Driving without an appropriate number plate is a criminal offence in the UK, punishable by a fine and maybe even points on your licence. Losing a number plate while you’re driving is extremely unfortunate but it can happen, so you need to know exactly what to do to avoid facing a punishment.
Let’s look at what the restrictions are on number plates in the UK so you know exactly what to do in the event that yours is missing.
Can You Drive without a Number Plate in the UK?
Every vehicle driven or parked on public roads in the UK must have a valid number plate, also known as a vehicle registration plate or licence plate. Motorbikes and motor tricycles registered after 1 September 2021 should only have a rear licence plate, however, every UK car, van and lorry used on the roads needs to have a front and rear licence plate, ever since 1903.
If you have a large piece of land which you can drive on, you don’t need a number plate for your private property, or you can use show plates if you wish. But as soon as a vehicle is used on the roads – including farming vehicles like tractors – it needs to have a valid number plate registered with the DVLA (the UK’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency).
Class 3 mobility scooters are permitted on the roads and must also be registered with the DVLA, however, they are not required to display their number plate by law.
What’s the Penalty for Driving without a Number Plate?
If you drive or park your car on UK public roads without a number plate, or with an illegal number plate, you risk a fine of up to £1000 if reported or caught by traffic wardens (Civil Enforcement Officers) or the police. You may also receive 3 points on your driver’s licence. You can receive points for other road incidents such as speeding and it only takes 12 points to receive at least a 6-month ban, so you should ensure your number plate is correctly installed to avoid any penalties.
What to Do If Your Number Plate Falls Off in the UK
Your number plate should be well-attached but accidents do happen, so you should be prepared in case you ever lose your number plate. If your number plate falls off and you’re lucky enough to still have it, you should stick it back on as well as you can and drive to your nearest garage to have it reinstalled securely. If you can’t put it back on because the base of the number plate is broken in some way, you should pull over and call a mechanic to come to put your number plate back in place.
It may seem dramatic to not be able to drive on without it, but you risk a large fine and possibly also points on your licence for driving without a number plate, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
If your number plate falls off while you’re driving and you lose it, or if you come back to your car and believe your number plate has been stolen, you should:
- Call the police and the DVLA immediately (they will advise on next steps)
- If on the road, make a makeshift number plate and drive to the nearest garage
- Get a replacement number plate as soon as possible
You need to report your number plate stolen to the police as quickly as possible so they can help track it down. The police can also advise on whether you should drive a short journey without a number plate, although this is not usually recommended. Usually, the police will advise you to make a temporary number plate, such as using a piece of cardboard that you can write on with a thick permanent marker to indicate your registration until you can drive to a garage to have a new number plate made.
What are Illegal Plates in the UK?
There is a long list of regulations that number plates in the UK have to meet to be legally allowed on the roads. Anything that does not meet these regulations is considered an illegal number plate and will result in a penalty to the car owner.
You can personalise your number plate if you wish to make your car more unique, however, the registration must be approved and registered with the DVLA before it is road-worthy. There is a list of banned number plates which includes profanities, controversial topics such as war and political messages, and number plates including a Q, as these are reserved for so-called kit-cars.
Any number plate that does not meet the DVLA standards can also be known as a show plate. Show plates can be used in car showrooms, car festivals and on private property, essentially places where the DVLA does not have authority. But they cannot be used on public roads, either driven or parked.
What are the Number Plate Regulations in the UK?
Every car on UK roads needs to have a valid number plate, and there are plenty of restrictions to abide by to be considered road-legal, including:
- Being clearly visible
- Having a reflective solid white front number plate
- Having a reflective solid yellow back number plate
- Having solid black characters
- A mark to show the number plate supplier
- Use the Charles Wright 2001 font
Each character on the number plate must also:
- Have lines with a width of 14 mm making up each character
- Measure 79 mm high and 50 mm wide except for the characters “I” and “1”
- Be spaced 11 mm apart from other characters in its group
- Be spaced 33 mm apart from the other character groups
Since the main idea of number plate position, colour, font and spacing is to be clearly legible, even if your number plate falls off, you shouldn’t put it in the window of your car, even temporarily, as the reflections on the glass can obscure the characters; number plate laws indicate you must have your plate clearly visible for other traffic and pedestrians.
What Happens When the Police Run a Licence Plate Check?
If your number plate is illegal or you have been seen involved in a traffic incident, the police can run your licence plate to find out how to contact you. When running a licence plate check, the police can see your vehicle’s registration details and the personal information you have submitted to the DVLA including your name and address.
The police can also access a criminal database which will inform them if the owner of the vehicle has a criminal record, any outstanding warrants, is associated with any recent crimes or if the vehicle has been reported stolen.
If you have lost your number plate or believe it to be stolen, it’s essential you report it to the police as soon as possible in case someone else uses it on their car and commits a traffic violation or is involved in a crime. To not be associated with that crime, the police will then have a report indicating the number plate is registered to your vehicle and can know it has been stolen and used criminally.
Number Plate Clinic – Get Your New Number Plate today
If you’ve lost your number plate or had it stolen, contact the Number Plate Clinic’s customer service team today to order your new number plate!