UK'S HISORTY OF REGISTRATION NUMBER PLATES
First number plates in England
This is the beginning of road transport, as far back as 1682, carts licensed for hire in the City of London were required to show not only the City coat of arms, but also a number on a brass plate. Later, The London Hackney Carriage Act of 1831 also referred to ‘Stage coaches…being duly licensed and having proper numbered plates.’
The birth of the automobile, powered by an internal-combustion engine, is thought to have been somewhere between 1826 and 1875. Britain’s first successful cars were not produced until 1896, at the Daimler works. In January of that year, there were just twenty cars in Britain, so perhaps it is not surprising that the first fully regulated number plate system wasn’t introduced until 1904. The Motor Car Act of 1903 required the universal registration of motor vehicles accompanied by the display of alphanumeric number plates. There had been many ideas as to what form the system should take. One was to give a name to each car, as with boats and ships. This would have been disastrous and wouldn’t have taken long to run out!
The Act stated that all motor vehicles used on the roads after 1 January 1904 had to be registered with the appropriate local council or county borough. Each authority was allocated a set of letters to use for their area, for example London was given A, Lancashire B etc. When single letters ran out, two were used – AA for Hampshire, AB for Worcestershire and so on. Letters thought to cause offence, such as BF, DF and the royal cypher, ER, were omitted. Each set of letters was followed by a series of up to four numbers. Separate registers were kept for ordinary cars, lorries/buses and motorcycles. One discrepancy that arose from this was that a car and a motorcycle could be allocated the same number.
Many local authorities began issuing number plates towards the end of 1903. The coveted figure ‘1’ in each series was usually secured by a member of the local council. London was no exception. In December 1903, A 1 was issued and subsequently acquired by council member, Earl Russell, for his Napier car.
As towns expanded and industries grew, so did the need for more vehicles and therefore more number plates. London was the first authority to use up its original code, so that by May 1905, The Car magazine reported that 10,000 motor vehicles had been registered in London. The letters LC (London County) came next, but the first few, LC 1 to LC 29, were retained by the Council for its works department. The first number issued to the general public in this series, was LC 30, to a Mr. R. Moffatt Ford. Middlesex was the next to run out in 1912, when it was given the two letters MX.
In 1920, The Roads Act came in to force. A vehicle could now retain a registration number for its lifetime, instead of having to re-register if the vehicle was sold outside its original authority.
By 1932, the registration system expanded again to cope with a further increase in vehicles on the roads. Three letters then three numbers were used this time, for instance ABC 123. The second two letters (in this example, BC) showed which authority had issued the plates. The format was reversed after World War II, when owning a car, for the average family, was still unusual. ‘Motoring for the masses’ was not to arrive until the early 1960’s.
The Beginning of the suffix system
A completely new system was needed by 1963, which came in the form of the ‘year’ letter suffix (ABC 123A). The release of each year letter caused a high demand for new vehicles on 1 January of each year, creating problems for the motor trade. To minimise the demand, the ‘E’ letter was used for only six months, from 1 January to 31 July 1967 and ‘F’ was commenced on 1 August 1967. After which, 1 August became the changeover date for the next 30 years. Unfortunately, the rush to buy a new car at that time of year was also to remain a problem
The Prefix System
The letters, Z, I, O, Q & U were never used as year letters. On 31 July 1983, when the end of the ‘Y’ year was reached, the suffix system expired. As before, the format was reversed, changing the year letter into a prefix instead (A123 ABC).
It was resolved at this time, that cars with an indeterminate age should be given a Q-registration, for instance, a Kit-car or a vehicle imported from abroad.
The year letter system continued to create a peak period in August, with around a quarter of new vehicles being registered in that month alone. Pressure from the motor trade resulted in a change in the system. The letter ‘R’ was used for 13 months until 31 August 1998. Then letters were changed every six months after that, on 1 March and 1 September. The system lasted until 31 August 2001 when the current one began.
Current Registration System
The registration system used today started on 1 September 2001, after several consultations with the police and other interested bodies. A seven-character arrangement was established in a two letter, two number, three letter pattern (AB51 ABC). The first two letters signify where the plate was registered, the two numbers identify how old the registration is, and the last three letters, including Z for the first time, are random. Designed to last until 2049, it is thought that when this date is reached, the format will be reversed.
Private Registration Plates Today
Today it is possible for anyone to choose a number plate to suit them. Celebrities still use them to tag their favourite cars, but now everyone can make his or her vehicle stand out with a number that says something about them. Businesses buy them to promote their wares and parents are buying them as an investment for their children. Love them or loath them, personalised cheap number plates
are here to stay for at least the next hundred years!