A legal number plate can be customised in the UK

So you want to customise your number plate legally and not run the gauntlet or have the anxiety of being stopped by the police. In this article we will look at the options available to you but before we do let us outline the legal requirements. If you can’t wait the short answer is that is possible to customise your legal number plate. I did so recently and I will share my experience.

You could be fined up to £1,000 and your vehicle will fail its MOT test if you drive with incorrectly displayed number plates.


The legal number plate requirement

In 2001 a new vehicle registration format was brought in with the potential to provide enough legal number plate combinations to run until 2051. The current format consist of:

  • The first two characters range from A to Y (excluding I, J, Q, T, U and Z) and refer to the Regional Area Code the vehicle was registered in
  • The next two characters are numbers that refer to the year the registration was issued. The first registration of this era was 51 representing the second half of 2001
  • The last three characters are random characters from the alphabet (excluding I and Q). These three characters must not make an offensive word

The following table provides an example number plate using the current registration format:

Example plate – West of England (Exeter) registered in 2003

Principally, a number / license plate must clearly show the vehicles registration correctly. The letters and numbers must not be altered or rearranged as to make the plate illegible. The number plate must also:

  • Be made from reflective material
  • Front Plate – Display black characters on a white background
  • Rear Plate – Display black characters on a yellow background
  • Not have a background pattern
  • The font for both front and rear plates must be black ‘Charles Wright 2001
Legal number plate for in Charles Wright font
Charles Wright – Legal Number Plate Font

The British Standard (BS AU 145d)

The British Standard (BS AU 145d) was introduced in 2001 to combat the uncontrolled practice of number plate designs at the time. All reputable number plate suppliers must now ensure that number plates meet the strict requirements as defined by BS AU 145d. legal number plates in the United Kingdom are subject to the most stringent of tests in Europe and the world.

A new British Standard (BS AU 145e) is coming

A new standard BS AU 145e will come into effect shortly to bolster the testing. It will include further tests to increase the readability by ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras, which under the current standard can misread approximately 3% of plates. It will also improve the abrasion tests to ensure the plates better withstand debris from roads such as grit, salt and stones.

Number plates are subject to a series of tests

Number plates need to be resistant to a host of conditions including the following. In all there are 9 tests associated with BS AU 145d:

  1. Retroflection Test (reflecting light in the same direction)
  2. Resistant to bending
  3. Resistant to weathering
  4. Resistant to impact
  5. Be effective against dirt
  6. Colourmetric Test (ensuring the white and yellow backgrounds are the correct shades and brightness. And the black for the characters are correct)
  7. Resistant to Corrosion
  8. Resistant to Solvents Test (such as car wash materials, salt and road debris)
  9. Thermal Resistance (ensure shape and size is retained during cold to hot conditions that are representative of the UK climate)

What can be customised on a legal number plate?

Number plates are limited in terms of the standard amount of customisation available. The use of 3D text using the Charles Write 2001 font is permissable for example. Number plates can optionally have national emblems and flags on the left-hand side of the number plate as follows:

  • Union Flag with GB, GREAT BRITAIN or Great Britain
  • English Flag (Cross of St George) with ENG, Eng, ENGLAND or England
  • Scottish Flag (Cross of St Andrew or the Saltire) with SCO, Sco, SCOTLAND or Scotland
  • Welsh Flag (Red Dragon of Wales) with WALES or Wales or CYMRU, Cymru, CYM or Cym
  • Euro Flag with GB identifier (No need to have a separate sticker when travelling within the European Union). GB flags on number plates will still legal post Brexit

Separately, legal advertising is permitted on number plates with a designated lip. This is typically an approach adopted by motor traders but as the advert falls outside of the legally controlled part of the number plate it offers a practical solution to advertise on a plate.

You’ll still need a GB sticker when travelling in Europe if you display one of these national flags and identifiers.


We should petition to remove the front number plate

That has been tried. In 2016 a UK Government petition was put forward Entitled ‘Remove the need to display a front number plate on a vehicle in the UK‘. It managed a total of 31,122 signatures from all over the UK but fell short of the 100,000 needed to be heard in Parliament. Perhaps the emphasis on the front number plate spoiling the cosmetic look of a vehicle was not strong enough an argument. The petition was closed in December 2016.

In the interests of road safety and to support law enforcement, the Government will not be changing the legal requirement for vehicles to display front and back number plates.


The future is now?

The UK is gearing up for the future. With the advent of smart cities and smart motorways all of which have a dependency on real-time data to enable them to predict, analyse and take appropriate actions. The ability to accurately read number plates becomes paramount. There is a shared responsibility between the motorist and the number plate supplier to ensure that a legal number plate adheres to the clearly defined standards. Motorists must ensure they display their number plates clearly and in accordance with the law. For suppliers the onus is on them to request entitlement details such as the V5C log book and the driving license of the persons requesting the number plate. The suppliers are also obliged to be register with the DVLA and maintain a log of the transaction as well as clearly display their postcode on the number plate.

Number plates are read by Automotive Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras and are used by a host of organisations for different applications including:

  • Police and Security Services – To detect, deter and disrupt crime and terrorist activity
  • Civil Enforcement – Bus lane, traffic lights and box junction infringement detection
  • Car Park Management – ticket-less parking, barrier control, parking flow management and car theft prevention

So you can see where this is going. Cynically there is a big brother element to this but one could argue the real aim is to improve efficiency, decrease crime and increase the end user experience for motorists.

You can have a designer legal number plate, here’s how

I recently had some work done on my car to have the front windscreen decontaminated and coated with a few layers of Gtechniq water repellent coating. This was after a stone chip cracked my windscreen requiring a replacement. Marco at Lussivo mentioned the idea of having my number plates replaced with designer plates, to which I said no at first. I then slept on the idea and called him the next day to have the plates ordered and installed. The windscreen repellent procedure required a couple of days so Marco had the car with enough time to order and install my new plates. I had to share my details such as a scanned copy of my driving license and a copy of my V5C registration certificate before being able to place my order.

The plates were ordered from Fourdot who specialise in providing designer number plates that are fully road legal. They provide:

  • Unique shaped plates specific for your vehicle. Making it difficult to steal and fit on another vehicle
  • Each plate is designed specifically and uniquely for each owner who can customise the plate to their choosing
  • Unique fixing means no screwing the number plate to the car

Fourdot use technologies such as 3D scanning and laser cutting techniques to provide both a personalised plate and service.

Fourdot Affinity Ltd is authorised by the DVLA with Supplier Identity Number 48070. You also receive a card that they recommend you keep in your vehicle in case you are stopped by the authorities. The card explains that the plates are legal.

A Fourdot road legal number plate with options to make it fully reflective, solid colour or incorporate graphics
Fourdot customisable 100% road legal Signature Range

I am very pleased with my Fourdot purchase and I can assure you this is not a paid advertising stunt. I have a five character number plate, which now enhances the cars appearance giving the car a different stance if you can understand that. This is because the design I have chosen from Fourdot effectively provides a standard length number plate but instead of being entirely white for the front or yellow for the rear. It only uses the background colour (white or yellow) for the Charles Wright 2001 Font. The rest of the number plate is as per your design (for me black) but in accordance with and certified to the BS AU 145d standard.

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