Green number plates explained: about the UK’s electric car registration plates

In the UK, zero-emissions vehicles can display a green flash on their numberplates. Here’s how it works…

Green numberplate flash

Green number plates aren’t actually green. Since December 8 2020, electric cars in the UK can be fitted with standard numberplates that feature a green ‘flash’ on the left-hand side. The plates are still white at the front and yellow at the back as normal, but there’s a small green rectangle to indicate that the car has an EV powertrain. 

The first driver to get a green plate fitted was the then UK Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, who had a Tesla Model 3 adorned with the registration design. Shapps said: "Green number plates will help increase awareness of cleaner vehicles on our roads, demonstrating that a more environmentally friendly transport future is within our grasp”.

Why were green numberplates introduced?

The green box for EV number plates was announced in June 2020 by Shapps, with the aim of further raising the profile of battery-powered cars, and paving the way for possible incentive schemes to encourage the take-up of electric vehicles. 

The green plates were spearheaded by the Department for Transport (DfT) ahead of the proposed ban on the sale of new conventional internal-combustion engined cars from 2030, and the UK’s aim of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. The plates make it easier to identify electric cars at a glance, theoretically enabling local authorities to design and implement new policies that will encourage more people into them, such as cheaper parking and free entry into clean air zones.

Even with clean air zones mainly relying on Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) camera technology linked to the DVLA database rather than green flashes on number plates, the hope was that by increasing the prominence of EVs, future car buyers may be nudged to participate in the electric revolution - the green plates acting as something of a badge of virtue.

The move to introduce green number plates followed a consultation launched late in 2019, with the proposals inspired by a similar scheme in Ontario, Canada. The Canadian programme sees EV and plug-in hybrid drivers given free access to toll lanes and car-pool lanes, even if only one person is in the car, and led to an increase in EV purchases.

What cars can display a green numberplate?

The green numberplate signifies that the vehicle displaying it is zero-emissions, that means only pure electric cars and hydrogen fuel cell cars can legally display the green flash. You cannot use green number plates of hybrid or plug-in hybrid vehicles, even those that can travel certain distances in zero-emissions mode.

The green number plate is not restricted to new cars. If you bought a new electric car from 2021 onwards, there’s a good chance it will have had a green number plate fitted but owners with older cars can add the plates retrospectively if they so choose. It is not compulsory to display a green numberplate on any eligible vehicle.

Where can I get a green numberplate?

If you buy a new electric car today, it will most likely have number plates with the green flash already fitted. If it doesn’t you can probably persuade the dealership to get a set for you.

If you have an older EV without green numberplates and you want one, it’s perfectly straightforward to buy a set of plates with the green flash online from one of the many number plate suppliers. 

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Therein lies a problem though because green numberplates are easily available and while suppliers should carry out the proper checks before supplying plates, some do not. There have been many cases highlighted on social media of cars that are not eligible to display green numberplates driving around with them on.

At the moment, there are very few advantages to having green plates on your car in the UK but if the original intention for local authorities to introduce more schemes to promote EV ownership that rely on the green plates to identify eligible cars comes to pass, cars incorrectly displaying them could become more of an issue. 

Do other countries have green number plates or similar schemes?  

There are a number of countries in Europe and around the world that have similar systems to identify electric cars via their number plates. Norway and Hungary have them as does China and there’s also the Canadian scheme that is said to have inspired the UK version.

Frequently Asked Questions
In the UK, only zero-emissions vehicles can display green numberplates legally. That means cars, motorcycles, vans, buses and HGVs that run exclusively on battery electric power or on a hydrogen fuel cell system.

More on car number plates...

Group website editor

Steve looks after the Auto Express website; planning new content, growing online traffic and managing the web team. He’s been a motoring journalist, road tester and editor for over 20 years, contributing to titles including MSN Cars, Auto Trader, The Scotsman and The Wall Street Journal.

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