus most areas in Scotland, followed suit once they had issued all their two-letter registrations.
I, Q, and Z were not used as serial letters, as the use of I and Z continued to be restricted to Ireland and Q was reserved for temporary imports, while the single-letter codes were left out of this scheme as a serial letter would have created a duplicate of an existing two-letter code. (The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland later adopted this scheme in their own ways, and the latter still uses it.)
In some areas, the available marks within this scheme started to run out in the 1950s, and in those areas, what became known as "reversed" registrations - the letters coming after the numbers - were introduced. Staffordshire was again the first area to issue such registrations, starting with 1000 E in 1953. In most cases, the three-letter combinations (e.g. 1 AHX for Middlesex) would be issued first, while in later years some areas started with the one- and two-letter combinations and others issued all three at the same time. The ever-increasing popularity of the car meant that by the beginning of the 1960s, these registrations were also running out.
Some three-letter combinations were not authorised for licensing use as they were deemed offensive. These included ARS, BUM, GOD, JEW, SEX, and SOD. DUW was issued in London for several months in 1934 before it was realised it was the Welsh for "god", and withdrawn.
In August 1962, an attempt was made to create a national scheme to alleviate the problem of registrations running out. This used the scheme introduced in 1932, of a three-letter combination followed by a sequence number from 1 to 999, but also added a letter suffix, which initially changed on 1 January each year. An "A" suffix was thus used for 1963, "B" for 1964, etc. Middlesex was the first authority to adopt this scheme when it issued AHX 1A in February 1963. Most other areas followed suit during 1964, but some chose to stick to their own schemes up until 1 January 1965, when the letter suffix was made compulsory.
As well as yielding many more available numbers, it was a handy way for vehicle buyers to know the age of the vehicle immediately. However, the year letter changing on 1 January each year meant that car retailers soon started to notice that buyers would tend to wait until the New Year for the new letter to be issued, so that they could get a "newer" car. This led to major peaks and troughs in sales over the year, and to help flatten this out somewhat the industry lobbied to get the scheme changed, so that the change of year letter occurred on 1 August rather than 1 January. This was done in 1967, when "E" suffixes ran only from 1 January to 31 July, before "F" suffixes commenced on 1 August.
In October 1974, responsibility for issuing registrations was transferred from local and regional authorities to specialist Local Vehicle Licensing Offices (LVLOs) or Vehicle Registration Offices (VROs) run by the DVLA. Most of the two-letter area codes allocated during the first scheme continued in their respective areas, albeit now indicating the nearest LVLO/VRO rather than the local or regional authority. However, the decision to streamline the allocations of these codes meant that some were transferred to new areas. For instance, the former Suffolk code CF was transferred to Reading, while the former Edinburgh code WS was re-allocated to Bristol.
By 1982, the year suffixes had reached Y and so from 1983 onwards the sequence was reversed again, so that the year letter — starting again at "A" — preceded the numbers then the letters of the registration. The available range was then A21 AAA to Y999 YYY, the numbers 1–20 being held back for the government's proposed, and later implemented, DVLA select registration sales scheme. Towards the mid-1990s there was some discussion about introducing a unified scheme for Europe, which would also incorporate the country code of origin of the vehicle, but after much debate such a scheme was not adopted because of lack of countries willing to participate. The changes in 1983 also brought the letter Q into use – although on a very small and limited scale. It was used on vehicles of indeterminate age, such as those assembled from kits, substantial rebuilds, or imported vehicles where the documentation is insufficient to determine the age. There was a marked increase in the use of Q registrations in the late 1980s and early 1990s, fuelled by car crime. Many stolen vehicles had false identities given to them, and when this was discovered and the original identity could not be determined, a Q registration would be issued to such vehicle. It was seen as an aid to consumer protection.
By the late 1990s, the range of available numbers was once again starting to run out, exacerbated by a move to biannual changes in registration letters (March and September) in 1999 to smooth out the bulge in registrations every August, so a new scheme needed to be adopted. It was decided to research a system that would be easier for crash or vehicle related crime witnesses to remember and clearer to read, yet still fit within a normal standard plate size.
In order to avoid any confusion, the letters I, O, U and Z have never been issued as year identifiers: I because of its similarity to the numeral 1; O because of its identical appearance to a zero; U because of similarity to the letter V; and Z because of similarity to the numeral 2.
|Suffix letter series 1963–83||Prefix letter series 1983–2001|
Northern Ireland continues to use the national system initiated for the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1903, with two-letter county and city codes featuring the letters I and Z representing Ireland. The full list of codes appears below.
