Avoid a costly mistake: Keep your number plate visible

By Laura Linham

29th Feb 2024 | News


While it is not an offence to have a dirty vehicle, it is an offence to have an obscured registration plate or one that is not easily distinguishable. (Credit: Police file photo)
While it is not an offence to have a dirty vehicle, it is an offence to have an obscured registration plate or one that is not easily distinguishable. (Credit: Police file photo)

Drivers have been warned about a little-known number plate mistake that could see them being hit with a £1,000 fine and points on their licence. 

The latest '24' number plates for newly registered vehicles launch on 1st March 2024 in England, Scotland and Wales. 

Those licence plates don't just indicate a brand new car, they also play a fundamental role in the UK's vehicle regulatory and law enforcement system. 

And you accidentally obscure them at your peril, heeds experts at Select Car Leasing. 

The advice applies in particular to motorists who might carry bicycles on the back of their car by way of a rack or tow hitch.

Graham Conway, Managing Director at Select Car Leasing, says; "Having an obscured number plate is an office under the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994, and a poorly-placed rear bike rack could easily see you being prosecuted. 

"If caught, you could receive a £100 on-the-spot fine. And if the issue is reviewed in court, you may incur a Level 3 fine of £1,000, as well as three points on your licence. 

"Even if it's an innocent mistake, the police might see it as an attempt to avoid speed camera detection or ULEZ fees, for example. 

"Having a bike rack that obscures your number plate could also see you failing your MOT - the annual government check that ensures your vehicle meets legal safety standards. 

"If you're using a rear-mounted bike rack, you should purchase a detachable number plate to mount over the top of your bikes so that it's clearly visible to other drivers and traffic cameras."

 Various police forces have also recently sounded a warning about rear-mounted bike racks, describing how they can obscure number plates as well as brake lights and indicators. 

A spokesman for Cumbria Roads Police said: "Bike racks are great for lugging the bikes about but they must not obscure the number plates and/or rear light clusters. The fines are comfortably more than a light bar and a re-sited, or duplicate, plate. A signal is not a signal if no-one can see it."

Select Car Leasing also cautions that number plates must not be so dirty that they're obscured. 

And number plates must also comply with DVLA standards when it comes to the sizing, spacing and style of the characters being displayed. 

Mr Conway adds: "Number plates are widely available to buy online. Popular online retailers like Amazon, eBay and Etsy sell them, among hundreds of other websites. 

"The price or convenience of buying from these retailers might be tempting. But motorists need to know that they must purchase their plates from registered suppliers which have been approved by the DVLA. 

"The GOV.UK website has a useful search tool that will help you find your nearest supplier. 

"Having a plate from a non-registered supplier could result in you being stopped and fined by the police, or your vehicle failing its MOT. It's really not worth the risk, however cool you think the supplied design might look."

The UK government website has an established list of 'rules' when it comes to vehicle number plates. 

The number plates on your vehicle must:

  • be made from a reflective material
  • display black characters on a white background (front plate
  • display black characters on a yellow background (rear plate)
  • not have a background pattern
  • be marked to show who supplied the number plate
  • be marked with a British Standard number - this is 'BS AU 145e' for plates fitted after 1 September 2021
  • The characters must not be removable or reflective. If your number plates were fitted after 1 September 2021, they must also be a single shade of black

Your number plates can also:

  • have 3D (raised) characters
  • display certain flags, symbols and identifiers
  • display a green flash, if you have a zero-emission vehicle

The rules apply to both standard-issue number plates as well as personalised ones.

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