Illegal number plates explained

Tuesday 21st May 2019

Illegal number plates explained

Although personalised number plates can be a great way to put your individual stamp on your vehicle, it's important to know what makes number plates legal - and what to avoid. From the font used even down the correct character width, learn everything you need to know about illegal number plates today.

Number plate rules

Unsure if your registration plate is legal? First, it's beneficial to understand the rules of what makes number plates legal, and what makes them illegal. Some of the initial pointers are:

  • Numbers/letters - it is illegal to rearrange the letters or numbers on your number plate, as well as altering them so that they're hard to read. It must display black characters on a white background for the front plate, and black characters on a yellow background for the rear plate.
  • Material - your registration plate must also be made from a reflective material - meaning that it can be read in all types of visibility and weather.
  • Size - characters must be 79mm tall, and 50mm wide (with the exception of the letter I or number 1). Character stroke (thickness of font) must also be 14mm, and the space between the characters must be 11mm.
  • Font - only the standard 'Charles Wright' font can be used, and this applies to all number plates. This means that italics and bolds are not legal to use.
  • Flags - you can display flags on your number plates, but only some are permitted. These include the EU flag, Union Jack, St George's Cross, Scottish Saltire and the Red Dragon of Wales.

Find out more information from on illegal number plates now.

The British Standard for number plates

The British Standard sets out the characteristics of the number plates. This includes looking at visibility, strength and reflectivity. In order to meet the British Standard, each number plate must be permanently and legibly marked with:

  • British Standard number
  • Name, trademark or other way of identifying the manufacturer or supplier
  • Name and postcode of the supplying outlet

Why is it so important registration plates are displayed correctly?

This is so the authorities, enforcement agencies, police and members of the public can identify a vehicle. This could be for crime detection, a road traffic collision or for enforcement purposes. Therefore, number plates must conform with the legal regulations when displayed on a vehicle.

What's the penalty for incorrectly displayed number plates?

If you've incorrectly displayed your number plate, you are at risk of being fined up to £1,000. Your vehicle will also automatically fail its MOT test if your registration plate is not displayed correctly.

Are tinted number plates legal?

No - tinted number plates are illegal. This is because number plates must not be obscured in visibility in any way, and tinted number plates may obscure the plate from view in different visibility.

Is it illegal to drive without a number plate?

Yes - if you are not displaying your registration plate at the front of your vehicle and the rear of your vehicle, your number plate is violating the law, and would be deemed as an illegal. If your registration plate has fallen off, displaying it in the window on your dashboard is the best bet until you can get it fixed - but it's advised to have this fixed as soon as possible. If your number plate has fallen off and you don't know where it is, or it has been stolen, you must report this immediately to the police.

What are the rules for motorbike registration plates?

Motorbikes which are registered after 1 September 2001 must display a number plate at the back of the vehicle only. Motorbikes registered before 1 September 2001 may also display one at the front, but do not have to do so. The rules for registration plates on motorcycles are the same for those on cars.

Find out more information on registration plates now from For help with your registration plates, or any other motoring needs, locate your nearest Formula One Autocentres where one of our experts can be on hand to help.

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