Displaying Personal Number Plates Legally

By: Ross O'donnell

Whether it is a name, word or date, most personal number plates read exactly what the owner intended. However, as personal numbers plates are unique, only one person can own the "proper" plate. A minority of people buy close matches with the view to altering the lettering or spacing using various fonts and screws to make their personal number plates read something different.

The Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001 state that you must not alter, rearrange or misrepresent any characters when displaying a registration mark on a number plate. This includes illegally spacing the letters and numbers on personal number plates. By misrepresenting your registration number you are liable to a fine of ?1000, your vehicle can fail its MOT and the registration can even be withdrawn from use.

Personal number plates must fit several criteria in order to be road legal. Firstly number plates must be displayed at the front and rear for all vehicles manufactured after 1st January 1973. Motorbikes registered after September 1st 2001 are only required to display a single number plate at the rear however motorbikes registered before this date can display a front number plate if the owner so wishes.

As with standard registrations, personal number plates must have black characters on a white (front) or yellow (rear) background. The characters must be 79mm high and 50mm wide (except the characters 1 or I) for all number plates purchased from September 1st 2001. A space of 11mm is required between each character and the space between the groups of characters must be 33mm. There are different regulations for number plates fitted before this date when legal character dimensions and spacing were different. The DVLA has set a mandatory font for all personal number plates however this font can also be legally displayed in 3D. Black and white number plates can only be displayed if the vehicle was registered before 1973 and by assigning a dateless registration to a newer vehicle does not mean that traditional black and white number plates can be displayed.

The British Standard sets out the physical characteristics that all number plates must legally adhere to which include strength, reflectivity and visibility. The British Standard number (currently BS AU 145d) and the company name or trademark who manufacturer the number plates must also be displayed. The standard size of number plates is 520mm by 111mm however other sizes are available for motorbikes, 4WD vehicles and imports.

Drivers can display the Euro symbol with a GB identifier mark on their personal number plates using a badge. By doing so the vehicle does not need to display the traditional GB oval sticker when driving in the EU. Alternatively other legal badges that can be displayed include the English, Scottish or Welsh flags and the Union Jack. A non reflective border (red, green, blue or black) around the edge of the number plates is also legally allowed to be displayed if the owner so wishes.

Show plates are incredibly popular with owners of personal number plates and can be manufactured with greater design options. Show plates display your registration number along with badges, logos and various fonts. The use of show plates on the road is illegal and they are intended for off-road and show purposes only

Number plates are now produced at many garages and car accessory shops. To have a set of number plates produced you must prove identity and ownership of the registration and vehicle to the number plate manufacturer. A photographic driving licence and V5 log book for the vehicle are the best forms of identification to use.

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