EDIT – February 2021: An official Government response has appeared regarding the legality of 3D and 4D number plates and it appears that they will continue to be legal under new BS AU 145e rules.

A Parliament Petition has been created asking the Government to reconsider the ban of 3D and 4D number plates. An official Government response from the Department for Transport was given to this petition in February 2021 which contains the following key wording:

The new British Standard for retroreflective number plates does not state that number plates with raised characters, including 3D gel and 4D number plates, will not be permitted.

Now that’s a nice double-negative there, but in summary it sounds like 3D and 4D number plates will not actually be affected by BS AU 145e rules and will continue to be perfectly legal. Great news!

We will continue updating should any more news come to light, as the response goes on to say:

Should evidence subsequently confirm that the use of raised characters that have been attached to a number plate do not comply with the British Standard or can impair the readability of the registration number overall, the DVLA will take appropriate action.

Watch this space.

The original version of our article questioning the legality of these plates appears below:

As a result of new British Standards Institute (BSI) rules confirming to BS AU 145e, it appears 3D and “4D” number plates may no longer be legally permitted on vehicles in the UK from 1st September 2021.

What is a 3D or 4D number plate?

Believe it or not 3D number plates go back many, many years. There have been a few varieties over the years, from aluminium pressed plates, to raised riveted plates, but each has been gradually phased out and for the most part are only legally allowed on pre-1980 vehicles.

Over time official 3D number plates were completely phased out in favour of the flat, plastic number plates we’re all familiar with today. Other “3D” plates in use today refer to the lettering on the plate showing a 3D type shaded contour effect, giving the appearance of raised lettering on a flat printed surface.

However, in recent years more and more number plate suppliers have been developing an alternative 3D lettering which has been gaining popularity.

This new 3D lettering – often dubbed “4D” – consists of physical plastic letters of varying thickness’s adhered to the front of the number plate itself, achieving a literal 3D number plate with raised lettering.

Almost full circle back to the raised riveted number plates of the mid 20th century!

What is BS AU 145e?

BS AU 145e is a new British Standard set of rules outlining the legal specification of British number plates. It fully replaces the previous BS AU 145d rules and comes into force in September 2021.

All number plate manufacturers must adhere to the guidelines specified in these British Standard rules.

There are two key points in BS AU 145e that have called into question the future of 3D number plates. These pertain to the background of the plate being a continuous flat surface, and the letters of the numberplate being non-removable.

So do 3D or 4D number plates abide by these rules? I suppose that’s up to the manufacturer’s interpretation.

Are 3D and 4D number plates getting banned?

Just to be clear, as of writing it has not been absolutely determined that 3D or 4D number plates will be banned. But let’s take a look at what evidence has been given so far.

BS AU 145e does not permit any shade of lettering other than black. This immediately bans the faux 3D lettering mentioned previously that uses contour shades giving the appearance of raised lettering on a flat surface. It also forbids any lettering effects such as a “Carbon” look.

There’s also a quote taken from this this RNPS newsletter outlining the new regulations in which it states:

The agency has not seen any evidence to show that number plates displaying raised plastic, acrylic or Perspex lettering (3D/4D plates) are able to meet the requirements of either the current or new the British Standard.

Now that certainly sounds like 3D letters on number plates will no longer be permitted, and it is the key piece of evidence that brings us this entire saga.

The BSI cite the reasoning behind these new regulations on 3D number plates as being due to ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) cameras and their inability to detect these characters. Many in the industry are thinking the new regulations are simply an opportunity to close a loophole allowing 3D letters.

But I’ve heard conflicting information…

Number plate suppliers are understandably trying to get to the bottom of these rules, and cover their backs. They could potentially be losing out on a substantial revenue stream with the banning of these plate formats.

A typical response to such measures is for plate suppliers to band together and sway public opinion. One such organisation we’ve seen created in the past few days is the BNRA – or “British Number Plate Retailers Association”.

There’s nothing wrong with this, we fully support businesses trying to make sense of weak or vague legislation. However the BNRA is of the viewpoint that 3D and 4D plates are and will remain legal after September 2021. And there’s significant social media clout behind these viewpoints.

At Plates VIP we just report on the news. We hold no stake in either opinion, but just like you we’re trying to get the facts and make sense of the whole situation. We want you to be vigilant and notified of all the facts.

Ultimately the DVLA are yet to commit to a concrete yes-or-no answer regarding the legality of 3D or 4D plates. And until then, everything you may hear is speculation or interpretation. As we write this, we are merely reporting on all available evidence given to us at this point. As soon as any official news breaks or is presented to us we will update this article accordingly.

Resources

  • A copy of the BS AU 145e standard can be purchased from the BSI shop
  • All registered number plate suppliers (RNPS) received this newsletter outlining the new regulations
  • As of writing the Government guidelines website does not reflect these new standards and states “Characters on a number plate can be 3D“, but this may change when the regulations come into force later this year

We are not legal experts. The advice and guidance contained within this article is still up for interpretation and as such we cannot be held responsible for any fines or dues levied for actions partaken stemming from this advice. E&OE.

As always there will be number plate suppliers who do not conform to legal standards and will flout rules under the “show plates” pretence. Just remember, as a consumer it is your responsibility to purchase legal number plates from regulated vendors.

Failure to display a legal number plate on your vehicle may result in a fine of up to £1000, MOT failure and even revocation of your personalised number plate for repeat offences.

Jay is the content manager here at Plates VIP. He has been buying and selling number plates since 2008, so is well versed in the market and an expert on number plate rules and regulations.

A successful number plate sale recently paid for half of his wedding!

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