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Number plate rules and regulations

Number plates are used to help identify vehicles, making every car unique, so that data about these cars can be tracked, stored, and processed. The DVLA has a very stringent set of rules and regulations about display of number plates.

Ensure that you follow the law when displaying your new number plates. The information below will help you avoid failing your MOT or receiving a hefty fine and confiscation of your private registration mark if you are reported to the DVLA by the police!

We have created a handy checklist to give you confidence that the number plates on the vehicle you drive are compliant.

check number plates are legal infographic


Your number plates must be made in accordance with British Safety Standard BS AU 145d or BS AU 145e, which ensures that in the event of an accident, they cause the minimum injury. Rogue firms will use cheaper, unsafe materials that fail the safety test, so always check that BS AU 145d or BS AU 145e is printed on each number plate. The BS AU 145e standard will become mandatory from 1 September 2021 (but can be used from 1 January 2021)

Your number plates should:

  • Be made from a reflective material
  • Display black characters on a white background (front plate)
  • Display black characters on a yellow background (rear plate)
  • Not have a background pattern
  • Always show the postcode and name of the supplier

Characters on a number plate can be 3D so long as they meet all other specifications

General rules for displaying number plates

The law states that you must not alter, rearrange or misrepresent the letters or numbers on number plates. Characters must not be moved from one group to the other (e.g. A242 ABC must not be displayed as A242A BC).

Offences may result in any or all of the following:

  • A fine of up to £1,000
  • The registration mark being withdrawn
  • The vehicle failing its MOT

Fonts and spacing

As of the 1st September 2001, all new number plates must display the new mandatory (compulsory) font. This, combined with the new style format registration mark, is designed to make number plates clearer and easier to remember. Number plates fitted before 1st September 2001 need not be changed provided the character font used is similar to the new font. Characters on a number plate can be 3D if they are of the mandatory font.

Number plates must be replaced if they have been customised with:

  • Stylised letters and/or figures such as italics
  • Number plate fixing bolts that alter the appearance of the letters and/or numbers

The ‘Characters’ are the individual letters and numbers. The ‘Space between characters’ refers to the spaces within a group of characters together; in the prefix style example below, A777 is one group and WOW is another group. The ‘Space between groups’ is the legal required space between those 2 groups of characters (shown as 33mm in the example):

plate dimensions

Number plates fitted after 1st September 2001

Number plates fitted after 1 September 2001 must display characters that meet the dimensions shown below.

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

Number plates fitted before 1st September 2001

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

Characters Group 1 Group2
Height 89mm 79mm
Width (Except Number 1 or letter I) 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

Display of vehicle registration marks on imported vehicles (which have a restricted space for a standard sized number plate):

Certain imported vehicles may be permitted to display number plates with smaller characters if the vehicle does not have European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval and the vehicle’s construction/design cannot accommodate standard size number plates.

Characters Group 1
Height 64mm
Width 44mm
Stroke 10mm
Space between characters 10mm

Display of vehicle registration marks on motorcycles and tricycles

Motorcycles and tricycles registered after 1st September 2001 must only display a number plate at the rear of the vehicle. Motorcycles and tricycles registered before 1st September 2001 can display a number plate at the front but are not required to.

Characters Group 1
Height 64mm
Width 44mm
Stroke 10mm
Space between characters 10mm
Space between groups 30mm
Top, side & bottom margin 11mm
Space between vertical lines 13mm

Motorcycles registered on or after 1st September 2001 must display a two-line number plate. Motorcycles registered prior to the 1st September 2001 may display a three-line plate, but one-line plates are illegal, irrespective of the date of registration of the motorcycle.

All private number plates may be transferred to Motor Cycles and Tricycles which are not Q-plated unless you have evidence of their age

Number Plate Flags, Symbols, Logos, emblems and identifiers

The Department for Transport state that you should not display any logo or symbol on the registration number plates. Football Club crests, or car manufacturer logos for example, are not allowed.

You can display one of the following flags with identifying letters on the left-hand side of the number plate:

  • Union Flag
  • Cross of St George
  • Cross of St Andrew - also known as the Saltire
  • Red Dragon of Wales

The letters, or national identifiers, you can have are:

  • GREAT BRITAIN, Great Britain or GB
  • UNITED KINGDOM, United Kingdom or UK
  • CYMRU, Cymru, CYM or Cym
  • ENGLAND, England, ENG, Eng
  • SCOTLAND, Scotland, SCO or Sco
  • WALES or Wales

You’ll still need a GB sticker when travelling in Europe if you display one of these national flags and identifiers. The flag must be above the identifier. You can’t have the flag or letters on the number plate margin, and neither can be more than 50 millimetres wide.

Euro symbol

To mark the UK’s exit from the EU, from 1 January 2021 the EU flag can no longer be issued on new number plate designs, but existing number plates displaying the EU symbol will still be valid.

If you display the Euro symbol and Great Britain (GB) national identifier on your number plate, then you won’t need a separate GB sticker when travelling within the European Union.

The Euro symbol must:

  • Be a minimum height of 98mm
  • Have a width between 40 and 50mm
  • Have a reflective blue background with 12 reflecting yellow stars at the top
  • Show the member state (GB) in reflecting white or yellow

Green Plates

If your vehicle is an electric vehicle (EV) or has zero CO2 emissions you can display the green flash on your number plates. Only these vehicles are allowed to display special green plates. To add the green flash, simply use the flag options drop-down box when adding plates to your order.

To check the CO2 emissions of your current vehicle, you can use the

DVLA's enquiry service here. (See the boxed area in the picture below for where to find the CO2 emissions information)
How to check with the DVLA if your vehicle is zero emissions

Alternatively, check your V5 Registration Document. The picture below shows you where to locate the CO2 emissions information.

How to check your V5 document to see if your vehicle is zero emissions

If you are purchasing a new vehicle, check with your dealership if it qualifies as a zero emissions vehicle.

Towing a trailer

Your trailer must display the same number plate as the vehicle you’re towing it with. If you’re towing more than one trailer, the number plate must be fixed to the rearmost trailer.

Getting number plates made up

You must only get a number plate from a DVLA registered number plate supplier. Any other source is not legal and once such firms have your personal data, who knows what they might do with it?

Every registered supplier is government-authorised to supply road legal number plates and you can check their credentials on the DVLA RNPS database. Every supplier must print their name and postcode on the number plates.

The supplier will need to see original documents that:

  • Prove your name and address
  • Show you’re allowed to use the registration number

If you have bought a private registration mark from Plates4Less and would like to add a set of number plates to your order simply contact our friendly after-sales team.

If you have read through this guide and would like to check the number plates on a vehicle which you drive, please Use our easy to follow checklist here

Alternatively, you can follow this link to find private plates