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Number Plate Rules & Regulations UK 2023


On this page, you will find the latest number plate rules for UK vehicle registration plates in 2023. 


These guidelines are compiled from official government sources and are outlined in the current British Standard for number plates, BS AU 145e. 


Topics on this page include:

  • The musts and must nots of number plates.
  • Changes made to number plate rules in 2021, 2022 and 2023.
  • Number plate spacing rules.
  • How to attach number plates.


So, if you’re looking for the latest DVLA number plate rules, keep reading to learn more:


Number Plate Rules - Musts & Must Nots


What You Must Have


To meet the latest legal requirements, your number plate must meet the following criteria:


  1. Number plates must be made from a reflective material.
  2. The front plate must display black characters on a white background.
  3. The rear plate must display black characters on a yellow background.
  4. Lettering must be in the Charles Wright 2001 typeface.
  5. Letters for cars, vans and trucks must have 11mm spacing, a height of 79mm, and a width of 44 mm (more details on this later).
  6.  Letters for motorbikes, scooters, and motor tricycles must have 10mm spacing, a height of 64mm, and a width of 44mm.
  7. They must be marked to show who supplied the number plate, including their name, postcode, and manufacturer's mark.
  8. Plates fitted after 1 September 2021 must be marked with the British Standard BS AU 145e.
  9. If your plate was fitted after 1 September 2021, the characters must be a single shade of black.


What You Must Not Have


To avoid breaking the law, your number plate must not have any of the following characteristics:


  1. Letters/characters on your plate must not be removable.
  2. Letters/characters on your plate must not be reflective.
  3. Reg plates must not have a background colour or pattern, even if it’s a personalised number plate.
  4. Your plate must not have texture outside the plain reflective colours outlined in the British Standard rules, BS AU 145e. 
  5. Letters/characters must not be any colour, shading, or texture except a solid black.
  6. Letters/characters must not be in any font except Charles Wright 2001.
  7. Your plate must not use any coating that could impact reflective properties or the readability of the number plate for visual or number plate recognition technology purposes. 
  8. Car registration plates must not include any badge, emblem, or graphics outside the permitted flags, national identifiers, or borders (more on this later).
  9. Number plates must not use bolts or screws to alter the appearance of your plate's characters. For example, using a screw to change a C to look like an E.


What You May Have


The following characters are optional extras you could include on your number plate without impacting the DVLA number plate rules.


These are:


  1. Your number plate may include 3D-raised characters of plain black lettering, often called 4D number plates. 
  2. You can display certain flags and national identifiers, such as the United Kingdom flag or the letters “UK” (more on this later)
  3. You may have a green border on your car plate if it is a zero-emission vehicle.
  4. You may have a coloured border (more on this later).


Number Plate Rules for Motorbikes and Motor Tricycles


Aside from number plate spacing rules differing between cars and motorbikes (more on this later), additional DVLA number plate rules are in place for motorcycles.


These are:

  • Motorbikes and motor tricycles registered after 1st September 2001 must only display rear number plates. 
  • Motorbikes registered before 1st September 2001 can display number plates at the front, but it’s not legally required.
  • Number plates for motorcycles should be on two lines.



Number Plate Rules for Towing Trailers


There are number plate rules for towing trailers that differ domestically and internationally. 


For those travelling in the UK, your trailer must display an identical plate to the car towing it. And if you’re towing more than one trailer, the car registration plate should be fixed to the trailer at the back.


Those travelling abroad with a trailer may need to register it. If so, your trailer registration plate should be fixed to the back alongside the towing vehicle's number plate - ideally as far away as possible.


If your trailer doesn’t have room for a trailer registration plate, you can fix it to the sides instead while ensuring they’re clearly visible.


You can learn more about this by reading the government-issued leaflet INF291


Number Plate Rule Changes



Due to the new calendar year, cars registered from the 1st of March 2023 will have a new “23” registration tag. From September 2023, the “73” registration tag will be introduced as a replacement.


For a full breakdown of number plate years and how to identify the age of a car through the plate, be sure to click the link to learn more. 



Fresh guidance surrounding number plates was implemented by the DVLA in 2022. Per the BS AU 145e British Standard, plates must be made from a tougher material to enhance damage resistance.



2021 saw big changes to number plate rules per the new British Standard.


Lettering was changed to prevent two-tone plates, typically used to create the appearance of different shades for an enhanced 3D and 4D effect. Number plate characters can still be created using acrylic raised lettering, but must be in a solid black to assist with Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras.


Post-Brexit, UK plates also feature the Union Jack to replace the EU flag. On 28th September 2021, the UK officially changed its mark from GB to UK, applying to both Great Britain and Northern Ireland vehicles. 




Consequences of Breaking Number Plate Legal Requirements


Failure to comply with the latest DVLA number plate rules and the British Standard BS AU 145e can result in serious consequences.


The main penalties are:

  • A fine of up to £1,000.
  • MOT failure
  • And your registration number could be withdrawn.


For these reasons, SwiftReg advises against the breaking of number plate rules.


You should avoid altering character spacing, adding non-compliant backgrounds and graphics, and changing the appearance of your reg letters by using screws or character positioning. 



