from the black and white plates of France to the multi-coloured registrations of Australia, every country across the world has its own laws regarding the colours that vehicle plates must be presented in. While it hasn’t always been the case, the colours of the number plates displayed on UK vehicles today are yellow and white.
Number plate colours in the UK
For UK cars to be road legal, they must feature a white plate made of reflective material at the front of the vehicle featuring characters in black, and a yellow coloured plate at the rear with the reg in black characters.
There are a few exceptions to this rule. For example, the black and white registrations sported by UK military vehicles don’t use reflective material for their plates. The reflective surface can render vehicles more easily targeted by enemy forces.
Cars considered classic by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) are also allowed to carry the older style of registration used in the UK. These plates are black in colour and feature the index marks in either white or silver. Cars that are 40 years in age or older are afforded several allowances, such as no annual MOT tests, but they are also allowed to legally use older styles of plates that differ from the yellow and white plates more commonly seen.
Why are number plates yellow and white?
The main purpose of a number plate is to allow quick and clear identification of its numbers and letters to other motorists and the authorities alike. When either an accident or criminal act occurs involving a vehicle, it provides a fast way to find out essential details for the police.
It’s vital that number plates are always easy to read in a variety of weather and lighting conditions and it was deemed by experts that black characters on a white background provide the most legible combination. Black characters on a yellow background is the second most easy to read mix of colours, and so yellow was picked for rear plates.
Why are rear number plates yellow?
If white and black is the combination that’s easiest to read, why use a yellow plate at all? According to the DVLA, having a white plate at the front and a yellow plate at the back is designed to give drivers on the road a very quick way of telling if they’re looking at the front or rear of a vehicle. With this knowledge they can gauge how likely the vehicle is to be moving away or towards their own car’s location.
It’s also illegal to show a white light at the rear of your vehicle because plates are made of reflective material and so this could cause confusion.
Adding colour to your number plate
UK plates used today must be white and yellow with black alphanumeric characters, but there are still ways to put some colour on your plate while keeping to the laws. It’s possible to add one of the UK’s national flags for a little colour on your number plates. For example, you can include the white, blue and red of the Union Jack, a red and white St George cross, or a blue and white cross of St Andrew for Scotland. You can also include a red dragon of Wales standing on a field of green.
One of the latest legal styles of number plates is 4D registrations. These plates feature specially laser-cut characters that are presented in black to be legal and are raised from the registration.