A car license plate or registration number plate is a metal or plastic plate attached to a car for official identification purposes. In some countries, the registration number is unique within the entire country, while in others it is unique within a state or province. Whether the registration identifier is associated with an automobile or a person also varies by issuing agency. Depending on the country, the vehicle registration plate may be called a license plate or a number plate.
Number plates have been around almost as long as automobiles, appearing in the earliest period of the transition from the horse, 1890 to 1910. France was the first to introduce a license plate in 1893, followed by Germany in 1896. The Netherlands were the first to introduce a national license plate, called a "driving permit", in 1898.
The earliest plates were made out of porcelain baked onto iron or ceramic with no backing, which made them fragile and impractical. Few of these earliest plates survive. Later experimental materials include cardboard, leather, plastic and during wartime shortages copper and pressed soybeans.
Most governments require a registration plate to be attached to both the front and rear of an automobile, although certain jurisdictions or vehicle types, such as motorcycles, require only one plate, which is usually attached to the rear of the vehicle. National databases relate this number to other information describing the vehicle, such as the make, model, color, year of manufacture, engine size, type of fuel used, vehicle identification number or Chassis Number and the name and address of the vehicle's registered owner or keeper.
License plates are commonly known as number plates in India. The license number is issued by the Regional Transport Office (RTO) of respective states. By law, all plates are required to be in modern Hindu-Arabic numerals with Roman alphabet. Other guidelines include having the plate lit up at night and the restriction of the fonts that could be used.
On June 1, 2005, the Government of India introduced High Security Registration (HSR) number plates which are tamper proof. All the new automobiles that come into the market need to adhere to the new plates, while existing vehicles have been given two years to comply. Features incorporated include the number plate having a patented chromium hologram; a laser numbering containing the alpha-numeric identification of both the testing agency and manufacturers and a retro-reflective film bearing a verification inscription "India" at a 45-degree inclination. The characters are embossed on the plate for better visibility. The letters "IND" are printed in a light shade of blue on the observers left side under the hologram.
In the early 2000s, the number plate colouring scheme changed. The number plates of private car and two-wheeler come with a white background with black lettering. On the other hand, commercial vehicles such as taxis and trucks have a yellow background and black text, while vehicles belonging to foreign consulates have white lettering on a light blue background. The President of India and state governors travel in official cars without license plates. Instead they have the Emblem of India in gold embossed on a red plate.
Until the late 1980s, the Indian license plate system followed the scheme : SAA 1111, where S was the state code, AA were letters of the specific RTO; and 1111 was the unique license plate number. Older vehicles still exhibit this legally valid numbering scheme.
In India, the present format of the registration is: AA 11 BB 1111, where AA is a two-letter identification for the state in which the vehicle is registered, 11 is a two-number code to identify the district, 1111 is the unique license plate number and BB are the optional alphabet if the 9999 numbers are used up. In the union territories and the erstwhile union territory of Delhi, the district code is omitted. All Indian states and Union Territories have their own two-letter code.
The Government of India, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, the nodal ministry, has formulated strict specifications and enforcement rules for the new High Security Registration Plates. The states have recently started introducing them in phased manner. This standardisation along with strict enforcement is expected to bring about sea change in law enforcement and registration process of vehicles in the country.
Military vehicles in India have a unique numbering system unlike any other license numbers. The numbers are registered by the Ministry of Defence in New Delhi and appear to have a pseudo-random numbering. The first or the third character is always an arrow pointing upwards. The first two digits signify the year in which the Military procured the vehicle.
Moreover, vehicle belonging to foreign missions bear the plates CD or CC, which stand for Diplomatic Corps or Consular Corps respectively. A diplomatic plate numbered 13 CC xxxx would refer to country 13, probably a country close to the letter A or B. For example, a vehicle bearing the number 77 CD xxxx in India refers to a vehicle owned by either the United States mission in India or by a person working with the mission. As per international law cars bearing these license plates enjoy diplomatic exemption.