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Five number plate rules that UK drivers should know

The DVLA has rules around displaying number plates that could land you with a fine if you don’t follow them correctly. How many do you know? Find out.

Nimisha Jain

Words by: Nimisha Jain

Published on 9 February 2024 | 0 min read

Number plates help identify cars and make them unique from other similar cars on the road.
What may look like just a series of numbers and letters put together is actually a really important part of your car, which is why the DVLA have rules and regulations around how number plates should look and be used. So keep reading to find out the five rules about number plates, and how these rules may impact you...

1. Displaying number plates in the UK

All UK number plates follow a specific British Standard and several rules around how the number plate should look. This ensures uniformity, and means police can recognise the number plates using Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology.
Number plates registered after 1 September 2021 follow the ‘BS AU 145e’ standard which requires plates to be made from a tougher material and pass 10 tests before they’re approved for use. According to the DVLA rules, all UK number plates must: • Display solid black lettering: Two-tone number plates that were used to create a 4D effect have been banned • Show the number plate supplier: It should include the supplier’s business name and postcode, along with the name or trademark of the number plate manufacturer • Be marked with the British standard number: ‘BS AU 145e’ if the plate was made after 1 September 2021 or ‘BS AU 145d’ if the plate was made between 1 September 1973 – 1 September 2021 • Be made from a reflective material, however, the characters must not be reflective or removable • Not have a background pattern • Follow the correct character height and size If your number plate doesn’t follow the proper design, you can risk facing a fine of up to £1,000 and fail your MOT test. In some cases, the registration number may be permanently withdrawn.

2. Getting a licence plate from a registered supplier

If you want to get your licence plate made up in the UK, you should only get them made from a registered number plate supplier.
Suppliers registered with the DVLA are legally allowed to sell or make number plates. These registered suppliers adhere to the British standards of number plate making to ensure that the number plate is made correctly and follows all the rules set by the DVLA for displaying a number plate. It’s important to get your number plates made by a registered supplier - if your number plate doesn’t adhere to the DVLA rules, the number plates may be considered illegal which could land you in trouble. You can find a registered number plate supplier near you on

3. Driving with front and rear number plates

You’re legally required to display number plates on both the front and rear of the car, at all times while driving on the UK roads.
The DVLA uses number plates to catch criminals and detect offenders. In a situation where your number plates get lost or you think your car has been stolen, the police can use the ANPR technology to detect if someone else has got your number plate or car which is why number plates are so important. If you’re missing your front and/or rear number plates, you must get new plates made up before you start driving that vehicle again. Your number plates must also be visible and dirt free so that they’re readable. If your current number plate has faded over time, you may be able to send your number plate to the DVLA and get a replacement plate for free.

4. Eyesight and number plates

Did you know, according to the DVLA, you must be able to read a number plate correctly from at least 20 metres away to be able to drive?
When you take your driving test , you have to read a number plate from 20 metres away (or 20.5 metres away if the car has an old-style number plate) to check your eyesight. You’re allowed to wear glasses or contact lenses if needed during the test. If you’re unable to read the number plate from a distance, you’re not allowed to proceed to the next part of the driving test. Once you get your driving licence, you should always wear your prescribed glasses or contact lenses when you’re behind the wheel. You can be prosecuted if you’re caught driving dangerously without your glasses or contact lenses. You should also inform the DVLA if you develop a medical condition that affects your eyesight. Related: Driving with a medical condition: informing the DVLA

5. Number plate stickers when driving outside the UK

You need to have a UK identifier on your car to drive your car in Europe (except for Ireland). If you’re caught driving without the correct UK sticker, you could face a fine of £120 (€140), according to the Daily Express.
If your number plate already has a UK identifier with the Union flag (also known as Union Jack) on it, then you don’t need anything else. However, you’ll need to display a UK sticker on your car if your number plate has: • A GB identifier with the union flag • Number and letters, without a flag or an identifier • An EU flag • Or a national flag of England, Scotland and Wales If you’re driving in Spain, Cyprus and Malta, you’ll always need a UK sticker, no matter what you have on your number plate. The ‘UK’ sticker or magnet can be purchased online, at post offices and in garages. You can also apply for a new UK number plate to comply with the latest changes.

Buying a car

If you're looking to buy a used car, or if you're getting a new number plate made, you should check that the number plate adheres to these rules. Having a front and back plate that complies with the DVLA's rules will help you stay on the right side of the law.
If you're thinking of buying a new car, you could get yourself a new-reg number plate. Each year, the DVLA issues new number plates in March and September to register new cars in the UK. To find out more about how the number plate system works, read our guide on number plate changes.