What is a legal number plate?

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What makes a number plate illegal? What are the DVLA rules for legal number plates?

 
Some general stuff about number plates...
The basic rules for number plates
Number plates fitted after 1st September 2001
Number plates fitted before 1st September 2001
Traditional number plates
Motorcycle and Tricycle number plates
Euro (and other flags) on number plates
Number plate font
What you must not do with your number plate
What's the British Standard for number plates?
 
 
First, some general stuff about number plates.....
 
Your number plates should be made up by a manufacturer who is registered on the DVLA's Register of Number Plate Suppliers (RNPS). They will ask you for your documents (V5 logbook, and personal ID), as proof that you are entitled to use the registration.
 
If you have just had a private registration number assigned to your vehicle, you won't receive your new registration document straightaway. In which case, you will be given a document authorising you to have the number plates made up.
 
The DVLA rules for number plates are very specific. Number plates must fit with the British Standard, including the typeface, the size, and colouring. There are alternatives for motorcycles, tricycles and traditional (black and white) plates.
 
Reputable number plate manufacturers will be aware of these regulations.

VEHICLE REGISTRATION MARKS must be displayed in accordance with The Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001 (obtainable from HMSO). See http://www.opsi.gov.uk/

 
 
The basic rules for number plates:
  • You must display a number plate on the front and rear of your vehicle
  • Letters should be black on a white plate at the front
  • Letters should be black on a yellow plate at the rear
  • The background surface should be reflex-reflecting, but not the letters
  • Number plates should meet the British Standard
  • Rules on character dimensions differ slightly depending on whether your plates were fitted before or after 1st September 2001. Details are below.
  • Rules on character dimensions differ for traditional 'black and white' plates, which may be fitted on vehicles manufactured before 1st January 1973.
 
 

Number plates fitted after 1st September 2001

Any number plate made up after 1st September 2001 must meet the dimensions as below:

Character Height
79 mm
Character Width (except the figure 1 or letter I)
50 mm
Character stroke
14 mm
Space between characters
11 mm
Space between groups
33 mm
Top, bottom, and side margins (minimum)
11 mm
Space between vertical lines
19 mm
 
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Number plates fitted before 1st September 2001

If you fitted a number plate before 1st September 2001, they must meet the dimensions in one of the two groups below:

 
Group 1
Group 2
Character height
89 mm
79 mm
Character width (except the figure 1 or letter I)
64 mm
57 mm
Character stroke
16 mm
14 mm
Space between characters
13 mm
11 mm
Space between groups
38 mm
33 mm
Top, bottom and side margins (minimum)
13 mm
11 mm
Space between vertical lines
19 mm
9 mm
 
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Traditional number plates for vehicles manufactured before 1st January 1973

Vehicles manufactured before 1st January 1973 are allowed to display traditional style 'black and white' plates i.e. white, silver, or grey characters on a black plate.

The characters size must meet the dimensions in one of the two groups below:

 
Group 1
Group 2
Character height
89 mm
79 mm
Character width (except the figure 1 or letter I)
64 mm
57 mm
Character stroke
16 mm
14 mm
Space between characters
13 mm
11 mm
Space between groups
38 mm
33 mm
Top and bottom margins
13 mm
11 mm
Side margin
25 mm
11 mm
 
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DVLA Rules for Motorcycle and Tricycle number plates

All motorcycles and tricycles must display a number plate at the rear of the vehicle. Motorcycles and tricycles registered before 1st September 2001 may display a number plate at the front of the vehicle but are not required to.

If you have a two or three wheeled motorcycle or tricycle that has a body type of a four-wheeled vehicle, you MUST display a number plate at the front and back of the vehicle.

Motorcycles registered on or after 1st September 2001 must display a two-line number plate. Motorcycles registered before 1st September 2001 may display a three-line number plate.
One-line number plates are illegal, regardless of the date of registration.

Here are the character sizes:

Character Height
64 mm
Character Width (except the figure 1 or letter I)
44 mm
Character stroke
10 mm
Space between characters
10 mm
Space between groups
30 mm
Top, bottom, and side margins (minimum)
11 mm
Space between vertical lines
13 mm
 
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Euro (and other flags) on number plates
 
Since 1st September 2001 you have been able to choose to display a Euro flag, for vehicles registered in the UK. The Euro-plate is a number plate that has the symbol of the European Union (a circle of 12 stars on a blue background) with the national identification letters of the member states below it (for example GB). This symbol is located on the far left-hand side of the number plate.

Vehicles displaying this Euro symbol on the number plate no longer have to use the traditional oval shaped national identifier (GB) sticker when travelling within the European Union. All vehicles registered in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have, by international convention, the distinguishing sign GB.

On 28 December 2001, the Government announced the intention to permit the display of national flags and national identifiers on vehicle number plates. The Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001 are in the process of being amended. They will provide for the voluntary display of the Union flag, Scottish Saltire, Cross of St George and Red Dragon. Football team crests etc. are not allowed.
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Number plate font
 
All number plates made after 31st August 2001 must display the mandatory font. Number plates made prior to this date must be substantially the same.
Examples of the font can be found here:
 

 

Stylised letters (or fixing bolts which alter the appearance of the letters) are not allowed.

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What you must not do with your number plate...
 
The law states that:
  • You must not alter, rearrange or misrepresent the letters or numbers
  • Characters must not be moved from one group to the other (e.g. A242 ABC must not be displayed as A242A BC).
That means:
  • No stylised letters
  • Don't move the space around
  • Don't misrepresent letters / numbers using screws or fixings
  • Don't misrepresent letters / numbers using squashed or distorted letters
  • No images other than the approved flags (no football emblems, etc)

Full details of the requirements are included in The Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001

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What's the British Standard for number plates?

The British Standard sets out the physical characteristics of the number plate. This includes visibility, strength and reflectivity.

The British Standard also requires each number plate to be permanently and legibly marked with the following information:

  • The British Standard number (currently BS AU 145d)
  • The name, trademark or other means of identification of the manufacturer or component supplier (The company that made the plate)
  • Name and postcode of the supplying outlet.

Other options:

  • A non-reflective border
  • Euro-symbol with national identification letters
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Information source: Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)
 
Disclaimer
This information is provided for your guidance only. It is not intended to be a definitive account of the regulations regarding the Display of Registration Marks.
The Plate Market Ltd will not be held responsible for any omissions or errors in the above information.