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Why Are Number Plates Yellow & White?

In the UK, number plates are white at the front of the vehicle and yellow at the rear. This has several advantages for motorists. Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, it is simple to see at a glance which way a vehicle is facing when you pass it or it approaches you. This could have safety implications.

For example, if a motorist was driving on the wrong side of the road, the colour of the number plate would be one of a number of visual clues that would alert motorists immediately. The quicker road users become aware of this imminent danger, the more rapidly they can act to help avoid an accident.

Secondly, when following other cars, the yellow of the number plate does not cause glare for the driver behind. In fact, it is illegal to display a white light on a vehicle’s rear in the UK, which is why everything from lorries to cars or bicycles will have white lights at the front and red at the rear. As visual issues like glare can cause serious accidents, this is once again a useful safety feature.

Why white and yellow? Well, white is pretty obvious - it’s the clearest background colour for letters and numbers to really stand out against. Given the above reasons for not using white at the rear, the next best choice in terms of background visual clarity is yellow.

What other rules apply to number plates?

Number plates in the UK must be made and displayed according to strict criteria outlined by the DVLA. While white for front plates and yellow for rear is one of these rules, there are several others that apply too:

Age-related plates

While it is fine to display a plate that is older than the car it is attached to, it is not permitted to put a plate on a car that makes the vehicle look newer than it is. This avoids car buyers being fooled into believing a vehicle is newer than is actually the case. However, cherished number plates are dateless and have no requirement!

Font

There is only one permitted style of lettering – the Charles Wright font. This must be used on any vehicle that is used or kept on a public highway.

Size, spacing and italics

The number plates must conform to the exact specifications of the DVLA. There are very strict criteria that determine the precise placing of each letter and number on the plate, including the width and height of the characters and the spacings between them. The letters and numbers must not be in italics, and you cannot change the spacing in order to spell a certain word either.

Pre-1973 vehicles

Different rules apply to vehicles first registered before 1st January 1973. Such vehicles can display traditional black plates with white, silver or grey characters on them. The letters and numbers must still meet strict sizing and spacing criteria.

How do I ensure my number plates are legal?

The DVLA states that all number plates used in the UK must be obtained from a registered number plate supplier, and the organisation provides a comprehensive list of these companies. The supplier should ask to see proof of your identity, as well as the V5 (log book) that tells them you are entitled to use that particular registration mark on that vehicle.

Ensuring you use a registered supplier could save you unnecessary problems further down the line.
 

Other related FAQs

Looking for more related content to this? We’ve picked a selection of related topics that you may find helpful

In short: no. It is illegal to alter a number plates spacing. The reason for this is not only to ensure number plates are clear and easy to remember but also so they can be correctly recognised by imaging systems.

Yes. You must display both a front and rear number plate on any vehicle kept or used on a public highway in the UK. There are also strict rules regarding the type of plate you must have.

It’s illegal to display blue lights on your car’s number plate in the UK and doing so can result in a fixed penalty notice of £50. Only vehicles used by the emergency services may display blue lights.

Whether or not you can display aluminium number plates on a vehicle comes down to its age. As metal does not meet certain standards for modern number plates, aluminium plates can only be used on some historic vehicles.

Gel number plates can be legal, as long as they conform to DVLA criteria. 3D number plates are permitted, provided they are also reflective, without a background pattern, and white for the front or yellow for the rear.