While the most common form of registrations on UK roads are acrylic plates in yellow and white with black characters, you may have come across some others. Older models of cars sometimes sport black and silver plates while others add one of the UK’s national flags like a St George’s Cross or Union Jack.
Another plate style you may have seen is a registration that appears darkened or tinted. Sometimes favoured by younger drivers, these plates can commonly be seen on cars with a degree of customisation to tyres or bodywork. There’s no doubt that this type of registration has a unique style, but are darkened number plates legal?
The law on darkened number plates
Darkened number plates, sometimes referred to as ‘smoked plates’, are considered by many a grey area when it comes to being road legal. The darkened look of these plates can make the letters and numbers displayed less clear and harder to read, particularly in poor light and night conditions. Drivers breaking speed limits can sometimes evade police cameras and speed traps using these plates as they can not always be picked up by cameras.
The standards for UK number plates as described by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), state that number plates must not be obscured. This could include tinting or darkening a plate, or even something as innocent as your registration being hidden because it hasn’t been cleaned appropriately and is covered in dirt. Layers of mud can easily build up on plates when driving regularly on country roads and obscure a vehicle’s index marks.
While a standard acrylic plate with the alphanumeric characters displayed on it could be obscured by darkening the plate making it illegal to use, if the plate utilises 3D or 4D styling, this becomes less definite.
Both 3D and 4D number plates are legal to use on UK roads providing they conform to all regulations. These styles of plate attach black gel-resin characters onto reflective plates, raising the letters and numbers from the background. When such plates are darkened, it’s the reflective plate beneath that is smoked with the 3D or 4D characters popping out of the background. It could be argued that the darkened effect on such plate types doesn’t interfere with how legible a registration is to the authorities and other motorists.
This is particularly the case with 4D number plates. These registrations use black characters on white and yellow plates to keep to the law but also use a bright or fluorescent colour as backing to make them stand out more.
To ensure you don’t end up being stopped by the authorities, paying unwanted fines of up to £1,000 or failing your MOT test, it’s worth sticking to standard number plates on your vehicle. Further legislation may be put into place regarding darkening 3D and 4D number plates in the future, but until then, it might be worth saving your customisation for show plates.
Smoked show plates
Show plates, as the name suggests, are registration plates used for display purposes only. This means that while you can’t show them off on the road, you can photograph your car with them or exhibit them to the public at events.
As they’re employed only for show, these plates allow drivers keen on customisation an endless number of possibilities to design their ideal registration. Darkening or smoking a plate is just the beginning of what’s possible for show plates. There are no limits to the fonts used to display your registration and any colour can be featured for the characters or backgrounds. Motifs or artwork can be included in the designs along with patterns, which are strictly prohibited on plates used on UK roads.