History of number plates

By Jen Hyslop

With the new ‘72’ registration plate arriving on Britain’s roads at the start of September, I thought it would be great to look back at the history of number plates over the years, from when they were first introduced in 1903 up until the present day.

When were UK number plates first introduced?

Number plates in the UK were first introduced in 1903 under the Motor Car Act. Initially, number plates had one or two letter combinations which was then followed by a number between 1 and 9999. These numbers were assigned at random.

By 1932, an extended scheme was introduced as available codes were running out from the original scheme. DVLA introduced the new template which was formed using three letters followed by three numbers such as PYE100. This system lasted until 1963, when again all available codes had run out.

In 1963, the suffix registration marks were introduced. These were made up of 3 letters and 3 numbers running 1-999 and the letter ‘A’. The following year the letters would change from A to B to C and so for example PYE123A. This made it a lot easier to tell which year the car was registered in.

Come 1983 the format of the registrations would have to be reversed by moving the letter which identifies the year to the beginning of the registration plate which would look like A123PYE but again with this the alphabet was always going to run out.

How often do number plates change?

Number plates update every six months. Once at the beginning of March and again at the beginning of September. The current system was introduced in 2001, with the first two letters of the number plate indicating the region, the numbers identifying the year it was registered with the last three letters are chosen at random to give the vehicle a unique identity. Click here to see all regions and to find yours.

Why do we need number plates?

Registration plates are used to identify vehicles on the road. This enables local enforcement and yourself to keep a check on whether the vehicle is taxed or in your name. Number plates stay with the car and not the owner. If there is a personalised number plate on the vehicle, you have the choice to take the plate with you – you don’t have to leave this on the vehicle. Admit it, we would all love our own personalised number plate!

What are the rules for UK number plates?

Number plates in the UK look the same for a host of reasons – colour, size, letter shape and the numbers must be set out in Department of Transport regulations. This is so they’re easy to read by both humans and by cameras and Automatic Number Plate Recognition Systems (ANPR).

If you drive a car with altered plates, you could be fined up to £1000 for the offence.

All plates must be:

  • Illuminated at night
  • Not obscured by any dirt
  • Must meet Department of Transport regulations
  • Number plates to be manufactured to British Standards

What are green number plates?

Green number plates were introduced in December 2020 as part of the Government's plans to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. These have a green bar down the side of the plate making it easier for the vehicles to be identified as zero emission vehicles. There is also plenty of benefits with owning an electric vehicle from a cleaner environment, lower running costs and no congestion charges.

From the 1st September the new ’72’ plates will be hitting our roads; this is always an exciting time for the team here at Pye supplying our customers with their lovely shiny new cars and seeing them drive away. This September we will be busy registering all the new vehicles, with the Ford Puma and Ford Transit Custom being two of the most popular to be registered.

If you are interested in ordering yourself a new vehicle, please get in touch with our sales teams who will be more than happy to help.