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The Difference between License Plates in the U.S. and Europe

Vehicular registration plates, more commonly known as license plates, are the go-to method of automobile identification throughout the world. Different parts of the globe have differing regulations when it comes to license plates, with the United States and Europe featuring varying methods of vehicle identification.
History of the License Plate
License plates, as it turns out, were created before the dawn of the automobile and were used on horse carriages. The earliest license plates were made of porcelain pressed into un-backed iron or ceramic materials, making them very fragile and susceptible to destruction upon impact.
Porcelain License Plates
Porcelain license plates from the early 1900s.
License plates were born in France in the late 1890s, and eventually became standard in Europe. New York was the first state to pass license plate laws for horse-drawn carriages and tractors in 1901, with the majority of American states following suit over the course of the next thirty years.
Throughout the world, the majority of governments require license plates on the front and back of automobiles. In the United States, the number of license plates required (either one or two) varies from state to state, although a plate must always appear on the rear bumper throughout the nation. Individual states also have differing laws regarding out-of-state plates after relocation – for example, Florida residents moving to Rhode Island are permitted to keep their Florida license plates, despite their place of residency, but RI citizens must surrender their plates upon leaving the state.
American Plates
A common practice in the United States among drivers is to customize their own license plates in comical and/or personal forms. Compared to the European Union; the license plate regulations in the United States seem scattered and haphazard, with these vanity plates giving virtually no information about the car or its owner. The concept of paying to customize license plates in the European Union is not an option, as the license plate reveals a great deal of information about the driver, his or her country of origin, and the car that he or she is driving.
California Vanity Plate
Many American drivers take advantage of license plate freedoms
In the United States however, the aforementioned vanity license plates let the motorist decide what text or numerals will appear on his or her license plate. When drivers choose against the added expense of a vanity plate, the letters and numbers on license plate are completely random. The number of characters permitted on a license plate varies from state to state and is based on population, with California topping the list with seven unhyphenated characters.
California Standard License Plate
Even in the state with the most characters, U.S. license plates still divulge very little information about the vehicle
European Plates
In the European Union, license plates are far more strict and organized. The vehicle registration plates in Europe underwent changes in 1998, when the Council Regulation decided on a standardized format for automobiles throughout the EU. These regulations follow this format:
European License Plate Guide
A graphic explanation of European license plate formatting.
Catching Violators
This system makes ticketing extremely easy and efficient for catching violators. For example, if a driver decides to leave his car idling in a bus lane in London, a CCTV camera that is monitoring the lane will be able to identify that a violation is happening simply by scanning the license plate. Because cars and buses have different plate formats, the camera will know within seconds whether or not the vehicle in the bus lane is actually a bus. It can then take a video recording of the violation, to be sent out to the traffic authorities. This leads to more violators being caught, more tickets handed out, and more revenue for the government. License plate recognition software can also locate violators in fire lanes, bike lanes, and regulated parking areas.
Additionally, the E.U.’s system is much more organized than having to consult a wide database, as is in America. It all but guarantees that there are no two license plates with the same information throughout the European Union, whereas in America there can be overlaps from state to state. By reducing confusion (they even exclude I, Z, and S, from the 3 random letters portion, in order to avoid confusion with the numbers 1, 2, and 5, respectively) with an optimized and efficient system, the EU is able to keep a more regulated database of automobiles with a more accessible user interface.
Material
License plates in both America and Europe are generally required to be aluminum and retroflective, allowing for clear visibility in day and night hours. This regulation eases identification and ticketing for police officers and uses the same technology that is common in road signage throughout the world.
While registration plates differ from country to country, both the European Union and United States have strictly enforced laws regarding the ownership and display of vehicular identification. While the EU may not allow you to customize your license plate for an additional cost, its plating system outshines that of the United States’ in terms of efficiency and practicality.
Star Wars License Plate
Though this Star Wars enthusiast wouldn’t be in favor, should the U.S. ever adopt the E.U.’s plate registration systems, traffic and parking violation revenues would increase, and our ticketing and registration buracracies would find ther job probably a bit easier.
To design a custom metal sign, click here.

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