BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: UK
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Wednesday, 22 August, 2001, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
New number plates for old
New number plate
In 10 days, car registration plates will undergo the biggest changes in almost 40 years. Here, we reveal how to "read" the new system.

Not since the early 1960s have number plates in the UK undergone such a radical change.

Horseless carriage
The first number plate - A1 - was issued in 1903
New style plates, which appear on 1 September, will show which part of the country a vehicle comes from - cars in Birmingham will have the letter B and owners in Scotland will have the letter S - and the six-month period in which it was registered.

In the sample number plate LA51 PJH:

  • L stands for London;

  • A indicates the car was registered at the Wimbledon transport office;

  • 51 shows it was registered between September 2001 and February 2002;

  • and the last three digits are randomly generated.

    The system will be flexible enough to use for many years longer than the current one, which was introduced 20 years ago.

    The plates are designed to easily date a vehicle, and to stick in the mind of any eye witnesses to an incident involving a car.

    RU 04 SEX

    But those hoping for a saucy number plate will be out of luck - transport bosses have banned S-E-X from the system.

    W-reg vehicle
    No more: It took 20 years to exhaust the old system
    Also banned are fancy typefaces. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) will introduce standardised lettering to make sure number plates can be better read by speed cameras.

    The tables below show what the new codes mean. Although for the sake of simplicity we list AA-AN, for instance, not all letter combinations will be available. In 2010, the age identifier changes to 1* for the March to August period; and 6* for September to February.

    For more details, see the DVLA's website in Internet links on the right-hand side of the page.

    Local Identifier:
    Letter District Local office Codes
    A Anglia Peterborough AA-AN
    Norwich AO-AU
    Ipswich AV-AY
    B Birmingham Birmingham BA-BY
    C Cymru Cardiff CA-CO
    Swansea CP-CV
    Bangor CW-CY
    D Deeside to Shrewsbury Chester DA-DK
    Shrewsbury DL-DY
    E Essex Chelmsford EA-EY
    F Forest and Fens Nottingham FA-FP
    Fens Lincoln FR-FY
    G Garden of England Maidstone GA-GO
    Brighton GP-GY
    H Hampshire and Dorset Bournemouth HA-HJ
    Portsmouth HK-HY
    K Luton KA-KL
    Northampton KM-KY
    L London Wimbledon LA-LJ
    Stanmore LK-LT
    Sidcup LU-LY
    M Manchester and Merseyside Manchester MA-MY
    N North Newcastle NA-NO
    Stockton NP-NY
    O Oxford Oxford OA-OY
    P Preston Preston PA-PT
    Carlisle PU-PY
    R Reading Reading RA-RY
    S Scotland Glasgow SA-SJ
    Edinburgh SK-SO
    Dundee SP-ST
    Aberdeen SU-SW
    Inverness SX, SY
    V Severn Valley Worcester VA-VY
    W West of England Exeter WA-WJ
    Truro WK, WL
    Bristol WM-WY
    Y Yorkshire Leeds YA-YK
    Sheffield YL-YU
    Beverley YV-YY

    Age Identifier:
    Date Code
    Sept 01-Feb 02 51
    March 02-Aug 02 02
    Sept 02-Feb 03 52
    March 03-Aug 03 03
    Sept 03-Feb 04 53
    March 04-Aug 04 04
    This pattern will continue until all combinations are used

    Some of your comments on this story:

    Compared with US, this is very clever system. Alternating alpha/numeric/alpha makes plates easier to remember and it eliminates the scramble for new cars by making the 'age identifier' change less apparent. My only criticism is the 'age identifier' could have been set to the year and changed annually.
    John Skeels, New York USA

    It's disappointing that we have been unable to rid ourselves of the registration date tyranny. Presumably the vested interests of the motor trade did not wish to see the "new number" lever disappear
    Robin Pearson, UK

    The new system is okay, but I don't like the new font (already to be seen on recent 'Y' regs). Why couldn't they have banned fancy typefaces and kept the existing font?
    Richard Potts, UK

    Forward thinking by the DVLA and local authorities might have seen the allocation of barcodes to cars. Traffic offenders could be swiped, the code relayed to databases for checks on ownership, tax, outstanding offences, etc.
    Noel McPherson, UK

    The 'local identifier' section is worthless. My current company car was delivered from a garage more than 200 miles away. Does this mean that I will be treated as a tourist when I drive round my home town?
    Darren Prior, UK

