October 14th, 2020 at 10:48 pm
Regardless of whether or not you are aware of the legalities surrounding them, there’s a good chance you’ve seen number plates on vehicles in the UK from time to time that look a little different from the vast majority. Sometimes, such in the case of something like black plates with silver characters they can be perfectly legal as long as the vehicle they’re on fits the relevant criteria for displaying them. In other cases, however, even though they may look very similar to regular modern number plates, some of these ‘different’ plates are actually totally illegal.
What are honeycomb number plates?
The chances are you’ve probably seen honeycomb number plates on cars on UK roads, although they can be hard to spot unless you’re looking for them or you’re pretty close to one as they usually look a lot like regular number plates. Honeycomb number plates are called that because they have a subtle honeycomb pattern that’s over the top of the white or yellow background of rear and front registration plates.
Most of the time they will be the same size as normal plates and they usually use the same font as regular number plates, and that’s why you might not notice the honeycomb effect unless you’re actively looking out for it.
What’s the point of honeycomb number plates?
Some people want honeycomb number plates just for the sake of being different, and some even like the idea of pushing things to what they believe are the legal limits. Another reason why some people might think it would be a good idea to fit honeycomb number plates is that they believe it will make their registration number invisible to ANPR cameras.
ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) cameras are a technology used to read the number plates of driver’s cars. They can be mobile or fixed and they are increasingly being positioned all across the country and used to catch drivers committing an ever-increasing number of different offences. They’re obviously used by the police to catch speeding drivers, identify stolen vehicles, and as a tool for catching criminals generally, but they’re also now being used by local authorities and private companies to enforce car parking charges, congestion charges and more.
Because there are quite a few different types of camera system used to read number plates these days it’s impossible to say for certain that honeycomb number plates do or do not appear visible to cameras. On the whole, though, it’s pretty safe to say the latest cameras will be able to read these plates just fine, but it wouldn’t even matter if a camera can’t read a honeycomb number plate.
In the unlikely event that a camera was unable to automatically read a honeycomb or any other sort of dodgy registration plate design, the image would merely be passed onto a human who would be able to read it. The chances are you then run the risk of not only getting the original fine but also of getting a visit from the Old Bill for displaying an illegal plate on your vehicle.
Are honeycomb number plates illegal?
You may or may not be pleased to hear that the answer to whether honeycomb plates are illegal for use on a UK vehicle is yes, and no.
Since September 1st 2001 it has been illegal in the UK for vehicle number plates on new vehicles to have a honeycomb or similar background effect, but that’s only for cars registered since that date. If your vehicle was registered before that date, then technically you wouldn’t be breaking the law if you use them. If that makes you want to get a set of honeycomb plates because the vehicle you want to put them on was registered on or before September 1st 2001 then good for you, but make sure you and your vehicle are squeaky clean as your number plates might still draw unwanted attention.
Why can you buy them online then?
Just because you can buy something online or anywhere else doesn’t mean it’s legal or that you should buy them. We could draw up a long, long list of items you can go out and buy that are not only legal to use, but are also illegal to own, buy and sell. Honeycomb number plates don’t fall into that sort of category, but unless you have some incredibly strong opinions about putting them on your pre-September 1st 2001 registered vehicle then it’s probably best to stay clear of them.
You will also find other types of supposedly “stealthy” number plates online, but just ask yourself for a moment why your local car parts shop that’s licensed to make and sell number plates by the DVLA doesn’t offer these options as part of its service.
Potentially costly, even without a fine
Even if you have a set of these illegal plates on your vehicle and you never get pulled by the police, having them on your vehicle can still prove costly. If you take your vehicle in for an MOT and the garage is on their game, having non-compliant number plates will cause your vehicle to fail its MOT. You may well know someone who has a set of these plates and has never failed their MOT as a result, but in my experience MOT garages are increasingly vigilant.
I recently met a guy on a course who had an elderly Toyota Land Cruiser with a fabulous set of big alloys wrapped in even bigger Dunlop Wrangler tyres that looked almost brand new. The wheels and tyres looked to be worth about as much as the vehicle, but he told me he only paid £160 for the lot when the tyres alone should have been £400 each. The reason was the previous owner had imported them in from America at great cost, but because they didn’t have the CE mark on them his garage failed him on his MOT for them. He then sold them on eBay for all he could get for them and the Land Cruiser guy snapped them up for a song.
Of course, he believes “his” garage won’t fail him for that as the tyres are legal in every other way and his local garage isn’t that pedantic. You may think because your honeycomb number plate is the right colour and size and has the right font that your MOT station won’t fail you, but I wouldn’t bet against it as they’re a lot more obvious than the missing CE mark on a huge off-road tyre.
You might think you’ll get away with honeycomb plates, but what’s so good about them that it’s worth the potential risks of hassle, expense, and a brush with the law?