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Cars, Culture

on July 31st, 2018

Did you ever wonder about number plates and how they came to be? If you didn’t, don’t worry, you’re not the only one. But, since we put this thought in your mind, let’s have a walk down memory lane and learn about the history of number plates in the UK.

The Beginnings

Everything started in 1903, when the Motor Car Act of 1903 was passed to help the authorities keep an eye on people who saw the value of driving a motorized vehicle. These first plates were simple, with two letter and numbers from 1 to 9999 and the font used for these first plates was called Charles Wright K-Type.

The letters were used to identify the area where the owner was from, so we had A for London, B for Lancashire, and the list ended with I and Z for Ireland.

This system was used until 1905, when the 9999 limit was reached and the authorities had to rethink plates. First, they changed the way the letters were used and numbers 1 and 0 were reserved for official cars (you can see why we love personalised plates so much!).

In 1920, the Roads Act was issued, and with it, it was decided that a plate could be used by a vehicle for as long as the vehicle was functional. This is also when the black plates with white/silver characters were first issued (you can still see those on historic vehicles).

A new Registration System

Starting with 1930, the system had to be changed again, to accommodate the growing number of vehicles. The authorities decided to switch to the three letters, three numbers format, with two of the letters showing the issuing authority.

The cool thing is that the three letters format left room for more interesting combinations (some even rude or offensive). If you’re curious to know more about this, check the plates generator on Absolute Reg, you’ll have a blast!

Now, the system changed several times, but the most memorable one was the suffix system, where at the end of the plate, the issuing authority would add a letter, to specify the year the plate was made. This raised a whole new series of problems, so the suffix plates were discontinued starting with 1983. Starting with this year and up to 1999, the letter marking the year of fabrication was used as a prefix.

Personalized plates

Starting with 1989, the DVLA noticed British people’s affinity for plates with unique combinations and decided to cash in on it. So, starting with this year, you can register personalised plates for your vehicle as long as they are not rude or offensive.

The trend is still going strong today and more and more people love to decorate their cars (classic or modern) with a special combination of letters and numbers.

The Current Format

The format used today, with area code, area identifier, and a series of random letters, was established in 2001 and is set to run its course by 2049, when the system will be, once more, reset. But until then, we have a strong chance at a different type of vehicle so we may no longer need standard plates. Who knows what the future will hold?

Written by Jake Smith



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