Vehicle registration plates of Europe
A European vehicle registration plate is a vehicle registration plate, a metal or plastic plate or plates attached to a motor vehicle or trailer for official identification purposes. The registration identifier is a numeric or alphanumeric code that uniquely identifies the vehicle within the issuing authority's database. In Europe most countries have adopted a common format for number plates, such as the common EU format issued in EU member states. This format satisfies the requirements in the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, which states that cross-border vehicles must display a distinguishing code for the country of registration on the rear of the vehicle. This sign may either be an oval sticker placed separately from the registration plate or may be a blue stripe incorporated into the vehicle registration plate. When the distinguishing sign is incorporated into the registration plate, it must also appear on the front registration plate of the vehicle, and have the EU or national flag.
The common EU format of having a blue section on the extreme left with EU circle of stars and the country code was introduced by Council Regulation (EC) No 2411/98 of 3 November 1998 and entered into force on the 11 November 1998. It was based on a model registration plate which three member states had already introduced before: Ireland (1991), Portugal (1992)  and Germany (1994). Luxembourg plates had displayed the European Flag on the left part since 1988.
- The common design consists of a blue strip on the left side of the plate. This blue strip has the European flag symbol (twelve yellow stars), along with the country code of the member state in which the vehicle is registered. Danish plates have a small holographic strip to the right of the blue EU strip.
- EU format plates are either white or yellow, on a plate wider than it is tall. Yellow registration plates are used both front and rear in Luxembourg and the Netherlands. In Gibraltar, the United Kingdom and Cyprus, yellow plates are used at the rear and white at the front. The UK use flat plastic plates (embossed metal plates are an option in the UK), as opposed to metal plates in most other European countries. A mixture of plastic or metal plates is permitted in France and Ireland. Plastic plates have earlier also been used in Sweden and Norway
- Denmark and Hungary use yellow plates for vehicles registered as commercial vehicles and in Greece, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden yellow plates are used for taxi vehicles. Belgium uses red characters and is the only country not to use the standard black-on-white or black-on-yellow combination; with the introduction of European-style plates in November 2010, a slightly darker shade of red was chosen (RAL 3003) to improve legibility. In Norway, cars with front seats only (used for cargo) have green plates with black characters.
- The EU format is optional in Denmark, Finland, the United Kingdom and also Cyprus. This is because of the way in which the Council Regulation implementing the EU Symbol (Reg No. 2411/98) is drafted. It only requires states that have ratified the Vienna Convention of 1968 on road traffic to enforce the EU symbol. This can be seen in Article 3, which reads:
"Member States requiring vehicles registered in another Member State to display a distinguishing registration sign when they are being driven on their territory shall recognise the distinguishing [EU Symbol] sign"
The 'requirement' talked about here - "to display a distinguishing registration sign" is derived directly from Article 37 of the 1968 Vienna Convention (this is actually stated in preamble (3) of Reg 2411/98). So in order for Reg 2411/98 to apply, the state must have ratified the 1968 Convention. Since Denmark, Finland and the UK have not ratified it, Reg 2411/98 technically does not apply and therefore the EU symbol is not a mandatory requirement in those states.
- Vehicles with EU number plates do not need to display the white oval international vehicle registration code while within the European Economic Area.
- Several non-EU European states have implemented similar formats, replacing the circle of stars with own symbols. Norway is an example of such state, issuing europlates with the Norwegian flag replacing the circle of stars. Iceland issues plates with the Icelandic flag above the country code on the left side. From those states that joined in the 2004 enlargement of the European Union Malta already used europlates, while Latvia, Poland and Lithuania had used EU number plates displaying the national flag before their accession, as did Bulgaria and Romania before their accession in 2007.
Vehicles in cross-border traffic are obliged to display a distinguishing sign of the country of registration on the rear of the vehicle. This sign may either be placed separately from the registration plate or may be incorporated into the vehicle registration plate (such as the EU strip). When the distinguishing sign is incorporated into the registration plate, it must also appear on the front registration plate of the vehicle. The physical requirements for the separate sign are defined in Annex 3 of the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic.
