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DVLA rules for legal number plates

What are legal number plates? Why are some number plates illegal?

We guide you through the DVLA (previously known as DVLC) rules for legal number plates. You'll also find, at the end, some common things what you're not allowed to do with you number plate!

Sorry that this is all a bit official-looking... but rules is rules....  :-)  You shouldn't need to worry about these... if you go to an authorised manufacturer, they should be fully aware of the DVLA rules. But they're here if you want to check whether your number plates are legal.

 

General stuff about legal displaying number plates.....

The number plates you attach to your car should be made up by a manufacturer who is registered on the DVLA's Register of Number Plate Suppliers (RNPS). They should ask you for your vehicle documents (V5 logbook, and personal ID), as proof that you are entitled to use the registration mark you have requested. This is to prevent fraudulent number plates being requested.

If you have just had a personal registration number assigned to your vehicle, you won't get your new registration document immediately - this comes in the post a few weeks later. In this case, the DVLA will give you a document authorising you to have the number plates made up.

The DVLA rules for legal display of 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 / silver) number plates.

Reputable number plate manufacturers will be aware of the DVLA 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 legal display of number plates:

  • You must display a number plate on the front and back of your vehicle
  • Letters should be black on a white plate at the front
  • Letters should be black on a yellow plate at the back
  • 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 number 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 only be fitted on vehicles manufactured before 1st January 1973. See traditional number plates.

DVLA rules for number plates fitted after 1st September 2001

Any number plate made up after 1st September 2001 must be in accordance with 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
Space between vertical lines
19 mm

DVLA rules for 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

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

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. Two and three-line number plates: 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

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 on the far left-hand side of the number plate.

Vehicles displaying this Euro symbol on the number plate no longer need to use the separate 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 number plates. The Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001 are being amended to reflect hte change. They will allow for the voluntary display of the Union flag, Scottish Saltire, Cross of St George and Red Dragon.
Other symbols, such as football team crests etc., are not allowed.

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.
Here's an examples of what the number plate font looks like:

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

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 or numbers
  • Don't move the spaces around, or change the size of the space
  • Don't misrepresent letters / numbers using screws. fixings, tape, etc
  • Don't misrepresent letters / numbers using squashed or distorted letters
  • No images other than the approved flags (no football emblems, etc)
  • Don't put on 'background' images (behind the number plate)

Full details of the requirements are included in The Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001 Remember: if your number plate is not legally displayed you risk a fine, and could even have the registratin number confiscated.

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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 number options:

  • A non-reflective border
  • Euro-symbol with national identification letters
 
 

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.