We don’t see things as fundamental to our daily lives as vehicle number plates and driving licences redesigned very often, and it’s even rarer for both to be redesigned at the same time. That’s exactly what has recently happened though as we entered 2021 and our new national life as a third country outside the European Union. The changes are not massive, but they are significant, so let’s take a look at what’s changed and the rules associated with new UK number plates and driving licences.
New UK vehicle registration plates
There are at least two pieces of good news about the new number plate design that has been available since January 1st 2021. The first good thing about the change is the fundamental rules regarding size, fonts, colours and the numbering system itself remain unchanged. On March 1st we will still go to “21” plates, on September 1st we will still go to “71” plates and so on.
Another good thing for UK motorists is there’s no need to change existing plates for the new design. Just because this new design is now available doesn’t mean you have to ditch your old plates and get a set of new ones made, but if you want to drive your vehicle in continental Europe with your existing plates on there are some rules you need to adhere to that we’ll look at later on.
Of course, there will be some people out there who really don’t want their UK registration plates to have GB and a Union Flag on them for some reason, and it’s good news for them too as they can have plates made that have no flag or identifier on them whatsoever if they prefer.
New UK driving licence
Design changes to the UK driving licence are perhaps even less noticeable than the new number plate design, especially as driving licences spend most of their time hidden away in wallets and purses. Just as with the new number plates, drivers are under no obligation whatsoever to change their existing picture card licence for a new one until the old one requires replacing. You only need to get a new licence if your old one has expired or if you lose it.
However, unlike number plates where you have a choice of design, when you do eventually have to get around to ordering a new licence you will get the new design. The new licence replaces the EU flag with GB in the middle at the top left corner of the card with “UK” written in bold blue letters, and where there was a car wheel design on the old one on the right there’s now a Union Flag.
Thanks to agreements between the UK government and the remaining 27 countries of the EU, the new driving licence will still be accepted throughout Europe as proof of you being fit to drive. It was suggested that after the UK left the EU we would have to obtain an international driving licence to be allowed to drive on the continent, but that hasn’t turned out to be the case. Just as we have equivalence for driving licences between the UK and the USA when we drive over there, your UK driving licence (new and old until it expires) will be perfectly valid throughout Europe.
Rules and regulations
If you’re going to be getting a new car soon or even if you just need to get a new set of number plates made up with a private number you’ve just bought, there are probably more rules and regulations to consider than you may be aware of.
Having the Union Flag and “GB” on the left-hand side isn’t your only option by any means. As mentioned earlier, you can choose to have no identifier whatsoever, but you can also choose from several alternative identifiers too. As well as the standard Union Flag and GB, you can also have the Cross of St George, the Cross of St Andrew or the Red Dragon of Wales on your UK-issued plate. Even so, the flag you choose must still be placed above the appropriate country identifier.
The identifiers available for UK number plates include GREAT BRITAIN, Great Britain or GB UNITED KINGDOM, United Kingdom or UK; CYMRU, Cymru, CYM or Cym; ENGLAND, England, ENG, Eng; SCOTLAND, Scotland, SCO or Sco; WALES or Wales. The flag always has to be placed above the identifier, the flag or letters are not allowed to be on the number plate margin, and the maximum width for either is 50 millimetres.
Having a flag and identifier on your number plate isn’t just for show; there are practical reasons for them just as the registration number itself is a practicality. If you have the new style number plate you won’t be required to prominently display one of those “GB” stickers on the rear of your vehicle when driving in Europe. If you have the new GB number plate design you don’t need a GB sticker as well, but if you have any other number plate design you will need a GB sticker in Europe.
You’ll now need a GB sticker if you still have the old-style number plate with the Euro symbol on it as well as if you’ve chosen to go with the national flag of England, Scotland or Wales rather than the Union Flag and GB identifier. On the other hand, if you want to drive your UK-registered vehicle in Spain, Cyprus or Malta you’ll have to have a GB sticker on the rear, regardless of what number plate design you have.
All things considered, the changes to number plate and driving licence designs are not an inconvenience or anything you really have to be concerned about. It is a good idea to know about the changes and what they mean, however, especially if you are considering driving your vehicle on the continent in the future.