As in Great Britain, each code originally ran from 1 to 9999, and when one was completed, another was allocated. All possible codes had been allocated by 1957, following which reversed sequences were introduced, the first county to do so being Antrim in January 1958 with 1 IA.
These reversed sequences were completed quickly, leading to the introduction of the current "AXX 1234" format in January 1966, where "XX" is the county code and "A" is a serial letter. This format allowed capacity to be increased. Each county adopted it once they had completed their reversed sequences, the last one to do so being County Londonderry in October 1973 with AIW 1.
From November 1985, the first 100 numbers of each series were withheld for use as cherished registrations. From April 1989, the numbers 101-999 were also withheld in this way. Even multiples of 1000 and 1111 ("four-of-a-kind") are deemed cherished by the Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA) in Northern Ireland and thus withheld. Each series ends at 9998 and follows on to the next letter/number combination in the series.
While motorists with vehicles registered in Great Britain are permitted by the DVLA to use number plates carrying Euro-style bands with UK national flags and country codes instead of the Euro symbol and "GB", officially, the DVA specifies only the Euro symbol with the country code "GB".
For each DVA licensing local office, the two-letter sequences are shown first, followed by the reversed two-letter sequences, then the three-letter sequences.
The present series is highlighted in bold, those already used are in italics.
Notes regarding a particular sequence are denoted using superscript numbers, and are given at the end of the series for the county concerned.
Ballymena DVA licensing offices: (in original issuing sequence) IA DZ KZ RZ
Armagh DVA licensing office: (in original issuing sequence) IB LZ XZ
Belfast DVA licensing office: (in original issuing sequence) OI XI AZ CZ EZ FZ GZ MZ OZ PZ TZ UZ WZ
Downpatrick DVA licensing office: (in original issuing sequence) IJ BZ JZ SZ
Enniskillen DVA licensing office: (in original issuing sequence) IL IG
Coleraine DVA licensing office: (in original issuing sequence) IW NZ YZ
Londonderry DVA licensing office: UI
Omagh DVA licensing office (in original issuing sequence) JI HZ VZ
Jersey registration plates consist of the letter 'J' followed by one to six digits; plates may now incorporate the coat of arms of Jersey in a white strip on the left, along with the country identifier 'GBJ' (Great Britain – Jersey). This design is similar to the EU standard plate, but does not incorporate the European flag, as Jersey is outside the European Union.
Hire cars registered on Jersey display a silver letter 'H' on a red background on the left of the registration plate.
The prefix 'E' is used to designate temporary imports.
Where a vehicle is brought temporarily into Jersey … from a country in which the vehicle is not under the law of that country required to be registered, the Inspector may, … assign to it an identification mark which shall be displayed on the vehicle as provided in that paragraph.
The Mark shall consist of the letter 'E' followed by a number.
—Jersey Legal Information
Cherished plates, having the format 'JSY' followed by one to three digits, are officially auctioned. Such is the desirability of low digit registration marks that these are often included in the auctions. (The new registered keeper purchases the right to display the registration mark rather than outright ownership of it).
A Jersey "trader" plate has white letters on a red background and is made of a flexible magnetic material. These plates are for use by a bona fide motor trader on any unregistered vehicle being used in connection with the business of that motor trader.
Guernsey plates consist of up to five digits, with no letters. Plates may be either silver on a black background, or black on the white/yellow backgrounds as in the UK. An oval containing the letters 'GBG' (Great Britain - Guernsey), the island's international vehicle registration, is sometimes included. Plates with lower numbers are of a higher value. Some numbers beginning 0 and 00 have been released from 2012.
The Registration number 1 is reserved for, and displayed on the Bailiff of Guernsey's car. The official car of the Lieutenant Governor of Guernsey has no number plate. his private cars have G1 and G2 as registration numbers.
Guernsey hire cars sport a black 'H' on a yellow background on a separate plate, much like the 'L plate' required by learners.
Much like trade plates in the UK, Guernsey used to have a system whereby the trade plate was issued with a Z prefix, e.g. Z18. This seems to have been replaced with a V prefix, e.g. V18 now.[original research?]
In Alderney, a self-governing territory which is part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, registrations are issued with the prefix 'AY' followed by a space and then 1, 2, 3 or 4 digits. Before the Second World War these were issued by the States of Alderney; now they are issued at the Island Hall by the States of Alderney in the name of the Guernsey Motor Tax department.
There are no requirements as to how an Alderney plate is made up. An Alderney plate is commonly either white or silver on a black background (pre-1973 UK style), or black on the white/yellow (both pre-2001 and post-2001 UK typeface styles). One or two vehicles carry French style white/yellow plates, and sometimes number plates are even hand-drawn.
