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Legal Number Plates

All road going vehicles are required to display number plates, one on the front of the vehicle and one on the rear of the vehicle (there are some exceptions to this requirement). The registration marks contained on the number plates whether they came with the vehicle when purchased, through the DVLA’s sales scheme must be mounted and displayed in accordance with the Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001.

The rules which govern the display of number plates are clearly set out in law, a full copy of which can be viewed on line at however for purposes of clarification a brief summary for the display of number plates is given below;

With some exceptions, number plates must be securely mounted at both the front and rear of the vehicle.

The number plates as displayed should adhere to and meet the British Standard and must be easy to read.

Number plates mounted on the front of the vehicle should be of a white background, and number plates mounted on the rear of the vehicle should be of a yellow background. All lettering should be black.

The background surface of the number plates should be reflex-reflecting; however the characters (letter and numbers) must not be reflective in any manner.

The spacing and lettering on a set of number plates must conform to a particular set of dimensional criteria, which fall in to one of three groups, those being number plates for vehicles fitted after 1st September 2001 or number plates fitted to vehicles before 1st September 2001 and finally for vehicles constructed prior to 1st January 1973, separate requirements exist for these traditional number plates.

Number plates fitted after 1st September 2001 use a slightly narrower version of Charles Wright’s original 1935 font which has been condensed in width to allow for the Euro symbol and the inclusion of a country identifier logo “GB” and an extra letter. The width of the lettering was reduced from 57mm to 50mm (for standard cases).

If a vehicle was constructed and registered before the date of 1st January 1973 the characters displayed on these number plates must be easy to read but are not required to display the mandatory font. Additionally number plates for this period are able to display the traditional style black and white plates, that is a black background with white, silver or grey lettering. There are additional requirements if the vehicle is either a motorcycle or tricycle.

For cases of imported vehicles that do not have the European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval, and for vehicles whose design and construction can’t accommodate the standard size number plates, the use of smaller characters is permitted as given in column F from the above table of sizes.

For motor cycles and tricycles certain other dictates exist. Tricycles and motorcycles fall in to two categories, those manufactured prior to 1st September 2001 and those manufactured on or after that date. For these type of vehicles those manufactured prior to the date of 1st September 2001, number plates can be displayed on both the front and the rear of the vehicle, however these vehicles by law are only obligated to display the rear number plate, the front number plate being optional. For these types of vehicles manufactured on or after this date only the rear number plate may be displayed.

For tricycles, if they were derived from four wheeled donor vehicles the normal requirements for cars exist and any number plates displayed must conform to these standards. For tricycles derived from motorcycles however, the normal rules applying to motorcycles must apply the sizes for which are detailed in column G of the above table.

Additionally motorcycles if manufactured before 1st September 2001 can display three-line number plates; however one-line number plates are illegal. One-line number plates are illegal for motorbikes or tricycles irrespective of the date of manufacture. For motorcycles manufactured after 1st September 2001 only the two line style of number plates may be displayed.