    It always surprises me that the British, well known for their love of privacy and resistance to national identity cards, drive vehicles that are identifiable from half a mile away.
    John, Canada

    Who really cares? And if you do - please get out more! I can't see how it really matters. I think those who are bugged about it are those who like to show off the fact that they've got a new car.
    Tyler Southgate, UK

    This system proves yet again, that we in the UK are just useless at designing numbering systems. The numbering system will loop around in 2051, when '51' and '01' will reappear.
    Mari Fleming, UK

    Thank goodness we didn't go for the Irish system. Who would ever dream up such a complicated system where "98" on the number plate actually refers to the year 1998. They must find it very difficult.
    T Glover, from DW (or should it be MB or WL) Any way, its the Wirral

    So I register my new car in Essex, then later sell it to a Scot who takes it home to Glasgow - is he forever branded as an Essex man? Poor chap.
    Joan, UK

    When we last needed to change the system in the early 80's, they just changed the order of the elements on the plates - letter indicating the year, followed by three random numbers and three letters. What has stopped them using three numbers followed by a single letter and then followed by three letters?
    C. Hayton, UK

    Spain's old system of identifying where a car came from, (B for Barcelona etc) caused two problems. Firstly, selling a car in a different region lowered it price; secondly a car from Madrid travelling in Barcelona would be a target for vandals.
    Ronnie Tilling, Spain

    If they had the intention of changing the system, why could they not have made it actually easier to read instead of more difficult. Perhaps one letter to designate a town, rather than a district (because who on earth is going to know that cars from the Severn Valley will start VA?), and then couldn't we just use the year of registration such as 2001 is 01? Or am I just being too simplistic?
    Paul Robertson, UK

    The only people who should be able to trace the origin of a car are the Police and the DVLA. At the very least, these new plates are an infringement on a car-owners privacy, at worst they may increase the risk of vandalism. Imagine how easy it would be for football supporters in one city to target the vehicles of fans visiting from another city.
    Paul Hutton, Scotland

    It's better - but could be further improved. Here they use between one and three characters for the city. And instead of having this crazy age identifier, why not keep it simple and have the quarter and year it was registered. 101 = 1st QTR (Jan - Mar) 2001 and so on.
    Alan Bentley, Germany

    Did somebody say 'European Harmonisation'? No, thought not.
    Richard Alderton, UK

    What's the problem? It all looks simple to me. Maybe people are too thick to understand change. Just see how long it has taken to try to get rid of the stupid imperial system.
    Neil, Kent

    A ridiculous half-cocked bodge. Either do a proper system of counties or towns or don't bother.
    Stephen, Switzerland/UK

    What about dates after 2009? Will the numbers be 510 and 010? And who thought that 0 and 5 were a good idea? I have to feel that the consultation process on this scheme wasn't very extensive.
    Gareth Williams, Germany

    Surely they could have just used the first three or four letters of the postcode?
    Stephen Burgess, UK; Rafael Donnelly of Peterborough proposed the same system

    Localisation of number plates is a good idea. In Germany, if you see a car comes from a different city, you tend to give the driver more space because he is less likely to know where he is going and therefore more likely to drive erratically.
    Alan, UK in Netherlands

    Number plates should be allocated to people on a permanent basis so that the plate can be transferred from one car to another if and when the owner changes the vehicle.
    P Bakrania, Northamptonshire

    The Irish have been operating the same [regional] system for years and it works very well. The only failing is the ability to identify cars belonging to tourists to the region.
    Steven Watterson, Ireland and UK

    It's a load of indecipherable gibberish with no obvious or discernible logic to the system. Well done to the bureaucrats and pen pushers!
    N Azar, UK

    It looks okay to me - as long as everyone sticks to the same font. These italic-styled plates and numbers close together to try and make words are more and more common. It has made the British car registration plate system look tacky compared with those in Europe.
    John, Scotland

    I don't find the age identifier very intuitive. For example, looking at "53" you'd never guess that the car could have been registered in February 2004. Surely January - June (first six months of year) and July - December (last six months of year) would make more sense?
    John Lee, England

    As a lifelong Kentish man, I find it extremely offensive that the letter "K" has been allocated to Luton. Where's the logic in that?!
    Tim Collins Kent, UK

  • Internet links:

    The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

    Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.

    E-mail this story to a friend

    Links to more UK stories