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No one can argue the necessity of the motor car. Even from its early beginnings it could be seen that some government control had to be issued to ensure for the safety of pedestrians and the general population. With over 5000 cars already being used in the U.K. by 1900, Parliament decided that registrations were in order. The Motor Car Act of 1903 was implemented on 1 January, 1904 and demanded that all localities set up a Registration and Licensing Authority.
A system of number plates to prove a car registration was quickly decided upon and the first plate, numbered A1, was issued for 20 shillings. It is rumored that the now deceased, Roy Palmer sold both the original A1 and 1A plates to a Royal prince and are now valued at £1 million. These first number plates were not bound by date and a system of 1 or 2 letters to indicate the local authority and up to 4 numbers. When 9999 was reached, a new letter series was issued.
The first system was messy and disorganized. Plate combinations began to run out and in 1932 a new system of 3 letters followed by 1 to 3 numbers was put into place, AAA 1 to YYY 999. I and Z were reserved for Ireland. This system is still used today in North Ireland except they’ve added a fourth number. When this system began to run out of combinations in 1950, authorities began to release plates with reverse ordering, from 1 AAA to 999 YYY. This time it was only ten more years before sequences were running low again and as an emergency measure, plates were issued with a reverse of the first system used in 1904, 1A to 9999 YY.
In 1963, the overwhelming number of automobile owners demanded a new system with a letter suffix added to registrations to denote the year of the registration. The complexity left confusion among all the separate local authorities and in 1965 the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Center (DVLC) was created to issue the registrations from a central agency. 81 offices were established around the nation to serve the population.
In 1982, the suffixes ran out to denote the year, so the letter began to be added, beginning with A, before the numbers and this lasted until 2001 when the style used now was begun that uses a 2-letter regional code combined with 2 numbers for the date and then followed by a random set of 3 more letters.