Vehicle registration plate

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A vehicle registration plate, usually called license plate or number plate (often referred to simply as a plate, or colloquially tag) is a small metal or plastic plate attached to a motor vehicle for official identification purposes. On many vehicles, they appear in pairs, with one attached to the front and another attached to the rear, although certain jurisdictions and vehicle types only require one plate—usually the rear. The plate has a serial number on it which is the same on all plates attached to the vehicle, the purpose of which is to identify the vehicle uniquely from others on roads, usually within the same country. In certain jurisdictions, having a current license plate can be evidence of a vehicle being licensed for use on a public highway, or of a tax having been paid in connection with the vehicle.

In some countries, such as in the United Kingdom, a vehicle usually only has one set of plates (known as number plates) following its initial sale as the information displayed on the plates is static from then on throughout the vehicle's life. In other countries, such as in the United States, plates (known as license plates) are required to be changed periodically (though, for cost-saving purposes, the recent tendency has been to simply replace a small decal on the plate's surface). Additionally, most US states follow a "plate to owner" policy, meaning that when a vehicle is sold, the seller removes the current plate(s) from the vehicle and the buyer must either obtain new plates from his state of residence, or attach plates that he already holds from that state, as well as formally registering the vehicle under his name and the plate number, with the state authorities. If the person who sold the car then purchases a new car, he can apply to have the old plates put onto his car. Otherwise, depending on the state involved, he must either turn them in, destroy them, or he can simply keep them if he wishes. Plates usually are either directly fixed to a vehicle, or may be located in a plate frame which is itself fixed to the vehicle. Sometimes the plate frames contain advertisements inserted by the vehicle service centre or the dealership from which the vehicle was purchased. Vehicle owners can purchase customized and specialty frames to replace the original frames. In some U.S. states, such as New Jersey license plate frames are illegal. Usually plates are designed to conform to certain standards of clarity with regards to being read by the human eye in day or at night, or by electronic equipment.

Some drivers purchase smoke-colored or tinted covers that go over the license plate, usually to prevent such electronic equipment from scanning the license plate number. Although useful to those avoiding detection from police, these covers are not legal in the entire U.S. and are looked down upon in other countries.

License plates have been around almost as long as automobiles. In the U.S., where each state oversees plates, New York state has required plates since 1901. Massachusetts was the first state to require government-issued plates, in 1903.

In most countries, license plates are issued by an agency of the national government, except in Canada, Mexico, Australia, Germany, Pakistan, and the United States, where they are issued by provincial, territorial, or state governments.


US and Canada

A sample standard-issue California license plate.
A sample standard-issue California license plate.
Main article: US and Canadian license plates

In the US and Canada, license plates are issued by each state or provincial government. In the U.S., some Native American tribes also have their own plates. The federal government issues plates only for its own vehicle fleet and for vehicles owned by foreign diplomats. There are also special plates for groups such as Firefighters, Combat wounded soldiers, and state or province-owned vehicles. Some plates in Washington, D.C., include the phrase "Taxation without representation" to highlight D.C.'s lack of a voting representative in the United States Congress.

The appearance of plates is frequently chosen to contain symbols, colors, or slogans associated with the issuing jurisdiction.

When someone moves from one state or province to another, they are normally required to obtain new license plates issued by the new place of residence, even if they have plates issued by the previous state or province. Some US states will even require a person to obtain new plates if a person accepts employment in that state, unless he can show that he returns to another state to live on a regular basis.

In many states, license plates are made by prison inmates [1].


Main article: European vehicle registration plates

In the European Union, number plates of a common format are issued throughout (albeit still optional in some member states). Nevertheless, individual member states use differing numbering schemes, and even colours (e.g. the United Kingdom and France have yellow plates at the rear; see British car number plates). The common design consists of a blue strip on the left of the plate. This blue strip has the EU motif (12 yellow stars), along with the country code of the member state in which the vehicle was registered. With this, vehicles do not require international code stickers for travelling between member states.

People's Republic of China

Main article: License plates of the People's Republic of China
Blue PRC licence plates of the 1992 standard (August 2004 image)
Blue PRC licence plates of the 1992 standard (August 2004 image)

The People's Republic of China issues vehicles licence plates at its Vehicle Management Offices, under the administration of the Ministry of Public Security.

The current plates are of the 1992 standard, which consist of the one-character provincial abbreviation, a letter of the Latin alphabet corresponding to a certain city in the province, and five numbers or letters of the alphabet (e.g. Jing A-12345, for a vehicle in Beijing or Ye B-12345 for a vehicle from Shenzhen in Guangdong province). The numbers are produced at random, and are computer-generated at the issuing office.(A previous licence plate system, with a green background and the full name of the province in Chinese characters, actually had a sequential numbering order, and the numbering system was eventually beset with corruption).

