Number plates are subject to a fairly comprehensive list of legal requirements. Regardless of the type of vehicle they are assigned to – whether that is a car, van, motorcycle, or heavy goods vehicle – there are strict DVLA criteria regarding the size, colour and material of number plates. There are even legal regulations regarding the font used and the exact measurement of the gaps between characters. While all these rules must be adhered to by every driver or rider, does a motorcycle also need a number plate light?
General number plate rules
The DVLA stipulates that the number plates on any vehicle must be made from a material that is reflective. In general, the letters and numbers must be black, and displayed on a white background for the front plate and yellow for the rear. There must be no background pattern on the plate, but displaying 3D characters is permitted. It is not, however, allowed to space the characters differently, for example to form a word or name. The letters, numbers and the spaces between them must be displayed exactly as stipulated on any number plate.
Motorcycle number plate light law
The DVLA set out some specific rules regarding the number plates on mopeds, motorcycles and motor tricycles.
Front and rear plates
If you own a motorcycle, moped or motor tricycle and it was first registered on 1st September 2001 or later, then it should only display a rear number plate. If your bike was registered before this date, you may also display a front number plate if you choose to, but this is not mandatory.
Unlike the number plates on cars and other larger vehicles, motorcycle, moped or motor tricycle registrations must be displayed over two lines, rather than the one that is usual for a car or van.
Number plate light
While the above rules, as well as others, apply to all forms of motorcycle, there is no DVLA requirement to have a number plate light fitted to a moped, motorbike or motor tricycle.
Older vehicle number plates
Apart from the rules that apply specifically to motorcycles, motor tricycles and mopeds, there are certain exceptions to vehicles over a certain age. The DVLA decided in 2015 that classic vehicles made over 40 years previously could show black plates with white or silver characters. Therefore, if a motor tricycle, moped or motorcycle was manufactured before 1975, owners could opt to display a traditional-style, black number plate. This is a fixed date, which means that if your bike was made in 1975 or later, you cannot take advantage of this exception.
Motorcycle number plates and lights
There is thus no legal requirement for a motorbike or moped to have a number plate light, since in most cases, a motorbike should not even be carrying a front number plate.
The number plates must follow the set format as required by the strict DVLA criteria. Not adhering to this can result in an MOT failure. However, a motor tricycle, motorcycle or moped does not need a number plate light in order to pass its annual MOT.
As long as you are displaying a legally acceptable style of rear number plate for the age of your motorcycle, and this is clearly legible, then that is enough to satisfy the legal requirements. For a pre-2001 bike, whether you want to add a front number plate is a choice, as is the option of a number plate light. These are not required by the DVLA, but may give more peace of mind when travelling on public roads, especially at night, in conditions of poor visibility or when there is heavy traffic.