You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the rules governing registration plates that are legal for use on UK roads have changed again, this time to coincide with the change from the “21” registration to the new “71” plate from September 1, 2021. The good news is that as long as your plates conformed to DVLA standards before the start of September 2021 they are still fine to carry on being used, even if they are the sort that is now being outlawed by the change of standards.
What’s happening with “3D” number plates?
You can calm down if you have any type of 3D or 4D number plate currently on your vehicle and they were fitted to it before September 1, 2021. Your plates are still legal and they will continue to be, but only as long as they already conformed to the existing regulations that were in place before that date. In fact, what most of us think of as 3D and 4D number plates are still going to be fine going forward as long as they conform to the rules on fonts, character size, spacing, etc.
The plates that are not allowed to be made and fitted to vehicles after September 1, 2021, are the 3D plates that use two or more shades of black to create a sort of 3D shading effect. Genuine 3D and 4D plates that have raised characters made using gel or cut out from a sheet of plastic are still fine, despite what some people might have you believe.
Why have the rules changed?
It’s nice to be able to report that this new set of standards for UK number plates isn’t just an exercise in finding something for civil servants to do to keep them busy. There have been quite a few rule changes since last December and they actually all make sense, even if you don’t like the result of what this latest change will mean.
The reason the DVLA has seen fit to outlaw the continued manufacture and use of the 3D shading effect on number plates is to make it easier for automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) to accurately read number plates. You know the ones? Those lovely cameras that are used to identify those of us who park for 30 seconds longer than we have paid for in a car park, those of us who speed, those of us who dare to put the edge of one tyre on the white line of a bus lane at the wrong time of day, and so on.
Those 3D plate designs that are no longer allowed sometimes made it difficult for ANPR cameras to separate the characters from the background, which could lead to the wrong vehicle being issued with a fine or even someone not getting fined at all, and we can’t have that now, can we?
Just in case you’re interested, the new UK number plate regulations are now covered by the BS AU 145e standard, which covers more than just those 3D-effect number plates. The new BS AU 145e standard also now states what plates can and can’t be made of, how they are manufactured, and it also describes how plates now have to be made so they are capable of passing a new abrasion test designed to prove they’re durable enough to avoid damage from everyday road use.
Last December, another new number plate design was introduced that has a green strip on the left-hand side. These plates are designed to show that the vehicle they’re on is exclusively powered by electricity and therefore doesn’t emit any of those nasty, harmful emissions.
Although this may sound like an overt exercise in virtue-signaling to broadcast to the world that you’re doing your bit for saving the planet, there’s actually a practical value to displaying these plates, even though they’re not compulsory on EVs. If you have these ‘green’ number plates on your vehicle you will be able to take advantage of incentives for electric vehicle use, such as free parking in EV-only bays and free access to ultra-low and zero-emission zones in towns and cities.
Also, there are changes to rules under the new standard covering the country identifiers on UK registration plates. You may remember that when we were still part of the European Union our number plates had a blue strip on them with a circle of yellow stars and letters GB? This allowed you to drive on the continent without having to have a big black and white GB sticker on the back. Now that we’re no longer EU members, the circle of yellow stars has gone and GB is now being replaced with UK.
This is something that actually makes a lot of sense because GB didn’t include Northern Ireland, but now that GB is being replaced with UK it includes all four nations instead of just three of them. The default flag that goes in the blue strip is now the Union Flag, although you can choose to have the St George’s Cross, Saltire or Red Dragon of Wales on your plates if you prefer.
Of course, as long as you have your new number plates made by a reputable manufacturer and you state that you want “legal-style” plates rather than show plates, you can be pretty sure that the various options offered to you in terms of the design of the plates will keep you on the right side of the law.
As long as your vehicle was registered before September 2021 and the plates you had on it before that date conformed to the standards of the time, there’s no need to replace them even if they are those 3D-effect designs. However, if I were you, I’d get them replaced anyway. After all, a set of new plates doesn’t cost a lot of money and getting rid of those shaded plates will remove at least one possible justification for the police to pull you over for “a chat.”