Yellow plates are issued for large vehicles of Chinese nationality. Blue plates, the most common sort, are issued for vehicles of Chinese nationality, which are small or compact in size. Black plates are issued for vehicles belonging to foreigners and persons from Hong Kong and Macao. These plates follow the pattern of the provincial character for Guangdong (yuè), the latin letter "Z", 4 letters and/or numbers, ending in the abbreviated character for the territory (e.g. yuè Z-AE54 Gang for Hong Kong) (Black licence plates are handed to vehicles of any size, as long as they are from one of the special administrative regions.)


Eight types of licence plates are used in Pakistan. Each province and territory issues its own number plate; the federal government issues number plates for foreign diplomats and vehicles owned by the military, police and federal departments (red for foreign diplomats and green for the federal government.) Sindh's number plates are yellow with black letters and numbers; Islamabad, NWFP, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Balochistan and Northern Areas have white number plates with black letters and numbers. The number plates also have the province or territory's name at the bottom. In Punjab however, number plates can be of any colour the vehicle owner chooses, but the first 2 letters represent the city the vehicle is registered in.

E.g: LHR 4536, is a vehicle registered in Lahore, Punjab. FDE 6762, is a vehicle registered in Faisalabad, Punjab.

Now the Pakistani authorities are implanting VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) chips in all cars sold in Pakistan to be able to identify the owner through satellite tracking etc. All number plates are in English.


Main article: Indian licence plates

Two types of licence plates are used in India. For commercial vehicles, the plate has a yellow background and black numbering. For private vehicles a white background with black numbering is used. The scheme comprises of a two letter identification for the state in which the vehicle is registered. It is followed by a two number code to identify the district. Finally a four digit number is used to uniquely identify the vehicle. When this number reaches 9999, it is prefixed with the next letter of the alphabet taken in order. When the alphabet reaches Z, the length of the prefix is increased to 2. So after TN-01 9999, the next number is TN-01 A 0001 and after TN-01 Z 9999 it is TN-01 AA 0001 and so on..

eg: MH 01 5678 , is a vehicle registered in Bombay, Maharashtra State. KA 05 EH 1254, is a vehicle registered in Bangalore, Karnataka State.

TN 01 W 9671, is a vehicle registered in Chennai, Tamil Nadu State.


Japanese License Plate (Schematic illustration)
Japanese License Plate (Schematic illustration)
Main article: Japanese license plates

License plates in Japan are either white with green text, or the reverse. The top line names the office at which the vehicle is registered, and includes a numeric code that indicates the class of vehicle. The bottom contains one symbol (typically a kana), and up to four digits.

Russian Federation

Russian registration plate, as observed in 2004
Russian registration plate, as observed in 2004

In Russia, the plate format has changed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Soviet plates prior to 1982 were white-on-black. They had combination of four digits, grouped by two and three cyrillic letters. Rear plate was square with letters located below the numbers. From those letters, first two indicated the region. For example, 75-63 КЛЖ combination referd to the car from Kaliningrad region. After 1982 a new black-on-white format for newly registered cars was adopted. The 1982 format differentiated privately owned from goverment owned cars and trucks (virutally all vehicles used for business, as well as all businesses belonged to the goverment). The goverment owned vehicles retained NN-NN LLL scheme while private vehicles used L NN-NN LL. The last two letters indicated regions or large cities. Largest cities usually had several two-letter codes to account for a larger number of cars. For example city of Kiev used КИ and ХТ codes while Kiev Oblast' region used КХ. The current format uses a letter followed by 3 digits and two more letters. To improve legibility of the numbers for Russian cars abroad, only a small subset of Cyrillic characters that look like Latin characters are used. Finally, the region number (77 and 99 for Moscow, 78 for Saint-Petersburg) and letters "RUS" are included, as well as the national flag. There is a different format for trailers (4 digits and 2 letters). Some vehicles, like trolleybuses, are not required to have license plates, because they can not leave the network they operate on and can be identified by number that is painted and is given by local public transport authority.

Some regions (inside the Federation) are not required to have the flag on the licence plates.

Police forces have special numbers on blue colored plates. There are special series (usually numbers starting with A) reserved for government officials (for example, A 001 AA usually belongs to the governor of the region). These numbers have a larger flag instead of the region number.

Rich businessmen, prominent politicians and crime lords often use illegally acquired special licence plates (government or police) to get preferential treatment from the transport police and as a status symbol.

Federative Republic of Brazil

Brazil adopted its current system in 1990, which uses the form ABC 1234, with a dot between letters and numbers. A combination given to one vehicle cannot be transferred to another vehicle. Above the combination, there is a metallic band with the state abbreviation (SP = São Paulo, RJ = Rio de Janeiro, PR = Paraná, etc.) and the name of the municipality. This band can be changed by changing the seal (plastic or lead-made).

