They’re small but highly visible and don’t require any advanced tech to be produced. Still, number plates are a big part of any car owner’s life as they are literally the main identifier of a car.

Absolute Reg, a private number plate supplier, emphasise that the rules surrounding them are extremely strict and even small details like the space in between symbols and the font used to display letters and numbers can get you in trouble with the police.

As you will see from this article, there is actually a strong connection between number plates and the police. But before we get into any more details, let’s take a short history lesson so we have a better understanding of how number plates work.

Number Plates History in the UK

Plates were first required in the UK starting with January 1st, 1904 after the 1903 Motor Car Act was introduced. According to the law, the plates can be made from plastic or metal and they have to be easy to read by a police representative or by an automatic reader (in our days).

The rules also state that the plate must be rectangular or square, the exact size, and what each symbol represents. For instance, the system went through several changes along the years, and currently, there are two registration systems: one for the island of Great Britain (managed by the DVLA) and one for Northern Ireland (managed by the DVA).

How is the Police Using Them?

Besides being a unique identifier for your car, number plates are also a rudimentary (yet) tracking device for the police.

At any given time, a police officer running your plates can find out the following information:

  • If the registration is active or expired
  • The name and address of the owner
  • If the car has been flagged in any way (stolen or involved in a crime)
  • If the owner has a driver’s license and if it’s current
  • Where the vehicle was registered

As you can see, these tiny pieces of metal can be quite revealing. However, the new technologies available nowadays make it possible for a better check-up system, called the ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition).

The ANPR is a country-wide system comprised of CCTV cameras (fixed and mobile), processing stations, and personnel that continuously watch the public roads. In layman’s terms, the moment a vehicle passes an ANPR camera, its number plates are read and processed into the system. In a matter of seconds, the plate is checked against a database of vehicles of interest (wanted by the police or other authorities).

Also, the footage taken by each camera is stored for a determined period of time (as specified by the law), so if anyone would want to piece out one’s route throughout the city or country, they could with ease.

While it may seem like a Big Brother program, the ANPR proved highly effective in solving all sort of cases from theft to terrorism. There’s also an upside of the system, as law-abiding citizens don’t get pulled over as often.

Protecting your Plates

The ANPR system is highly effective but it can also affect law-abiding citizens whose plates are stolen or get cloned. To avoid this, number plates should be properly secured to make them less attractive to thieves, particularly if you have a sought-after personal plate.

It’s also important to cover your plates or obscure them digitally if you post pictures of your car online. While a personalised number is more difficult to clone, a regular one can get you in a lot of trouble. Thieves are usually smart about this practice and use cloned numbers on a vehicle similar in specifications and color, so it’s more difficult to identify the difference in video footage.

In general, it’s your responsibility to take care of your car’s number plates, just as you take care of your vehicle!


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