AY 999 is used for the principal police 4WD vehicle.
Sark and Herm ban motor vehicles other than tractors from their roads. No number plates exist. On both Islands, some tractor owners still adorn their vehicles with plates though, such as 'ROSS 1' on Sark.[original research?] Although not official registration numbers, these are seen as vanity plates. Tractors on Sark still have to be licenced yearly, depicted by a sticker in the window or somewhere on the vehicle, although there is no law to display plates.
Some of the British overseas territories, including Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, use number plates similar to the UK, with the same colours and typeface. Some former British colonies which adopted British style number plates have continued with those customs, notable examples are Hong Kong, Singapore and Cyprus
Until 2002 Gibraltar's number plates consisted of the letter 'G' and five digits, but this changed to 'G' followed by four digits and a letter. The European flag is also now featured, along with the international vehicle registration GBZ. Military vehicles have the letters 'RN'.
|G 1234 A||G 1234 A|
|G 1234 A||G 1234 A|
|G 12345||G 12345|
|GG 12345||GG 12345|
|DLR 1234||DLR 1234|
In the Falkland Islands, the format is 'F' followed by up to three digits and a letter registered in a strict numerical sequence. Plates should be black-on-yellow for the rear of the vehicle and black-on-white for the front of the vehicle although black-on-yellow is not unknown. Government vehicles are registered with 'F' followed by four digits. White on black was previously used.
|F 123 A||F 123 A|
|F 1234||F 1234|
|F 123||F 123|
From 1975 Bermuda licence plates issued to general passenger vehicles have five black digits on a plain white background (both front and rear), and have a size similar to UK plates. Non-private vehicles have licence plates with two preceding letters followed by three numbers.
Personalised plates, have recently become available that allow motorists to choose any seven letters, overlaid on a map of the island with "Bermuda" printed across the top, on a plate of identical dimensions to plates from the United States & Canada. Similar sized plates are used for classic cars, designated by a preceding 'CL'.
US Forces in Bermuda have used black plates with white characters since 1975, a letter followed by four numbers.
|A 1234||A 1234|
Saint Helena number plates just have digits on them, with government vehicles having a prefix of 'SHG'. Plates are black-on-white for the front of the vehicle, and black-on-yellow for the rear and use UK dimensions. The Governor's car has a crown on a white plate.
|SHG 123||SHG 123|
|A 1234||A 1234|
Tristan da Cunha number plates have up to three digits following prefix 'T.D.C.' or 'TDC'. Plates are white-on-black and have not changed format since 1969. Black-on-white and black-on-yellow are also seen.
|T.D.C. 123||T.D.C. 123|
|T.D.C. 123||T.D.C. 123|
|T.D.C. 123||T.D.C. 123|
Anguilla has an 'A' followed by four digits, with a 'G' on the end for a government vehicle, a 'H' for a hire vehicle/taxi and an 'R' for a rental vehicle. The Governor's car has a crown on a black plate.
Plates were changed in 2007. They are now Canadian sized and have a blue and white background with black letters. The Anguillan shield-of-arms is shown next to the number with "Anguilla" and "Rainbow City" above and below the plate respectively. The letter denoting the type of vehicle has been moved to the front and P is now shown for personal vehicles.
|A 1234||A 1234|
|A 1234 H||A 1234 H|
|A 1234 G||A 1234 G|
|A 1234 R||A 1234 R|
In the British Virgin Islands private vehicles have 'PV' followed by four digits, 'VI' was used as the prefix for one year 1995-96; before 1995 only numbers were used. Commercial vehicles have 'CM' followed by four digits; rental vehicles have 'RT', and taxis have 'TX'. Government vehicles have 'GV' followed by four digits and have white letters on red. Many plates have 'Virgin Islands' and 'Nature's Little Secret' above and below the plates respectively. Before 1996, British standard sizes were used, but this has since reduced to a size more familiar in the US Virgin Islands.
|PV 12345||PV 12345|
|TX 12345||TX 12345|
|RT 12345||RT 12345|
|CM 1234||CM 1234|
|GV 1234||GV 1234|
|VI 1234||VI 1234|
Cayman Islands number plates usually have six numbers on them, separated into groups of three. Most plates have "Cayman Islands" written beneath the numbers and have similar dimensions to plates used in the United States and Canada. Front and rear are both black-on-yellow for private cars, black-on-white for hire cars, red-on-yellow for disabled drivers, red-on-white for taxis, black-on-orange for HGVs and trailers. The Governor's car has a crown on the front only.