The size of the Brazilian licence plates is normally 380 x 130 mm, but plates can be made in the Japanese size or the European size. The Brazilian licence plates use colors to show their type, and front and rear plates use the same color: black on gray: Particular white on red: any kind of paid transportation (buses, cabs, etc.) red on white: driver's school (auto-escola in Brazil). black on white: official use (government, police department, fire department, federal, state or city-owned for public services). gray on black: collection (30-years vehicles or more with an excellent conservation and plus than 80% of originality. white on green: dealer-testing or in some cases, test-drive (most of test-drive cars use black on gray plates). white on blue: constructor-testing or diplomatic use (in this case, using CD 1234 or CC 1234).

The letters of the plate can describe its state of origin. Vehicles can be relocated from one state to another, but their plate's combination will show the origin.

AAA-0000 to BEZ-0000 = PR = PARANÁ; BFA-0000 to GKI-0000 = SP = SÃO PAULO; GKI-0000 to HOL-0000 = MG = MINAS GERAIS; and so on.

Australian plates

Main article: Australian vehicle number plates

In Australia, license plates, usually known as numberplates, are normally issued by the State or Territory government; some are issued by the Commonwealth government. Plates are associated with a vehicle and generally last for its life, though as they become unreadable (or for other reasons) they may be recalled or replaced with newer ones. For a long period of time from the 1970s to the late 1990s, most Australian plates were of the form xxx·xxx (with the x either letters or numbers), typically aaa·nnn as in Victoria or New South Wales. More recently as these series have reached the end of their lives, different States have chosen different continuations, so the commonality with respect to format is at an end. Nevertheless, most plates are the same size for a given vehicle, so there remains a consistency about them.

Plates tend to bear the State or territory name and a state motto in the bottom of the plate. Recent issues of plates (since the 1990s) also often use the State's colors and may include some imagery related to the state (such as the State's logo as the dot separating the groups of numbers).

Vanity and specialty plates

See also: North American Vanity and specialty plates
Idaho bluebird plate, one of more than 30 specialty plates in that state
Idaho bluebird plate, one of more than 30 specialty plates in that state

In some countries, people can pay extra and get vanity plates: licence plates with a custom number (character set). For example, a vanity license plate might read "MY TOY". Generally vanity plates are not allowed to have profane or obscene messages on them (but sometimes this does not always occur especially if it is in another language), and of course they must also be unique.

In the US and Canada, vehicle owners may also pay extra for specialty plates: with these, the sequence of letters and numbers is chosen by the licensing agency—as with regular plates—but the owners select a plate design that is different from the normal licence plate. Some jurisdictions allow for these special plates to also be vanity plates, usually for an additional fee on top of the cost of the plate.

Novelty licence plates

There also exist novelty licence plates, often sold in gift or novelty shops. Similar to vanity plates, these novelties are printed with an individual's name, but unlike vanity plates they are not intended for legal identification of an automobile. They can be displayed in the rear window, for example, or on the front of vehicles registered in jurisdictions that only require a valid plate on the rear of the vehicle.

Novelty license plates are usually installed by motorists or automobile dealerships. While automobile dealerships install novelty license plates for promoting their business, motorists (auto enthusiasts) install novelty license plates to express their brand preference (like a Ford logo license plate), or an affiliation with a group, state, country, sports/sport team, hobby, art, custom creation, etc. In the United States, over 30 States do not require an official front license plate. Antique auto collectors use novelty replicas of period license plates to give their show cars a dated look. Entire websites have been established to market these plates.

International codes

On the international level the licence plates of different countries are distinguished by a supplementary licence plate country code. This country designator is displayed in bold block uppercase on a small white oval plate or sticker on the rear of the vehicle near the number plate.

The allocation of codes in maintained by the United Nations as the Distinguishing Signs of Vehicles in International Traffic, being authorized by the UN's Geneva Convention on Road Traffic (1949) and Vienna Convention on Road Traffic (1968). Many, but far from all, vehicle codes created since the adoption of ISO 3166 coincide with either the ISO two or three letter codes.

For a full list of licence plate country codes, see List of international license plate codes.

Imitation International codes

In Canada and the United States, where the international oval is not officially used, putting one on a car is purely a matter of personal discretion. This has given rise to a tourist-driven industry of imitation international code stickers. For example, the island of Martha's Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts has MV, while the Outer Banks region of North Carolina uses OBX. Stickers of this sort are usually visibly different from any real international code sticker, but some places sell what could appear to be real stickers, touting that the abbreviation refers to their venue.

See also

Car number plates by country

Other related articles

External links

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