Displaying number plates on vehicles has been a legal requirement since the passing of the 1903 Motor Car Act. Presently, the Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001, passed on 1 September 2001, governs the specifications of road-legal number plates in the United Kingdom. The specifications, as set out in the regulations, are:
Interestingly, the regulation does not specify the exact physical size and dimension of number plates.
For cars and other four-wheeled vehicles, plates must be placed both in front and at the rear (exception applies). Motorcycles and tricycles registered after the passing of the regulation are only required to display the number plate at the rear.
Number plates must use material which provides a reflective surface with adequate visibility and strength, as outlined under the British Standard BS AU 145D. The material usually used is acrylic, owing to its tensile strength and reflective properties. The standard also requires manufacturers to perform delamination and weathering tests to ensure the plates are able to withstand British climate and weather.
Name and postcode of the manufacturer or supplier of the plate must be inscribed at the bottom of the plate in an area not exceeding 178mm in width and 13mm in height. In addition, BS AU 145D must be printed at the bottom right hand corner to signify that the product conforms to the standard.
The combination of black numbers and letters with white (front) and yellow (rear) background is deemed to be the most visually effective.
All letters and numbers must conform to the Charles Wright 2001 typeface. Italics, cursive strokes, etc. are prohibited as they will affect alphanumeric recognition over a distance.
For vehicles registered after 2001, the characters must conform to the following specifications: height, 89mm; width, 64mm (except for the number ‘1’ and letter ‘I’); stroke, 16mm; space, 13mm; surrounding margins, 13mm. For ease of measurement, each character (except ‘1’ and ‘I’) is assumed to be in a 79mm by 50mm block.
For vehicles registered before 2001, the old standards still apply (unless new replacement plates are made).
If a vehicle is driven in the EU, its plate must contain the EU format "GB" and Euro emblem, located on the extreme left side. Sporting, religious and political emblems or symbols are absolutely prohibited.If a vehicle is driven in the EU, its plate must contain the EU format "GB" and Euro emblem, located on the extreme left side. Sporting, religious and political emblems or symbols are absolutely prohibited.If a vehicle is driven in the EU, its plate must contain the EU format "GB" and Euro emblem, located on the extreme left side. Sporting, religious and political emblems or symbols are absolutely prohibited.
Failure to comply with any of the specifications outlined may result in fines of up to £1,000 and withdrawal of vehicle registration.
In addition, vehicle owners, as well as car dealers, are required to maintain a complete record of all number plates made or purchased for up to three years. The records should include purchase records and direct buyer records.