In 2003, Quincentennial plates (known as Q-plates) were issued, they had four blue numbers following a 'Q' on a background depicting a picturesque Cayman scene with celebratory logos. Initially, Q-plates were issued with white characters but these were recalled and replaced.
|123 456||123 456|
|123 456||123 456|
|123 456||123 456|
|123 456||123 456|
|123 456||123 456|
|CI 1234||CI 1234|
Different colours are used for private (red), commercial (green), government (black) and hire (yellow) cars. The Governor's cars do not display a number plate, simply a plate with a crown.
|TC 1234||TC 1234|
|TC 1234||TC 1234|
|TC 1234||TC 1234|
|TC 1234||TC 1234|
Montserrat plates start with a letter indicating the type of car (R for rental, M for private etc.) followed by up to four numbers. The background colour can vary but the letters and numbers are always in white.
|M 1234||M 1234|
|R 123||R 123|
|H 12||H 12|
In the Second World War, vehicles of the British Army had number plates such as A12104 and those of the Royal Air Force RAF 208343. Since 1949, British military vehicle registration numbers are mostly either in the form of two digits, two letters, two digits (e.g. 07 CE 08), or from 1995 onwards, two letters, two digits, two letters (for example, JW 57 AB). Until the mid-1980s, the central two letters signified the armed service, or the branch or category of vehicle. For example, Chief of Fleet Support's staff car in 1983-85 was 00 RN 04, and First Sea Lord's car 00 RN 01 and Second Sea Lord's 00 RN 02, normal civilian plates replacing them when security required; and, in 1970, one of HMS Albion's Land Rovers was 25 RN 97 and HMS Bulwark's ship's minibus was 04 RN 84. Royal Air Force vehicles had numbers such as 55 AA 89, typically the first of the two letters being A,  and the new-style RAF plates, such as RZ 00 AA and RU 86 AA on fire engines.
Military number plates are still often in the silver/white on black scheme used for civilian plates before 1973, and can be presented in one, two or three rows of characters.
From 1963 until around 1990, in West Germany, private vehicles owned by members of British Forces Germany and their families were issued registration numbers in a unique format (initially two letters followed by three digits plus a "B" suffix, e.g. RH 249 B, then from the early 1980s three letters followed by two numbers plus the "B" suffix, e.g. AQQ 89 B). This was discontinued for security reasons, as it made them vulnerable to Provisional IRA attacks. Private vehicles driven by British military personnel are now issued with either standard UK number plates (if right hand drive) or German ones (if left hand drive), although the vehicle is not actually registered with the DVLA.
|JW 57 AB|
|00 RN 04|
|RH 249 B|
|AQQ 89 B|
Trade licences are issued to motor traders and vehicle testers, and permit the use of untaxed vehicles on the public highway with certain restrictions. Associated with trade licences are "trade plates" which identify the holder of the trade licence rather than the vehicle they are displayed on, and can be attached temporarily to vehicles in their possession.
Until 1970, two types of trade plate were used. General trade plates had white letters and numbers on a red background and could be used for all purposes. Limited trade plates used red numbers and letters on a white background and were restricted in their use (e.g. a vehicle being driven under limited trade plates was not allowed to carry passengers). From 1970 onwards only one type of trade plate was used, which perpetuated the red on white format. The format of trade plate numbers comprises three digits followed by one to three letters.
Since 1979 cars operated by foreign embassies, high commissions, consular staff, and various international organisations have been given plates with a distinguishing format of three numbers, one letter, three numbers. The letter is D for diplomats or X for accredited non-diplomatic staff. The first group of three numbers identifies the country or organisation to whom the plate has been issued, the second group of three numbers is a serial number, starting at 101 for diplomats (although some embassies were erroneously issued 100), 400 for non-diplomatic staff of international organisations, and 700 for consular staff. Thus, for example, 101 D 101 identifies the first plate allocated to the Afghan embassy, 900 X 400 is the first plate allocated to the Commonwealth Secretariat.
|101 D 101||101 D 101|
|900 X 400||900 X 400|
A limited number of "personal" plates, bearing a similar format to earlier civilian registrations, are issued to embassies and high commissions for use of their ambassador or high commissioner. For example, the United States embassy is allowed to use the registration USA 1 on one of its fleet of vehicles; Zimbabwe's high commissioner has ZIM 1 - controversially a number plate originally issued in Galway, Republic of Ireland ca 1968 - and South Korea's ambassador ROK 1 - 'Republic of Korea'. The North Korean embassy, however, had to buy a vanity plate: PRK 1D. The Spanish Ambassador´s car has SPA1N. (Personally seen some ten odd years ago in London streets.
