The law

Number Plate Law

Tightening Up of Non-Compliant Number Plates

It is an offence to supply number plates that do not comply with the Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001.

Some suppliers advise their customers that non-compliant plates cannot be used on the road and are for display purposes only. Irrespective of any advice provided by suppliers it is an offence to supply non-complaint plates with a maximum penalty of £2,500 and/or suspension from the register of number plates suppliers for up to 5 years.

However, the offence applies only to plates that display a vehicle registration mark (VRM) issued by the DVLA, it does not apply to plates without a VRM. For example it will still be possible to supply new car dealers with plates showing the model of a car for use in the showroom.

It will be illegal for example to supply plates with the VRM mis-spaced to make it look like the name of an individual, in a non-standard font or colour or with a slogan or message printed on them.

Regulations governing the supply of number plates now apply to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Vehicle Registration Marks

Vehicle registration marks including marks offered for sale and purchased through DVLA’s Sales Scheme must be displayed in accordance with The Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001 (obtainable from HMSO).

The Regulations specify the typeface, the size, colouring and the British Standard that number plates must conform to (the alternative provisions for motorcycles, tricycles and traditional plates are also shown below).

Normal Requirements

All vehicles manufactured after 1st January 1973 must display number plates of reflex-reflecting material, white at the front and yellow at the rear, the characters must be black. In addition, the characters on number plates purchased from 1st September 2001 will need to conform to the following specifications.

Height 79mm
Width   (except the figure 1 or letter l) 50mm
Stroke 14mm
Space   between characters 11mm
Space   between groups 33mm
Top, bottom   and side margins (minimum) 11mm
Space   between vertical lines 19mm

Motorcycles And Tricycles

There are separate provisions for motorcycles and tricycles. Basically motorcycles registered after 1st September 2001 must only display a number plate at the rear of the vehicle.

Motorcycles registered before 1st September 2001 can display a number plate at the front but are not required to.

Tricycles derived from four wheeled bodies i.e. saloon cars must meet the normal requirements above whereas tricycles derived from motorcycles must meet the requirements for motorcycles:

  1. Character height 64 mm
  2. Character width (except the figure 1 or letter I) 44 mm
  3. Character stroke 10 mm
  4. Space between characters 10 mm
  5. Space between groups 30 mm
  6. Top, bottom and side margins (minimum) 11 mm
  7. Space between vertical lines 13 mm

Traditional Plates For Vehicles Constructed Before 1st January 1973

Vehicles constructed before 1st January 1973 may display traditional style “black and white” plates i.e. white, silver or grey characters on a black plate.

Number Plates Fitted Before 1st September 2001

Number plates fitted before 1st September 2001 must display characters that meet the dimensions shown in one of the two groups below:

Characters Group 1 Group 2
Height 89mm 79mm
Width   (except the figure 1or letter l) 64mm 57mm
Stroke 16mm 14mm
Space   between characters 13mm 11mm
Space   between groups 38mm 33mm
Side   margins (minimum) 13mm 11mm
Space   between vertical lines 19mm 19mm

The Euro-Symbol

Motorists may, if they wish, display the Euro symbol and GB national identifier on the number plate. This will dispense with the need for a separate GB sticker when travelling within the EU.

The symbol must conform to the EC Council Regulation 2411/98 which states the height must be a minimum of 98mm the width must be a minimum of 40mm, maximum of 50mm.

The background must be of retro-reflecting blue with 12 retro-reflecting yellow stars at the top and the distinguishing sign of the Member State (GB) in retro-reflecting white or yellow. An example is shown below:


The Mandatory Typeface

All number plates made after 31st October 2001 must display the mandatory typeface. Number plates made prior to this date must be substantially the same. An example of the typeface is shown below.





The British Standard

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:

  1. The British Standard number (currently BS AU 145d)
  2. The name, trade mark or other means of identification of the manufacturer or component supplier
  3. Name and postcode of the supplying outlet


  1. It is an offence to alter, rearrange or misrepresent letters or numbers in order to form names or words or in such a way that makes it difficult to read the registration number.
  2. Characters must not be moved from one block to the other e.g. AB51 DVL must not be displayed as AB5      1DVL or AB     51DVL. Vehicles with illegally displayed number plates may FAIL the MoT test.
  3. The police can also issue fixed penalty fines for illegally displayed number plates. Offenders are liable to a MAXIMUM FINE of £1,000 and in some cases the mark may be withdrawn.
  4. For vehicles with new or replacement number plates fitted after 31st August 2001,   “3-line” number plates are no longer permitted.

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