In the United Kingdom, number plates (also known as licence plates) must adhere to specific legal requirements outlined in the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 and subsequent regulations. These requirements are in place to ensure that number plates are easily identifiable, legible, and can be used for law enforcement, vehicle registration, and identification purposes.
Car number plate and the law
There are a number of laws associated with car number plate law which are set out as follows:
- Characters on the number plate must be in the standard “Charles Wright” font, which is a specific typeface designed for UK number plates.
- Characters must be 79mm in height and 50mm in width, with the exception of the number “1” and letter “I,” which must be 44mm in width.
- Characters must be formed using a continuous stroke and have a specific width-to-spacing ratio.
- Characters must be black on a white background for the front number plate.
- Characters must be black on a yellow background for the rear number plate.
- The background colour must be reflective.
- The spacing between characters must adhere to specific measurements, with defined gaps between groups of characters.
- Spaces must be used to separate groups of characters, with a specific width for each space.
- Number plates must be properly affixed to the vehicle in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
For more detail, head to the gov.uk website.
Illegal number plates
Whilst there are clear rules about how the number plate must be printed, it also means that there are a number ways that you could fall foul of the law if your number plate doesn’t comply.
- 1. Dirty or obscured Number Plate
- 2. Altered Character Spacing
- 3. Non-Standard Typefaces or Fonts
- 4. Incorrect Character Dimensions
- 5. Inappropriate Background or Character Colours
- 6. Non-Reflective Material
- 7. Inappropriate National Flags or Identifiers
- 8. Tampering or Modifications
- 9. Faded, Damaged, or Illegible Characters
What is the penalty for an illegal number plate?
The penalties for using an illegal number plate here in the United Kingdom can vary depending on the severity of the violation. Generally, the penalties can include:
- Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN): For minor violations, such as dirty or obscured number plates, police officers may issue a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN). The fine associated with an FPN can vary but is typically in the range of £100 to £150.
- Prosecution and Court Appearance: More serious violations, such as using non-standard fonts, altered spacing, or custom plates that don’t meet the prescribed guidelines, can lead to prosecution. If prosecuted, you may have to appear in court, where you could face a more substantial fine. The fine amount will depend on the specific circumstances and the court’s judgment, but it can be as high as £1,000 or more.
- Loss of Registration Number: In some cases, if a number plate violation is severe or repeated, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) may withdraw the vehicle’s registration number. This means you would have to apply for a new registration number and have new, compliant number plates made.
- Mandatory Plate Replacement: In cases where the number plate is damaged, faded, or otherwise non-compliant due to wear and tear, you may be required to replace the number plate with a legal one to avoid penalties.
- Vehicle Prohibition: In extreme cases where a vehicle owner repeatedly uses illegal number plates, law enforcement may take further action, including potentially prohibiting the vehicle from being driven until the issue is resolved.
- Vehicle Impoundment: In some cases, the police may impound a vehicle with illegal number plates, particularly if they believe the vehicle is being used for fraudulent or criminal activities.
To avoid penalties and legal issues, it’s essential to ensure that your vehicle’s number plates comply with all legal requirements, including font, spacing, colour, and reflectivity standards.
Regularly inspect your number plates for damage and replace them when necessary to maintain compliance with the law.
Frequently asked questions
Can you have a black number plate?
Black number plates are allowed in the UK for certain categories of vehicles, specifically vehicles registered prior to 1 January 1975. These black and silver number plates are considered a historical or classic vehicle feature and can be used to give these vehicles a vintage appearance.
The rules for black number plates for classic vehicles include the following:
- Pre-1975 Vehicles: Black number plates are typically reserved for vehicles registered before 1 January 1975.
- White, Silver, or Grey Characters: The characters on black number plates should be white, silver, or grey, which provides a strong contrast for better visibility.
- Standard Font: The characters must be displayed in the standard “Charles Wright” font used for UK number plates.
- Non-Reflective: Unlike modern number plates, black number plates are not required to be reflective.
It’s important to note that the use of black number plates on post-1975 vehicles is generally not allowed.
Are the rules for front and back number plates different?
Yes, in the UK, there are some differences in the rules and regulations governing front and rear number plates. These differences primarily affect the design and display of the plates. Here are the key distinctions between front and rear number plates:
Front Number Plates
- Mandatory front number plates: Vehicles must have a set of front number plates.
- Smaller Size: Front number plates are typically smaller in size than rear number plates. The standard size for a front number plate is 520mm in width and 111mm in height for standard oblong plates.
- Character Colour and Background: Front number plates should have black characters on a white background.
- Reflectivity Requirement: Front number plates must be made from reflective material to ensure visibility in low-light conditions.
Rear Number Plates
- Mandatory: Rear number plates are mandatory for all vehicles registered in the UK.
- Larger Size: Rear number plates are typically larger in size than front number plates. The standard size for a rear number plate is 533mm in width and 152mm in height for standard oblong plates.
- Character Colour and Background: Rear number plates should have black characters on a yellow background.
- Reflectivity Requirement: Rear number plates must be made from reflective material to ensure visibility in low-light conditions.
Do I need to have number plate lights?
Yes, in the United Kingdom, it is a legal requirement for vehicles to have functioning number plate lights. These lights are essential for ensuring that the vehicle’s number plates are visible and legible, especially at night or in low-light conditions. Properly illuminated number plates help police to identify and enforce the law.
Is a cracked number plate illegal?
A cracked number plate can potentially be considered illegal in the United Kingdom if the damage impairs the legibility of the characters on the plate or if it compromises the reflective properties of the plate.
Failure to comply with these legal requirements can result in fines, penalties, and even the removal of the vehicle’s registration. Additionally, it is crucial to note that personalised or custom number plates must also adhere to these regulations while meeting additional criteria for approval. Always consult the latest regulations and guidelines provided by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) or the relevant authority for the most up-to-date information regarding UK number plates.
For more information on how to maintain your vehicle check out our informative guides.