The Evolution of Registration Plates

The beginning was set by the police department in Paris in 1983; today, virtual plates exist

The Evolution of Registration Plates

Снимка: Pixabay

Автор: Iliyan Tsvetanov

Today, the registration plate is an essential part of any car. Driving without it is prohibited in all countries around the world and drivers caught in such a violation pay a fine. The plate is a metal/plastic signboard or even a screen mounted on the front and the back of the car (in some countries it can only be mounted on the back, as well as in some US states) and serves as a means of identifying both the car and its owner. But who is responsible for its creation?


The home of the car is Europe, and with its invention, we have received all kinds of related innovations that shape the world we drive in today. Everyone knows that the inventor of the car is a German, but France is the initiator for all motor vehicles to be numbered in one way or another.

By the end of the 1990s, the number of road vehicles was increasing significantly and society was facing difficulties, which it was completely unfamiliar with until then. The police officers needed a way to track cars in the event of an accident or damage to private property. Local authorities were also looking for ways to take money from drivers in order to restore the rapidly deteriorating infrastructure. And car owners themselves needed a way to assert themselves.

Thus, France made a step and with the decree of the Paris Police of 1893, the registration plate made its début. It was first introduced in the Seine department, and by 1901, it had spread throughout the country. At that time, it was an identification plate made by the car owner himself, mounted on the car and visible at all times. Three years later, Germany followed the example of France and adopted similar rules. The first nation to affix their nationality to car numbers became the Netherlands – in 1898. In Bulgaria, registration plates were introduced in the 1920s.


The Americans lagged a little behind – only in 1901. It was then that New York Governor Benjamin Odell Jr. signed a bill requiring the owner’s initials to be visible on the back of the car and the car itself to be registered in the state. Two years later, black numbers written on a white background became the norm.

However, New York residents were not officially issued registration plates until 1909. The first state to do so was Massachusetts in 1903. Over time, more states joined in, and some even showed creativity.

Whatever region we take, however, registration plates have been developing there for at least five decades. Initially, they were made by the owners of the vehicles themselves from improvised materials – wood, metal, as well as cardboard, leather and even copper and pressed soy.

Three Standards

Like any other human project, registration plates also needed standardization. Attempts to enforce a single standard continue to this day, as car numbers are very different from one another on a global scale and often even within the same country.

Since the 1950s, there have been three basic standards (at least with regard to size): in Europe - 520x110 mm or 520x120 mm, in America - 305x152 mm or 305x160 mm, and in most countries in Asia and Australia - 372x135 mm.

Digital Plates

Last year, virtual registration plates were introduced in several countries, which is quite logical in the age of digital technology. First, this happened in the US states of California and Arizona. The plate can be connected to the Internet with the help of a special browser and together with it, other useful information can be displayed, including the remaining time until the end of the paid parking period. Later, the authorities in Dubai did the same, with the digital registration plate also displaying all sorts of useful information for the drivers, such as places where there are traffic jams, accidents, and the inscription “stolen” if the car is declared missing.

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