The American Auto Club UK

General Interest Articles

American Cars and UK Number Plate Regulations

In Britain, the strict registration regulations apply uniformly to all vehicles in all regions. In the USA, the appearance of a vehicle’s registration may vary from state to state. It is common for US plates to include distinctive colours, symbols and slogans that are associated with the issuing body and these vary widely. California’s plates, for example, are relatively simple, while other states are more creative, such as Wyoming with its cowboy logo.

Vanity and Specialty Plates

Personalised registrations are available in both the UK and America. In the USA they are known as “vanity” plates. Obscene and profane registrations are not permitted, but views on what constitutes an offensive plate differ widely and a registration allowed in one state may not be permitted in another.

As well as the option of vanity plates, motorists may pay for “specialty” plates, which give the owner the option of displaying a plate design, which differs from standard licence plates. Examples of these may be a college logo for a student, or a sporting emblem. Many states issue environmental and patriotic designs, and even slogans that show support for a particular issue, such as breast cancer and organ donation. These can be very decorative and would not be permitted in the UK.

Specialty plates are also issued to those who have made positive contributions to public service, such as veterans of war. Perhaps particularly surprising is the option for amateur radio operators to display their call sign on their plates, instead of a standard issue registration. As a result, several vehicles may even share the same registration.

In the UK

Unlike the United States, the British government’s rules do not vary depending on where in the UK one lives. Perhaps the biggest difference between UK and US plates is the use of decoration. Owners of American cars in the UK must be careful not to get carried away with their car registration plates. While American-style plates may be decorative, the rules in Britain are particularly strict and allow for little variation.

UK Regulations

The UK regulations attempt to ensure that all registrations are easily identified. The authorities consider it crucial for crime prevention and road safety that witnesses of accidents and crime, as well as roadside cameras, are able to read registrations easily.

The following alterations may result in indistinguishable plates and are illegal: From 1 September 2001, it was agreed that number plate characters must comply with the following spacing rules: Excepting the letter I and the number 1, characters must be 79mm high and 50mm wide. The width of each character stroke must be 14mm and one must be able to measure 11mm between each character in the same grouping. Additionally, character groups must also be 33mm apart.

However, there is one concession for imported cars, which was announced in 2001:

Fortunately for drivers of American cars in the UK, the regulations now state that imported cars may display number plates with smaller characters if: a) The vehicle does not have European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval and b) The construction/design of the vehicle cannot accommodate standard size number plates. Therefore, the following specifications, which are identical to those given to motorbikes and tricycles, may be applied: Minister for Transport, John Spellar, announced this ruling on 31 July 2001. Almost all American cars are manufactured with a motorcycle size number plate and it is costly to modify these plates. This rule saves money, as well as the inconvenience of modifying. Law enforcement agencies are still able to clearly read these registrations, so they do not cause any problems.

Consequences of Law Breaking

Although many choose to ignore the regulations, they would, perhaps, think differently if they were aware of the inconvenient and potentially costly outcome of their actions. Offences may result in the vehicle failing its MOT, the registration being withdrawn (particularly disastrous for personalised plate owners), and one may be fined up to £1,000.

Although rules are strict in the UK, a personalised number plate can still really enhance one’s car. To achieve that unique finishing touch and add some personality, a well-chosen registration is a great option.

For more Info - Personalised Number Plates
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