For the uninitiated, the number plate format of the United Kingdom is just a mystifying sequence of letters and numbers. However, there is a method behind the apparent madness; a method which helps to organise the over 37.9 million licensed vehicles in the country.
The current format is the sixth since 1903, which is the year when it became compulsory for vehicles to display plates. It was introduced in September 2001, and adheres closely to the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic. The seven character format has three distinguishing characteristics, which are:
The first two characters of the format consist of letters which serve as a geographic tag. Previously, the letter combination corresponds with one of the 33 DVLA branches around the country. However, following the agency’s decision to close its network of branches in 2013, the letters now indicate the location of the person or company registering the vehicle. For instance, vehicles registered in Portsmouth will have the initials HK, while those registered in Preston will carry the initials PA.
The third and fourth characters of the plate consist of numbers, which serves as the age identifier of the vehicle. It basically indicates the year the vehicle is registered. However, to ensure there will always be an adequate supply of combinations, the combinations have two caveats, which are
(i) There is two cycles annually, beginning from March to August and September to February
(ii) Vehicles registered during the first cycle carries the year, while vehicles registered in the second cycle is added with 50
For instance, vehicles registered in May 2018 carries the numbers 18, while those registered in November 2018 carries the numbers 68 (18 + 50)
After a space, the fifth, sixth and seventh characters are represented by a combination of random letter sequences, such as GHJ and BSE. However, to ensure clarity, especially through ANPR cameras, the letters I, O, Q, and Z are excluded.
Naturally, the format does not apply for private plates.