Common letter and digit systems between countries
Several countries have made efforts to avoid duplicating registration numbers used by other countries. Nevertheless, this is not completely successful and there are occasional difficulties for example in connection with parking fines and automatic speed cameras.
- Belgium (until 2010), Cyprus, Finland, Georgia (until 2014), Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Sweden (since 1974), and Moldova (since 2014) each use combinations of first three letters and then three digits.
- Greece uses a combination of three letters (which are the intersection of Latin and Greek alphabet, i.e. A, B, E, Z, H, I, K, M, N, O, P, T, Y, X in Greek alphabetic order) and four numbers, in the form of AAA-0000, while Spain uses a four number-three letter combination, in the form of 0000 BBB (vowels and some maybe confusing consonants, like Ñ and Q, are not used)
- Denmark and Norway use two letters and five digits (for trailers in Denmark two letters but just four digits). The plates look very similar, but Denmark has a red border around the plate. Use of the country code on the plate may mitigate this problem (Norway began using the system on 1 November 2006). Denmark has begun running out of combinations in this style and has now introduced combinations previously reserved for Faroe Islands for EU style number plates (which will use different letters than non-EU style plates).
- The Netherlands and Portugal both use three groups of two characters (letters or numbers) in several sequences: AB-12-CD, 12-34-AB, 12-AB-34, AB-12-34, etc. However, Portuguese plates have a white background, while those of Netherlands (after 1978-01-01) have a yellow one, though both countries also use white letters on blue plates for classic cars. Furthermore, newer plates on Dutch vehicles only contain consonants, to avoid coincidental abbreviations or words. Also some sensitive letter combinations, such as SS or SD, are not used. The combination 'AA' is reserved for cars of the royal family. Dutch company registered bus, truck and/or minivan plates always start with a B or a V. Dutch taxis use blue registration plates. The number of new combinations ran out in 2008. By now, new registered cars in the Netherlands use the following format of two digits-three letters-one digit (12-ABC-3).
- Belgium used the sequence ABC-123 between 1973 and 2008. When these combinations ran out in 2008, the inverse sequence 123-ABC was adopted, with the first plate in the new series issued on June 25, 2008. With the introduction of the European format on November 15, 2010, a seven-character combination 1-ABC-234 is used and the previous 123-ABC was discontinued. However, the six-character plates will remain valid and no date is set for their expiration yet. Since Belgian plates are linked to an owner rather than to a vehicle, these older plates are likely to remain in use for a considerable time. As a way to phase out the six-character plates, future vehicle subscriptions will only be possible on the seven-character plates.
- Luxembourg plates use two letters and four digits AB 1234. Older series with only three digits (AB 123) or all-numeric plates with up to five digits are no longer issued but are still in use.
- Current registrations allocated in Romania and the United Kingdom (where the registration contains two digits) are both of the form AB12 CDE). The Romanian rear plates are white whereas UK ones are yellow. There is also a difference in the spacing and the font.
- Sweden. Until 1973/74 the Swedish pattern was one letter representing the län (county) where the car was first registered, followed by four or five digits. However, in the more populated län, a second letter became introduced over time. F.i. vehicles from southernmost county got the letter M + five digits, later also MA + five digits, MB + five digits etc. A problem was that the two northernmost counties had already been given two letters, the letter prefixes AC and BD, as the number of usable letters exceeded the number of counties. The ABC 123 system was introduced gradually from July 1973 until June 1974.
- Slovakia uses AB 123CD and Croatia uses AB 123-CD (in both cases also other patterns are possible). Both countries use a coat of arms after first two letters, and the fonts and colors also look very similar. The plates can be easily distinguished by country code on the blue strip on left.
