Green number plates for green cars

  • Government considering green number plates for EVs
  • Proposals cover zero emissions and low-emission cars
  • Could a distinctive plate and benefits encourage you to switch?

In a move that reflects similar programmes in Norway, Canada, Hungary and China, the UK Government is considering a new style of number plate for ultra-low emissions vehicles (ULEVs), as a way of quickly identifying cars that could qualify for benefits such as access to ultra-low emissions zones (ULEZ) in cities, bus lanes, multiple-occupancy lanes during times of congestion or preferred parking schemes.

Formalising previous proposals with a consultation period set to run until 14 January 2020, several options are under consideration, including the striking green background for the number plate that would instantly identify the car as a qualifying vehicle.

Which cars could qualify for green plates?

Key to the consultation is identifying which group of vehicles will bring the most benefit. The obvious, and favoured approach, is to only include cars with zero tailpipe emissions - or battery electric vehicles.

One of the fastest growing markets in the UK, EVs also bring the most benefit in terms of local pollution for cities - and it could be argued that they also have the greatest need for support, with specially marked and enforced parking bays to ensure availability of charging points, lanes that allow better use of traffic flow to improve efficiency, and even the environmental consideration of reduced noise pollution.

Tesla Model S with green numberplate

Not all drivers outside of cities are prepared to move to an EV, though. Options under consideration could allow ULEVs with emissions below 50g/km and WLTP plug-in range greater than 70 miles - the same thresholds that allow a plug-in hybrid to qualify for the Plug-in car grant currently. Vehicles with emissions below 50g/km regardless of zero-emissions range are also under consideration, but this route - which would include cars like the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and Range Rover P400e - is not favoured.

As more brands offer a pure EV model, we're inclined to agree with the consultation's favoured group of zero-emissions ULEVs only.

Three different designs of green registration plate proposed in the UK

What benefits will be offered to green-plated cars?

Ultimately, the benefits proposed for cars with green number plates are pretty much the same incentives already offered to owners of ULEVs or EVs. Entry into emissions-control zones in cities or built-up industrial estates, fewer restrictions on bus/taxi lane use (and the option to introduce new lanes for EVs, or allow EVs into areas where noise is otherwise controlled). All of these schemes exist, in one form or another, in addition to the tax advantages of reduced emissions.

Enforcement is another issue, and as current restrictions rely on ANPR and registration data the existence of a green background on the numberplate really won't have any relevance for automated enforcement.

Audi E-Tron green colour flash on side of plate

In fact, the preferred proposal isn't for a full green background, it's for a green alternative to the blue GB/EU flash on the side of the plate, to ensure ANPR systems remain effective regardless of the technology in the cameras.

So what's the point of a green plate, then?

Other countries have found takeup of envionmentally-friendly cars is helped by a clear marker - virtue signalling for the buyers of green cars, and another way for people to feel like they stand out. This would indicate that the wholly-green plate would be preferable to the green flash or dot proposals; but the other aspect of the legislation under consideration is whether the plates are mandatory or optional (and indeed, if they are an opt-out, or opt-in). Countries like Norway precede EV registrations with E; North American licence plates for special classes of vehicle are a legal requirement (though you can often specify patterned backgrounds).

Fitting the green plate wouldn't affect access to ANPR-enforced zones, but it might allow businesses and public spaces to make their own choices about encouraging EV use, such as preferential car-park spaces in supermarkets.

Renault Zoe with green number plate

How can I take part in the green plate debate?

If you have an opinion, let us know on Twitter - @ParkersCars, #greenplatedebate - and if you want to provide feedback to the Department of Transport, you can respond to the consultation on the introduction of green number plates for ULEVs online before 14 January 2020.

Have coloured registration plates been used before?

The current style, of black letters on a reflective background - white for the front, and yellow for the rear, is a legal requirement for cars manufactured after 1st January 1979. Prior to that, the plates could be silver-on-black, though the yellow and white that is now so familiar was an option after 1968, and became mandatory after 1972. The exemption for black and silver is now linked to historic vehicle tax class, and as such, is a rolling 40-year cutoff.

Typeface and material were standardised in 2001 as BS AU 145d and all plates purchased since that date have to conform to the spacing, reflectivity and font. Many drivers circumvent those rules with 'show plates' to mis-space cherished registrations or use non-conforming faults.

You may see diplomatic plates with differing backgrounds, though UK-issued ones conform to current standards.

Trade plates use red letters on a white background.

As such, the green background would be a very dramatic change, drawing attention to this class of environmentally-better cars and their drivers. It could also affect your colour choice - there are some cars that really look odd with anything other than the expected number plate.

Further reading:

>> Find out why the electric Tesla Model 3 has been voted Parkers 2020 Car of the Year

>> Has Renault revitalised its electric Zoe supermini? Find out with our expert review

>> There's a new Golf on the horizon but will the electric Volkswagen ID.3 prove more popular?