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Number Plates, there history and the Law.

It all started with the motor car act of 1903. On the 1st of January 1904 it became compulsory for every motor vehicle registered with a number Plate.

Earl Russel was the first recipient registering A1, following that the system has changed four times.


Dateless 1904-1963.

This started as a local council identity of up to three letters and three random numbers until the early 1950s when the numbers ran out and the two were switched around going from ABC 123 to 123 ABC.


Suffix 1963-1983

By now Councils were running out of registrations numbers, with just under five million privately owned vehicles in the UK the system of registrations had turned into a massive undertaking with police searches sometimes taking weeks.  The introduction of the extra letter at the end of the registration was introduced bringing in the letter a year system.  By the end of the 1960s there were nearly ten million vehicles in the UK.


Prefix 1983-2001

Like the change in the 1950s the Suffix system swapped round bringing the year letter to the start of the registration doubling the number of registrations available.

Prefix Registrations can be split into three sections to translate them, the first being the starting letter corresponding to year of the vehicle starting from A in 1983.  With the exception of I, 0, U, and Z not being issued for various reasons I & Z were reserved for Northern Ireland and O & U being easily confused.  Q was issued to vehicles without origin or age, kit cars for example.

The last two letters of the registration identifying where it was registered OO being Essex.

The numbers and first of the three end letters were randomly issued.


Current Style 2001-Now

Police evidence especially in hit and run incidents suggested that witnesses remembered letters much more easily than numbers.  As much of the world reads left to right it was decided to put the regional code first, Essex being EA-EY.  With the production year next and being split from yearly changes to twice yearly changes starting from March 1st, 2001, with 01 then the following September 1st with 51, continuing until March 2010 when 10 and 60 were introduced.  The last three letters being random.

The current system can cater for 12.6 million new registrations per year, it is believed this system can run smoothly until at least 2049 at which point it can just be reversed.



1973 most significant change in registration plate design bringing in the reflective white front and yellow rear registration plates with Black text, with the older registrations remaining legal for vehicles registered before 1973. 

In 2015 the Government brought in changes to the historic 40-year vehicle tax exemption rules unintendedly giving vehicles that are over 40 years old and registered as historic the option to wear Black and silver/White registration plates.

In 2021 this loophole was closed, however in order not to cause undue costs vehicles constructed before 1980 will continue to be legally able to wear black and silver/white registration plates.

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