Although there are many new harmonisation laws across the European Union , each country still has its own unique way of identifying the vehicles
registered in each country. The only common element is the blue border on the left edge of the number plate with the EU flag and country of origin and even this is optional in many member country. This article compares some of the member countries display of car registrations.
Beginning with England, number plates have black digits on white background ( front ) and yellow background ( rear ) with EU border optional number plates generally stay with the car during its lifetime.The numbering system has 7 digits with age and area identifiers. The first two digits are alpha characters and depict the area the car was first registered the next two are numbers giving the year of registration and the last three letters are random. France is adopting a new system in 2008 of 7 digits comprising two letters three numbers and two letters all purely random any area identify will be by a logo on the blue strip at the right hand side of the plate.
The number plates will remain with the car during its life. France’s current system comprises 3 or 4 numbers then two letters the two numbers , the last two numbers are the area identifier and if a car moves areas it is re-registered. Similar to England the digits are black on a white background for the front plate and black on yellow for the rear.Spain adopted a new system in 2000 which comprises 4 numbers the 3 letters, black digits on white backgrounds front and rear, although the last 3 letters can give an indication of where and when the car was first registered it is not as blatant as the old system where the first two letters of the registration number indicated the capital city of the region concerned e.g M for Madrid and MA for Malaga.
The blue EU border at the left hand side is compulsory on new number plates but was optional on the old system.Germany adopted its current system after re-unification in 1990 with a maximum of 8 black digits on a white background. Much emphasis is placed on the area coding and if the owner changes his/her area of residence new plates must be bought. The registration will start with letters identifying the city and even district with numbers following. The exact combination of letters and numbers depends on how big the city/district is and how many cars are likely to be registered there.
Curiously a space is considered to be a character so any a gap between digits would have a hyphen in it if it was not a space character. In between the area code and the rest of the digits there is a sticker signifying compliance with emmissions and safety testing.
The EU blue strip at the left is mandatory with the letter D for Deutschland. Italy adopted its current system in 1994 comprising 7 digits starting with two letters then 3 numbers then two letters. They discontinued the area identifier with this system but this proved unpopular so since there is option of having a regional code on the right hand side blue band which also displays the year of registration they also added the blue EU band at the LHS at this time. Both front and rear plates are white with black digits.
Belgian car number plates differ enormously from the previous countries in that they are specific to the driver not the car and when you change the car you keep your registration number. The rear plate is government supplied with red digits on a white background. It is usually mounted on a further plate which has the EU blue band at the right hand side. The front plate can either be the same as the rear or can be a European style similar to the previous countries covered earlier. Current numbering system is three letters followed by three numbers although because they are driver specific there are many still in use with one letter and four numbers or 2 letters and 3 numbers.Obviously area and age identifiers are not used as the registration number is specific to the driver not the car.
Dutch number plates have followed the format of two numbers two letter two letters with hyphens between since 1999 , earlier systems were similar but varied the interchanged pairs of letters for numbers and vice-versa.Both plates are yellow with black digits and have the blue EU band at the right hand side. Apart from special plates such as dealer and export plates the numbers and letters have no significance. Danish number plates normally have two letters followed by 5 numbers, displayed by black digits on white background since 1969 there is no area or age identifier although the number part signifies whether the vehicle is a car or bike etc. The blue EU band at the left border is not due to be implemented in 2008.
It is interesting to note that the United Kingdom is the only country amongst the above to use plastic car number plate , nearly all others use pressed metal plates.