What happens twice every year? And before you answer, we’re not talking about the Queen’s birthday, or changing the clocks. No, we’re talking about a fresh batch of vehicle registration numbers. In March and September each year, a whole new set of UK number plates are introduced - plates which obey a system that not only identifies the vehicle uniquely, but also shows its year of registration.
So far, so familiar. We’ve probably said nothing yet that’s new to you. But what might come as more of a surprise is that many of the registration numbers generated under this system are banned by the DVLA. In fact, each year, hundreds of numbers are given the thumbs-down by the authorities.
Why? Simple. It’s because they could cause offence. According to the DVLA, many numbers “. . . are withheld if they are likely to cause offence or embarrassment to the general population in this country on the grounds of political, racial and religious sensitivities or simply because they are in poor taste when displayed correctly on a number plate.˜
Take, for example, the year 2017. As well as banning any plate ending in ARS or DAM (which can happen any year), plates such as BA67 TRD and HU67 WLY were considered non-starters. And, among the 400-plus plates that were red-lined in 2018, were those with clear sexual connotations, such as OR68 ASM and DO68 GER, as well as any with implied references to private parts using the prefix MY (e.g. MY68 COX and MY68 NOB). References to violence were also thrown out, such as MU68 GER and ST68 HER.
So – who is it that makes the decision on what’s acceptable and what’s not? Well, for once, it’s not a bot or an algorithm. It’s a human being. “There’s nothing scientific about it,” said a DVLA spokesperson, “It’s all done by taste and if some slip through the net and we get a complaint, we take the feedback on board.”
And it’s not just alphanumeric combinations specific to a year that get axed. Last year, a car wearing the plate JH11 HAD was spotted in Newport, South Wales. It was re reported to the authorities and consequently banned. It has been revealed that JE** HAD and *J11 HAD have also been declared invalid.
But before you run away with the idea that the DVLA is entirely devoid of a sense of fun, it’s worth recalling that there are lots of smile-inducing plates that survive the de-selection process. Only this week we saw a Mini Cooper S with the plate KI55 SME, and a Nissan Micra boasting that it was KI NKY.
According to the DVLA spokesperson: “The vast majority of registration numbers are made available but the agency holds back any combinations that may cause offence, embarrassment or are in poor taste.”