The registration plate was the result of the motor becoming more and more popular since it first arrived in the UK. The British Government decided to take various steps to regulate and control the cars that were driving around on British roads. This was very useful because in an event of an accident or a crime the Government could trace the car back to the owner and take appropriate actions.
In 1903 the motor car act issued that all vehicles on British roads had to be registered to their owners and have registration plates attached to the car enabling them to be easily identified. But the issue wasn't put into force until 1904 when it was required by everyone who owned a car in Britain. Since the start of this act many numbering systems have been used to identify cars and their owners and the first numbering system didn't operate until the start of 1932.
The original numbering system got off to a shaky start with various different methods operating and some of the original number systems being changed in some regions in the UK. Very early registration plates had no year identifier, it consisted of having a letter code that denoted the issuing authority of the car and a separate identification number. In England and Wales the letter codes in each area were created alphabetically in comparison to the size of the authority's area. For example somewhere that's crowded like Birmingham got the letter C.
In the rest of the Great Britain the system worked differently with the registration of each car being different to the country it was registered in. For example in Scotland the registration was 'S' and in Northern Ireland it was 'I'. In 1932 the scheme was extended further because the government were running out of possible combinations.
The three systems that have been used over the past 70 years have been:
* The Suffix System- the demands for registration continued to grow as the number of vehicles on Britain's roads increased. The new system used the principle of the regional identification letters as well as the sequential ID numbers. The new part of the registration plate was to add a letter code at the end to indicate the year of the plate being issued to the car. This had good benefits because it enabled people to identify the age of a car if buying second hand and it also meant the number sequence that was used to identify each vehicle could be used again. A example of the suffix system is: AAA1A-YYY999A
* The next system used was the Prefix system. This reversed the Suffix system so the registration plate was the other way around an example is: A1AAA-Y999YYY. This came into force in 1983 when the suffix system ran out of combinations. The year indicator was now at the front of the plate with the region code at the back. It was called the Prefix system because the year was displayed at the front of the plate. Because the system was the same but reversed it had the same advantages as the Suffix System.
* The current system used is what is displayed on the cars today after September 2001. The current registration plate has a two letter regional identifier called the local memory tag. It has a two digit identification number showing the age of the vehicle and then a random three letter combination that allows each vehicle a specific identity.
An example of the current registration plate system is: BD51 SMR- the BD in this number plate stands for Birmingham and each individual region has its own ID. At the start of each year the number ID starts with 0 and 5 after six months of the year. For example, March 2006 would be 06 and November 2007 would be 57. This change for the systems allows registration plates to change twice a year prolonging the life of the current scheme being used.
Vehicle expert Catherine Harvey talks to James Parker about why the UK enforced the use of registration plates as the demand for cars grew.