Why Are Number Plates Yellow and White?

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It might be something you have thought about much, but car number plates seem to have two key features that are consistent throughout. The plate at the back has a yellow background and the one at the front features a white background. However, in other countries, this is not always the case, so why do we have this arrangement in the UK and is it legally required?

The Law

The current law surrounding the colour of number plates was introduced to cover any vehicle that was manufactured after the1st of January 1973. The full legislation states that numbers plates must be yellow on the rear and white on the front, the characters must be printed in black and the finished material must be reflective. This is to take into account things like speed cameras and police checks as they could be rendered unreadable in camera images. Interesting this is why the military has black number plates with white characters finished in non-reflective material to avoid the sights of laser-guided weapons. But of course, using a non-reflective surface has been tried by civilian drivers; however, no matter the reasoning for doing so they face a £1000 fine if caught and your vehicle will fail the MOT.

Quick Identification

The DVLA also states that the colour difference makes it easy to identify which way round a vehicle is so other drivers are able to see in a moment if there is something coming towards them or driving the other way. Yellow offers an immediate contrast without the black characters being lost on a darker background. Furthermore, no white lights are used on the rear of cars. There are red brake lights, and orange indicators but no white lights as these would be distracting for people travelling behind the vehicle. The plates are the same on motorbikes and any other road-legal car.

French Law

It used to be the same for vehicles in France too, they would have yellow plates at the back and white at the front, but in 2009 they decided to make changes to their registration system. Now both the front and rear plates are white with black characters. If you bring a car registered in France over to the UK, you have six months, and you must inform the DVLA. It will then be reregistered here, and you will be required to change the rear plate back to a yellow background in order to comply with the registrations here. Some people think that the cheapest way is to purchase a stick-on plate to go over the top. However, this is a whole new minefield as the material used in stick-on plates is not reflective, making them illegal here. It is easier just to change the number plate, and there are plenty of places that can print them for you. You will need the V5 or ‘logbook’ to have any number plate made now in order to prevent illegal cloning activities, to prove you are the legal owner.