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Posted by Sean Cooper

So, how are you feeling about the raft of new rules that came into force on January 1st regarding number plates in the UK? What’s that you say? “What new rules?” To be fair, you could easily be forgiven for not knowing about them, especially if you haven’t changed your car this year. The problem with not knowing about them, however, is that you could inadvertently find yourself falling foul of one or more of them. To save you such inconvenience or a fine, let’s take a look at what the new rules are, what they’re designed to do, and what’s likely to happen to you if you don’t abide by them.

The areas affected by the new rules are:

  • Historic vehicles
  • “Green” number plates
  • GB registration plate stickers
  • Technical number plate changes

Registration plates for historic vehicles

Registering your car with the DVLA as a “historic vehicle” has certain benefits that you’d be mad to not take advantage of. If your car qualifies as a historic vehicle and is registered as such, you may no longer have to have an MOT and you could also be excused from having to pay road tax for that vehicle.

The most straightforward part of this is the road fund license bit. If your vehicle was built before January 1st, 1981 you will not have to pay for a road fund license for that vehicle again after April 1st, 2021. And even if you’re not entirely sure of the exact date your car was built, as long as it was registered before January 8th, 1981 you won’t have to pay road tax anymore.

Not requiring an MOT anymore is a little more complicated, but as getting such old cars through an MOT can be next to impossible in some cases it’s worth checking to see if your car qualifies as historic. Basically, if your vehicle was built or first registered more than 40 years ago you no longer have to get it through an MOT.

However, as well as being 40 years old or older, the vehicle must also not have undergone any ‘substantial changed’ during the last 30 years. Substantial changes include things like having the chassis, body, axels or engine changed, but if you’re not sure if your vehicle has had any of those changes you should read the guidance notes on the government website or get in contact with a designated historic vehicle expert.

“Green” number plates

Don’t worry, the introduction of ‘green’ number plates doesn’t mean your current white and yellow front and rear plates are now illegal or need replacing. Green number plates were announced in December 2020 and they allow the owners of qualifying vehicles to take advantage of several potential extra benefits, but the green on them is simply a flash on the left-hand side of the plate.

This new plate design signifies to other road users that the vehicle they’re on runs fully on electricity rather than one of those nasty, planet-killing internal combustion engines. However, don’t go thinking the government is going to give you a special lane on the motorway or let you recharge with free electricity if you have these green number plates on your car.

What they are designed to do is to allow local authorities and businesses to reward you for your environmental goodliness with things like cheaper or free parking, or free entry into zero- or low-emissions zones. Of course, if you don’t live in or drive to areas where any of these schemes are in place you won’t get any benefit from your new green number plates. On the other hand, you will still be able to enjoy a smug feeling of knowing everyone else can now see what a wonderful person you really are because you’ve bought an electric car.

GB registration plate stickers

Unless you are above a certain age you will probably have no idea about GB stickers, but as of January 1st, 2021, you will now have to display a GB sticker on the back of your vehicle if you want to drive on the continent.

In the old days, loads of cars on UK roads had GB and other national identifiers on them such as A (Austria), F (France), D (Germany) and CH (Switzerland). That all changed many years ago with the EU and number plates that had the country’s identifier on them on the left-hand side.

Now the UK has left the EU, simply having your old EU number plate won’t be enough for you to drive legally or legitimately in the EU, hence the reintroduction of the old-school GB stickers. It doesn’t matter whether you have an EU number plate or even a newer plate with a GB designation, you will still need to display a GB sticker to drive on the continent now.

Technical number plate changes

The last set of changes you need to know about are some technical updates the British Standards Institute (BSI) has introduced for number plates going forwards. The updates are designed to make registration plates more durable, and unfortunately, even more compatible with those dreaded ANPR cameras that are already so good at identifying us committing driving offences.

From the start of the year, different shades of black that are sometimes used to create a 3D effect will no longer be lawful, so a single shade of black is now mandatory and any other effect is now banned. However, although the new standard came into force for new plates made from January 1st, 2021, the plate designs that are no longer allowed will not become illegal on vehicles until September 1st.

To clarify the situation, the DVLA issued a statement saying “The agency has not seen any evidence to show that number plates displaying raised plastic, acrylic or Perspex lettering (3D/4D plates) are able to meet the requirements of either the current or new British Standard.”

Now you are fully clued-up about the new rules surrounding number plates there’s no excuse for falling foul of them. Unfortunately, we all know there will be plenty of people out there who either won’t be aware of the rules or who will simply choose to ignore them.