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (September 2010)|
By default, a UK registration plate will accompany a vehicle throughout the vehicle's lifetime. There is no requirement to re-register a vehicle when moving to a new part of the country and no requirement that the number be changed when ownership of the vehicle changes. It is, however, possible for another registration number to be transferred, replacing the one originally issued, where owners wish to have a "vanity plate" (sometimes referred to as a "cherished" registration) displaying, for instance, their initials. Registration numbers may also be replaced simply to disguise the actual age of the vehicle.
According to information on the government DVLA website: -
"Just remember you can make your vehicle look as old as you wish but you can not make it look newer than it is. For example you cannot put a Y registration number on a T registered vehicle but you could choose any prefix range from an A to a T. Each registration has an issue date which is what you must check to ensure you don't make your vehicle appear newer than it is.". However, you are able to put 1955 registered private number plates on a 1949 registered vehicle as there is no year indicator to determine the age of release.
As many vehicles registered before 1963 have been scrapped, some of their "dateless" pre-1963 registration numbers have been transferred to other vehicles as personal plates. They can be valuable, and can also be used to conceal the age of an older vehicle. Many vintage and classic cars no longer bear their original index marks due to the owners being offered high premiums for the desirable registrations. In addition Northern Irish registrations are also regarded as "dateless" and are often transferred to vehicles outside Northern Ireland. Touring coaches often operate in other parts of the UK with registration numbers originally issued in Northern Ireland.
The DVLA's Personalised Registrations service also allows the purchase and transfer of registration numbers directly from the DVLA. Many private dealers act as agents for DVLA issues (and sell DVLA numbers for more than the DVLA asking price, which many buyers do not realise), and also hold their own private stock of dateless registrations and other cherished marks. The DVLA however can only offer for sale registrations that have never previously been issued and thus have a limited offering and limited scope.
As popularity grows, the prices reached for the most expensive plates are always increasing. As of 2008, the record price for a number plate is £397,500 paid at auction in September by an anonymous buyer for the plate S 1. This was originally owned by Sir John H A MacDonald, the Lord Kingsburgh and was Edinburgh's first ever number plate. Car design entrepreneur Afzal Kahn paid £375,000 on 25 January 2008 for F 1 previously owned and sold by Essex County Council and affixed originally in 1904 to the Panhard et Levassor of the then County Surveyor. £330,000 was spent on M 1, sold at auction in Goodwood on 7 June 2006.
Motor cars used by the reigning monarch on official business, as of 2013[update] all Rolls-Royces or Bentleys usually made to special specifications, do not carry number plates. The monarch's private vehicles carry number plates. The official car of the Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland does not carry plates for the duration of the week-long General Assembly.
Criminals sometimes use copies of number plates legitimately used on a vehicle of identical type and colour to the one used, known as "cloning", to avoid being identified. A routine police computer check shows the plate matching the type of vehicle and does not appear suspicious.
The UK Government introduced on 1 August 2008 regulations requiring the production of personal identification and vehicle registration documents when having number plates made by a retailer. The organisation that makes the plate is required to display their name and postcode, usually in small print at bottom centre, to aid in tracing false plates and their purchaser. This requirement was introduced in 2001 when the new character style and two-digit year identifier came into force, and applies to all registration plates made after that date regardless of the year of the vehicle.
Number plates were initially made by the motor vehicle's original supplier, and replacement plates meeting standards could be made by anybody. Some people had street address numbers made up to motor-vehicle standards for their houses. From 2001 plates sold in England and Wales had to be provided by a supplier on the DVLA's Register of Number Plate Suppliers (RNPS) as specified in British Standard BS-AU145d. The supplier needs to confirm that the customer is the registered keeper or other authorised person and verify their identity. The name and postcode of the supplier must be shown at the bottom of the plate. Number plates in the UK are usually flat and made of plastic; embossed aluminium plates are available from some suppliers. These rules are generally described as onerous, particularly to company car drivers who do not hold any of the required paperwork themselves (such items usually being stored by a fleet manager or lease hire company).
Registered number plate suppliers must keep records including the documents produced by their customers; they can be required to be shown to the police, although in reality this has seldom happened. The Department for Transport holds a full list of suppliers.
Some companies, particularly those based online, sell number plates described as "show plates" or "not for road use", which may not satisfy the requirements of BS-AU145d for a vehicle to display a number plate on a public road. However, if so specified, these products can be identical to number plates sold by approved RNPS registered suppliers, but online customers do not have to demonstrate the right to be issued that number plate - hence supplier's disclaimers on their websites.
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