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UK Car Number Plates – A history of the DVLA

Car number plates act as a vehicles unique identifier. Similar to DNA, there are no two number plates the same and one specific registration can only be found on one specific vehicle. All the information regarding registration numbers is held on a central database which, administered by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency commonly known as the DVLA.

Over the years car number plates have followed various formats to meet the increase in the amount of cars our roads. Car registrations were first made compulsory in 1903 when the Motor Car Act was introduced. Back then the DVLA did not exist so it was the local council’s responsibility to administer registration numbers. Problems arose however when vehicles were sold or the owners move to a different area as it was necessary for the registration details to be transferred to another council. Over time this problem grew with the massive rise in the volume of traffic on our roads. It was clear that the council system of car registrations could not cope.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre (DVLC) was formed in 1965 and took over the responsibility of administering car number plates ( http://www.capeplates.co.uk/car_number_plates/ ) across the country. The head office was based in Swansea and had 81 local offices supporting the administration of car registrations as well as other road and vehicle related issues such as supplying information on vehicles to the Police. Gradually even Post Offices became involved in the car registration system causing many local DVLA offices to close. The number of local offices had reduced to 53 by 1985 and the DVLC changed its name to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). Currently there are 40 local offices across England, Scotland and Wales.

Since the introduction of the DVLC/DVLA, there have been 3 different registration number formats: suffix registration numbers, prefix registration numbers and the current or new style registration numbers. Suffix number plates began being issued in 1963 and ran until 1983. The format displayed three letters, up to three numbers and then an age identifier letter for example ABC 321A. Prefix car registration numbers were released when the suffix series was exhausted and reversed the format by putting an age identifying letter at the beginning of the registration plate. This was followed by up to three numbers and then three letters for example A321 ABC). I, U, Z, Q and O registrations were never issued for either the suffix or prefix series. Our current style of DVLA number plates were first issued in 2001. These registration numbers display the format of two letters, two numbers followed by three letters. The numbers give an estimate of the age that the vehicle was first registered and the first two letters related to the area where the vehicle was first registered. An example of a current style DVLA number plate is NE02 ABC.

Since the introduction of car number plates there have literally been millions of combinations created so the chances of finding a private plate to suit you are high. Nevertheless, popular names and initials sell incredibly fast and are therefore extremely scarce. Nowadays number plates are no long just an identifier for our vehicles, rapidly becoming collector’s items and the ultimate car accessory.

Submitted by:

Ross O'Donnell

Ross O’Donnell deals with the PR and marketing of Cape Plates ( http://www.capeplates.co.uk/car_number_plates/ ) and has a passion for all things number plate related. The website has a portfolio of over 30,000,000 personal number plates on offer.


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