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Keep Your Plates Clean In Winter

The law in the UK requires the display of a compliant number plate on the front and rear of a motor vehicle and the display must be visible otherwise the plates cannot be read.  Damaged or worn registration plates or those which have developed marks over the letters or numbers will be in contravention of the law but equally, those which have been obscured by mud or dirt from the road also risk interest from the police and possibly even a fine. To find out more about preparing your car for winter see:

Winter is the time of year when cars really acquire dirt and debris from the road particularly if you live in a rural area.  Rock salt which is the grit used to keep roads safe in icy conditions in particular leaves a chalky, white residue that can effectively obscure almost totally the registration plates on your vehicle. 

Visibility of number plates in winter

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The plates on your car need to be visible to the police and also the fixed  ANPR – Automatic Number Plate Recognition – cameras that are dotted about the UK. The maximum fine for not clearly displaying both plates on your vehicle is £1,000 and this applies just as much if they are filthy as for any other reason. 

 It is the law of the land that all cars must be immediately identifiable by their registration plates at all times.  So if you are going on a long journey in muddy, winter conditions, you may find that your plates become obscured during travel and you will need to stop and clean them in order to avoid a possible fine.  Obscured they can also result in an MOT failure.

As the weather heads from autumn into winter, driving requirements change but you can take a few simple steps to keep yourself safe on the road and avoid breaking the law.  The DVLA Rulebook states, “It is an offense to alter, rearrange or misrepresent letters or numbers in order to form names or words or in such a way that it makes it difficult to read the registration number.” This does include unintentional obscuring of the vehicles’ plates due to the road conditions and stating to the Officer that you were not aware of how dirty the plates are is no defense.  The offense and subsequent fine are not based on intent so even an inadvertent error can land you in hot water with the law.

Top Winter Driving Tips

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  • Take sufficient water and cloths with you to clean your number plates during travel.  If your plates are obscured, your headlights and stop lights are probably filthy as well which reduces your visibility and also the ability of other drivers to see you
  • Extra water is useful to top up your windscreen washer on a long journey.  If the roads are dirty and throwing up debris and dirt then you are probably clearing your windscreen far more frequently and on a long journey you may run out
  • Keep an emergency kit in your car – non-perishable food snacks, bottled water, rugs or warm clothing and a plastic shovel to clear snow from under the wheels

About Suzan Vega