Number Plate Spacing Rules


As mentioned earlier in the guide, there are several rules surrounding number plate lettering and spacing for cars and motorcycles. Fundamentally, number plate characters must use the Charles Wright 2001 typeface and must use a single-tone black. Car registration plates should also only feature three character groups. The first two letters represent the region where the vehicle was first registered. The next two letters show the age the number plate was issued. The final three are random letters. You can use private registration plates, which may change the number of letters on a plate. However, it cannot be used to make your car seem younger. (For more on this, see our number plate years guide). Number plate letters and spacing should also follow the strict measurement rules, which you can find below. Alternatively, check out this government-issued leaflet INF104.



Spacing Rules for Cars, Vans, and Trucks




Character Stroke


Character Height 


Character Width (excluding the Letter ‘i’ and number ‘1’)


Character Spacing (space between characters)


Margin between character and edge of plate


Horizontal spacing between character groups (on rectangular or oblong-shaped plates)


Vertical spacing between character groups (on square-shaped plates)



Spacing Rules for Motorcycles, Scooters, and Motor Tricycles


Due to sizing, spacing rules for motorcycles are slightly different to cars, vans, and trucks. 



Character Stroke


Character Height 


Character Width (excluding the Letter ‘i’ and number ‘1’)


Character Spacing (space between characters)


Margin between character and edge of plate


Vertical spacing between character groups (age identifier and random letters)



Number Plate Rules: Other Markings


Aside from characters and spacing rules, there are additional markings on reg plates that have strict legislation.


Below are the latest rules for non-registration markings, zero-emission borders, optional borders, and flags and national identifiers. 



Zero Emission Border


Cars with zero emissions can have a green rectangular panel on the left-hand side of the number plate.


However, this green flash should be:


  • Reflective
  • Have a width of 40mm to 50mm.
  • And have the colour Pantone 7481c.



Optional Borders


Aside from the green flash, some number plates feature borders to show flags or national identifiers.


These borders must follow the following criteria: 


  • They must be permanently printed.
  • Must be a single shade of colour.
  • Must have a width of no more than 5mm.
  • Must be at least 10mm from the edge of the registration characters.
  • Must not be reflective.
  • Must not have a pattern or texture.
  • Must not be above any other markings.


Your border can run level with markings like the British Standard number and the supplier and manufacturer details. However, the border needs to leave space to not obscure information.





As mentioned earlier, number plates fitted after 1 September 2021 must feature permanent markings to identify:


  • the name or identifier of the manufacturer and the British Standard number BS AU 145E at the bottom right of the number plate.
  • The name and postcode of the number plate supplier at the bottom centre of the number plate.


There should be 7mm between the bottom of the registration and these additional markings. They should also be between 3mm and 10mm high, permanent, and a single shade of a non-reflective colour.



Flags and Identifiers


Car owners can add flags and national identifiers to their number plates. They must be positioned to the left of the number plate and cannot be wider than 50mm, with the flag located about the national identifier.


Currently, the following flags are permitted for UK cars:


  • The Union Jack.
  • The Cross of St George.
  • The red dragon of Wales.
  • The Saltire/ the Cross of St Andrew.


The following national identifiers are permitted for UK cars:

  • UNITED KINGDOM, United Kingdom, or UK.
  • ENGLAND, England, ENG, or Eng.
  • SCOTLAND, Scotland, SCO, or Sco.
  • WALES or Wales.
  • CYMRU, Cymru, CYM, or Cym.


Identifiers for GREAT BRITAIN, Great Britain, and GB are also allowed but require a UK sticker when travelling abroad.


DVLA number plate rules dictate additional times you may need a UK sticker:


  • Those travelling in Spain, Cyprus, or Malta must have a UK sticker. 
  • GB stickers should be removed or covered before driving overseas, except for Ireland.
  • UK stickers should be added onto the rear of your vehicle if your plate has a Euro symbol, the national flags of England, Scotland or Wales, or no flag and identifier.


These are the only forms of badges allowed on UK cars, which means football club badges, religious symbols, or any other designs are illegal.



Number Plate Rules for Historic Vehicles


Historic vehicles are permitted to use the old style of number plates, which were black and white/silver and made from metal or plastic. 


This applies mainly to vehicles made before 1st January 1973. 


However, vehicles before 1st January 1980 can still have this permission as long as they have applied to the DVLA. The vehicle should also be registered in the Historic Vehicles tax classification.



Rules for Attaching Number Plates


Last but not least, there are number plate legal requirements for attaching your number plate.


Adhesive tapes are officially recommended, but you can use bolts and screws if they don’t impact the other number plate rules outlined in this guide. 



Number Plate Rules FAQs


What is a Registration Number?


A registration number is a unique identifier allocated to vehicles for taxation purposes. They are given specifically to the vehicle rather than its registered keeper. However, the registered keeper can apply to transfer it to another vehicle.


What Are Number Plates?


A number plate, otherwise known as a license or registration plate, is a sign that displays a vehicle's registration number. In the UK, they are legally required to be fixed to the front or rear of most motor vehicles and have been used on public roads since 1904.


Number plates and registration numbers are administered and registered with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, or the DVLA. Vehicles in Northern Ireland are instead administered by the Driver and Vehicle Agency, the DVA.

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