- Turkey is not a member of the EU, however uses the blue European strip on the left of the plate as a member of European Customs Union (only member of the union without EU membership), with the country code (TR), but without the 12-EU stars sign. License plates consist of letters and digits in combinations of 99 AB 999, 99 A 9999, 99 ABC 99, 99 AB 9999 or 99 A 99999 where the first two digits show which province the vehicle is registered from. First two digits numbers go from 01 to 81 (as there are 81 provinces in Turkey) and each one is assigned to a province with alphabetical order e.g. 01 is the code of the province Adana or 34 is the code of the province Istanbul. All 81 provinces uses "01 AB 123" style plates initially until all combinations ran out, then the province starts to use 01 A 1234 then 01 ABC 12 etc. As a result, three largest provinces i.e. Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir are currently issuing 99 AB 9999 style plates since they used all combinations of previous series but the province Sivas for example, still issues 99 AB 999 plates as having a modest population and number of vehicles. 99 A 99999 series are not regular since they are only used in provinces where commercial vehicles are abundant e.g. Bursa to distinguish these vehicles there from passenger cars. Letters "I" and "O" are only used in the middle 01 ABC 12 series e.g. 34 YOC 34 or 06 TIL 56 to avoid confusion with numerals "1" and "0" respectively. Also some letters combinations like "PKK" are not issued due to their referring to political organizations or words likely to cause offence.
- Montenegro and Serbia, currently not members of the EU, used the following system until 2007: MM 12-34, MM 123-45 or MM 123-456 (MM being two letter abbreviation of municipality), and having state flag (of former Yugoslavia, later Serbia and Montenegro) between municipality and numbers. Montenegro left that system in 2007, and introduced new format: MM AB 123, with Montenegrin coat of arms in circular shape between municipality and letter sequence. Blue strip with MNE country code is placed in the left side, with vacant place for EU stars, in case of joining the Union. Serbia also uses new system with blue strip country code SRB: MM 123-AB and MM 1234-AB, with Serbian coat of arms between municipality and number sequence. The first two letters on the Serbian plates represent the municipality code, written in Latin letters, and repeated in Cyrillic characters with small letters under the coat of arms. The following system is used for taxi vehicles: BG 123 TX or BG 1234 TX, where a TX combination is reserved for this purpose only.
Differing numbering systems
Individual European countries use differing numbering schemes and text fonts:
- Most countries, including Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Macedonia, Montenegro, Norway, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia (formerly also Sweden-until 1973/74, Italy—until October 1993, Bosnia and Herzegovina—until 1998, Lithuania and Spain—until 2000, and Albania—until 2011), have systems in which there is a direct link between a letter or letters appearing on the plate and the town or district where the plate was issued (e.g. "B" and "M" in Germany for Berlin and Munich, "TN" and "ZV" in Slovakia for Trenčín and Zvolen, "BG" and "KG" in Serbia for Belgrade and Kragujevac and "AX" and "KY" in Greece for Achaea and Corfu). Some countries, including Austria, Germany, Slovenia, and Switzerland even include a regional or municipal coat of arms on the plate. In Ireland, all plates have the name of the county of registration in Irish in smaller letters on the top.
- France (until 2009), Turkey and Russia use a system with an indirect number relation to the car's place of registration.
- The UK uses a system based on the region where the car was first registered and the date of registration, for example CA52 GJK, where by the "C" stands for Wales (the name of that country in Welsh being Cymru), the "A" stands for Cardiff (the letters A-O assigned to the city), and the "52" means that the car was registered in the year 2002, in or after September.
- Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denmark, Iceland, Estonia (after 2004), Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden (after 1974) use plates that do not denote location. Since 2000 Spain no longer uses province codes on plates but codes like 'B' for Barcelona or 'M' for Madrid can still be seen, for cars registered before that date.
- Italy, since 1999, has added a blue strip on either side. On the right one are the two digits of the year when the plate was issued (e.g. "99", "05", "08") and below that there may be an optional two-letter code for the province, such as "MO" for the Province of Modena. Albania and France have adopted similar formats.
Vehicle registration plates of each country are described in the following table:
- "EUR-Lex - 31998R2411 - EN - EUR-Lex". Retrieved 26 May 2016.
- "S.I. No. 287/1990 - Road Vehicles (Registration and Licensing) (Amendment) Regulations, 1990.". Retrieved 26 May 2016.
- "License Plates of". Retrieved 26 May 2016.
- "License Plates of Germany". Retrieved 26 May 2016.
- http://www.skat.dk/SKAT.aspx?oId=1815328&vId=0 (danish)
- Media related to License plates of Europe at Wikimedia Commons