Is your number plate legal? New research shows illegal number plates could be on the rise

Is your number plate legal? New research shows illegal number plates could be on the rise

A recent survey of over 2,000 people showed that there is a lack of certainty amongst UK drivers when it comes to the legality of number plates.

The survey, conducted by Halfords, revealed that young drivers are six times more likely to buy an illegal number plate than those over 45 and 1 in 20 motorists even admitted to previously buying an illegal number plate from an unregistered supplier.

If you are caught with an illegal number plate, you could be fined up to £1,000 and get an automatic MOT fail, but that didn’t stop two in five drivers admitting they would drive a car with a cracked number plate.

To see if the lack of knowledge was having an effect on the number of illegal number plate penalties across the UK,Halfords also gained data from 49 UK police constabularies.

The FOI results showed that illegal number plate crime has risen by an average of 18% across the UK in just 1 year (2016 to 2017). UK police forces detected 7,876 illegal plates in 2016, which increased to 9,031 in 2017. The top offenders were Warwickshire, Dorset, Gwent and Northumbria with a dramatic increase of 179%, 161%, 96%, and 94%.

Katie Sexton, number plate expert at Halfords explained more about the research: “The study proves that there is a lack of understanding of the legalities surrounding number plates.

"With number plate crime on the rise, it is important that motorists get their replacement number plates from a reputable registered supplier, such as Halfords, and are asked to provide proof of identification and entitlement to show that they have the right to use the registration.”

How do I know if my number plate is legal?

Whether you are buying a second hand car, caravan or motorbike, all number plates must conform to the below:

  • Include either no flag or one of the approved options: the Cross of St George, the Union Jack, the Cross of St Andrew, the Red Dragon of Wales, or the flag of Europe
  • Be made from a reflective material and feature only black letters and numbers with the mandatory DVLA font
  • Be formatted over one or two lines
  • Use a plain background with no patterns (white background for your front number plate and yellow for the back number plate)
  • Conform to the DVLA’s required sizing of individual characters and lettering, which are detailed here
  • Feature the British Standard number, the name/trademark of the manufacturer or supplier, and the name and postcode of the supplying outlet
  • Employ no misrepresentation (for example, attempting to rearrange or misrepresent the numbers or letters, such as or using large bolts to secure the plate to the car, yet making the lettering difficult to read – turning a six into an eight, for instance)
  • Ensure your plate is free of anything that may obstruct the lettering’s visibility, including mud covering up a character fading or cracks. The latter would amount to the misrepresentation mentioned previously, which the DVLA considers a criminal offence

Overall, it's clear that there's quite a lot that UK drivers still need to learn about number plate law. Many drivers may be unknowingly breaking the law by purchasing from illegal suppliers or driving with a muddy or cracked number plate.

To avoid a hefty £1,000 fine and failed MOT, check that your number plate meets all of the DVLA’s requirements using the list above.

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