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Posted by Sean Cooper
April 30th, 2021 at 12:09 pm

Whenever a new registration plate comes around it opens up a whole new set of possibilities for people to get creative with the new designation. In many cases, this is perfectly harmless and it just means they can now create a plate that looks like a name, initials, a company, a profession or something else. Of course, the DVLA cottoned onto this a long time ago and many of the best ones get held back so they can be auctioned off for more money for government coffers.

There are other number and letter combinations that get held back though, not because they are valuable and can help the DVLA raise extra revenue, but instead because they could be offensive. However, with the introduction of the ’21’ plate from March 1st, 2021, the DVLA appears to have gone a step further by stopping plates being issued that could be considered as being in ‘poor taste.’ But who decides what is and what isn’t ‘poor taste’ and has the DVLA overstepped the mark this time around?

Banned 2021 number plates


Whenever the DVLA issues a new list of banned registration numbers the majority of them are pretty understandable, although some do appear to stretch the imagination a little and the average person might not even have any idea what the plate could even be saying.

It’s probably fair to say that things appear to have changed a little in 2021, however, and some might suggest the DVLA could be going too far this time in deciding for us what is and what isn’t in ‘poor taste.’

Words that just over a year earlier wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow at the DVLA or anywhere else are now considered to be unacceptable in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Designs referencing the pandemic have been banned in a bid to avoid offending those who may have lost loved ones due to coronavirus or those who may have suffered as a result of contracting the virus.

On the banned list this year then are the likes of CO21 ONA, CO21 VID and CO21 RNA, which obviously wouldn’t have been possible until the registration number changed to 21 on March 1st. Other combinations that could have been issued even before the 21 plates came around have also had a stop put on them, including COV 11D and COV 111D.

Exactly how offensive those registration numbers would be to anyone is certainly open to debate, but where does this end, and why are other plates that it could be argued are just as sensitive still allowed? For example, there appears to be no mandate against combinations related to Wuhan where the virus is believed to have originated.

Understandable censorship


It’s only to be expected that the good folks down at the DVLA operate responsibly and refrain from allowing number plates to be issued that could be seen as rude, offensive, or in some cases even obscene.

Some years are obviously more precarious for the DVLA because some numbers lend themselves to creative interpretation better than others. Let’s look at 2015 for example, because the ’15’ and ’61’ plates could have been particularly rich picking for those mischievous types.

Among the raft of combinations that were not allowed in 2015 were the likes of P15 OFF, SH15 TTY, VA61 ANA and UP15 BUM. If you can’t understand why those were not allowed you’re either a libertarian extremist or extremely naive.

Questionable censorship


Some of the obviously offensive combinations that could have arisen in 2021 that have been banned are BA21 STD, LE21 ZZA and MU21 DER, but the DVLA is also banning some plates that could be considered political to stop drivers from getting into arguments while out on the road.

Brexit appears to still be a hot potato for the DVLA in 2021 even though the UK has now left the EU properly. Number plate combinations related to Brexit that have been banned include EU21 BAD, EU21 OFF, EU21 OUT, EU21 SHT and EU21 GON. Of course, those plates would only potentially cause ‘offence’ to a relative minority on the losing side of the debate and referendum, but surely most would just laugh them off or ignore them?

Things start to get even more questionable when it comes to another 21 plate that has been banned for its supposedly political connotations, which is GB21 EDL. The reason this one has been stopped is because EDL are the initials of the English Defence League, which is a far-right political group and combining its initials with the GB regional designation supposedly conjures up nationalistic connotations.

Who are the DVLA to be the arbiter of what political parties or views are ‘acceptable’ or ‘unacceptable?’ Regardless of what any of us may think of an organisation like the EDL, it is not a banned group, and being a member or supporter is not an offence and neither is being of their political persuasion.

Also, why does it have to be assumed that EDL refers to the political group and not another EDL, such as EDL the global producer of sustainable, distributed energy, or EDL Capital AG the Switzerland-based alternative asset management firm?

Some slip through the net


Although the DVLA is always on the lookout for requests for numbers that could be seen as somewhat beyond the pale and hosts special meetings twice a year to weed out potentially offensive plates, some do still slip through the net.

One of the most offensive plates you could probably imagine once slipped past the DVLA in 2016 and was valued at the time at around £6,000, but the number CU11 NNT was eventually declared as “no longer in circulation” and the website offering it for sale had to withdraw its listing.

Others that have also slipped through the net in the past include PEN 15, G 5POT, U T02SER, D1CKO, T99 WAT and M1LFS. Even though a number initially slips through the net, don’t expect that to be that as the DVLA generally doesn’t take too long to correct its mistakes and if you put any of these numbers into the UK government vehicle enquiry tool you’ll probably find they are no longer in circulation.