Northumbria Police Clamp Down on Illegal Private Plates

Northumbria police have recently posted on their website that there is a crackdown on illegally modified private plates and that they are leading the charge on the problem. A team of 15 hand-picked Special Constables have been assembled to join their Sergeant in stopping vehicles with illegal private plates.
17/07/2020 News
Car showing an illegally spaced number plate

For drivers caught with an illegal plate there is a fixed-penalty notice of £100, which if ignored will lead to court and the possibility of a fine increase of up to £1000!

Anybody who does not heed our advice in making sure their plate is legal faces the prospect of an on-the-spot fine, and in some cases, the registration number may be permanently withdrawn by the DVLA – which could incur further costs for the offender.

We also know that organised crime groups who use our region’s road networks often use false plates and they will be a target for our disruption activity as well.

Our roads can be a dangerous place, but we will continue to work with our Special Constables and partners in order to make them safer and take action against anybody found to be flouting the law.

At Plates4less, we’ve also been looking at issues associated with illegal number plates. A recent interactive game we created to see if people could spot dodgy plates amongst road-legal ones produced some interesting results, as did our follow-up poll exploring people’s attitudes towards the problem. Both also generated a great deal of conversation on Facebook, with many people admitting they were concerned by the number of illegal plates on our roads.

Of the people who took part in our poll, two thirds admitted that illegal plates did indeed concern them. In fact, some stated they thought there should be tougher penalties in place for those deliberately ignoring the legal requirements of a number plate, proposing that the use of illegal plates should also lead to points on a driving license, while others suggested a ban, and/or the confiscation of the registration, arguing that altering a registration was tantamount to fraud. Some even went so far as to suggest crushing the car, they were so annoyed!

To discover the full extent of this illegal plate problem, we contacted every constabulary in the UK and asked for their legal data concerning the number of instances of number plate offences occurring in a single year. Whilst not all were able to provide such information, we did receive the following statistics:

Constabulary Number of plate offences
Metropolitan 1700
Scotland 1215
West Yorkshire 909
Northern Ireland 868
South Yorkshire 831
Greater Manchester 745
Northamptonshire 720
Lancashire 678
Humberside 641
North Wales 363
Cheshire 294
Hertfordshire 291
Devon and Cornwall 252
Surrey 244
South Wales 207
Dyfed-Powys 190
Merseyside 181
Cambridge 179
Kent 165
Norfolk and Suffolk 154
Wiltshire 152
West Midlands 142
Derbyshire 138
Nottinghamshire 135
Thames Valley 115
Cleveland 109
West Mercia 108
Cumbria 95
Hampshire 93
Bedfordshire 78
Lincolnshire 69
Sussex 53
Staffordshire 53
Gwent 41
Warwickshire 32
Durham 28
North Yorkshire 28
Northumbria Data denied
Essex Data denied
Avon and Somerset Data denied
Gloucestershire Data denied
City of London Data denied
Dorset Data denied

* Please note, the procedures and systems used for capturing and recording this data differs for each constabulary and therefore the results above cannot be used for comparison purposes.

While the number of offences noted includes driving without a number plate at all, or having a plate obscured in some way, the vast majority of the results presented here relate directly to number plates that do not conform with the appropriate display regulations.

We asked readers which of the different types of illegal plates bothered them the most and discovered plates using illegal fonts were the most annoying, with particular dislike aimed at plates using italics. (Number plates are supposed to use the Charles Wright font in a plain style.) Tinted plates were also unpopular as they were seen as deliberately deceptive.

People also expressed a dislike for when a letter or number was altered to look different, such as with a deliberately-placed bolt or screw changing a 0 to an 8, or vice versa. As some noted, such changes might also affect automatic number plate recognition technology (or ANPR) and perhaps even lead to fines for the wrong people! However, ANPR is still able to recognise the correct registration in cases where the spacing between characters or groups of characters has been deliberately altered, which is one of the most common illegal alterations, though this particular alteration didn’t seem to bother as many people as other examples of tampering.

Similarly, many were less concerned with illegal ‘flags’ displayed on the plate, while some argued for more freedom when it came to their choice of decoration. As it stands, a number plate can only display flags for Great Britain, England, Scotland, Wales, or the EU, but there were those who expressed wanting additional options, such as showing which football team they support, for example. Likewise, while some countries allow the display of a message underneath the registration to personalise the plate, in the UK no such additional text is permitted, except for the name of the plate manufacturer.

We contacted the DVLA to comment on these regulations, asking if they could explain precisely why such restrictions were in place, but they refused to comment beyond reiterating the rules without any additional information or explanation.

While two thirds of the people who took our poll disliked illegal plates, there were still many who thought them rather harmless, expressing the opinion that there are far more important crimes the police should be focussing on. As one comment on Facebook put it, a little bit of individuality isn’t a bad thing in our increasingly uniform society, and considering that many who buy a private number plate are clearly looking to personalise their vehicle in some way, it is perhaps unsurprising that some would also like to customise their number plate to make their vehicle more unique and interesting.

But the fact remains that altering the registration mark on your private plate is illegal, and while we don’t necessarily agree with the view that a willingness to flaunt the law regarding a number plate suggests a person is more likely to flaunt other driving laws as well, we are concerned by companies who will happily print non-legal private plates and we wonder at the legality of other aspects of their business.

If you’re worried about your private plates, ask yourself the following question: did you buy your registration mark and acrylic number plate through Plates4Less?

If YES, then don’t worry. Our plates have always been legal and always will be legal. We pride ourselves on being registered number plate suppliers, which means the plates we supply have been approved as legal by the DVLA.

If NO, then okay, there is a chance that your plate may be illegally presented, but it’s easy to check - simply use our number plate guide.

Would you be able to spot an illegal number plate?

Using a new selection of number plates seen on the streets of the UK, we’ve made another game to test your private plate spotting skills, so why not give it a go? Let us know how you did in the comments below.

Legal Number plate quiz, car with button pointing to start the quiz