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Number plates and borders: a European kerfuffle

Map of Ukraine and the borders

Human nature is a peculiar thing, especially when scaled up to the size of nation states.

Whenever we squabble, we seem to grasp at every petty thing we can possibly use to goad or inconvenience the party with whom we are at odds. Strange as it may seem, number plates have become a favourite stick with which fractious countries may poke each other.

Rumbles from the Balkans

The current trend seems to have begun with disputes between Serbia and Kosovo, two states with a complex shared history. Kosovo was formerly part of Serbia but it unilaterally declared independence in 2008. Serbia disputes Kosovo's independence and has always refused to recognise it as a separate country.

As we explained in a previous post, the number plate row began with Serbia banning Kosovo licence plates and requiring vehicles from Kosovo to buy temporary Serb plates in order to drive there. To no one's great surprise, Kosovo reciprocated with a ban on Serbian plates and a requirement that vehicles from Serbia buy Kosovo-issued temporary plates. In 2022, Kosovo ordered its own ethnic Serb citizens to dispense with their Serbian plates and replace them with number plates issued by Kosovo. A degree of chaos ensued with a large number of ethnic Serb police officers resigning from the Kosovo force.

In 2023, Serbia decided to allow Kosovo's cars to drive in the country with their normal, Kosovo-issued plates. The Serbian government insisted that the concession categorically did not imply recognition of Kosovo as an independent state. Kosovo subsequently removed restrictions on Serbian plates.

Poking the bear

Even as the Balkan number plate affair was calming down, licence plates were being politicised to the north and east, as a host of European countries introduced various restrictions on vehicles bearing Russian number plates. The measures were in response to Russia's invasion and ongoing aggression in Ukraine.

Before long, the EU issued a statement to the effect that Russian vehicles would be banned from entering all EU member states and individual countries, including some not in the European Union, have taken their own steps to exclude Russian vehicles. In February 2024, Latvia enacted legislation allowing the confiscation of vehicles registered with Russian number plates. The last European country bordering Russia to implement a ban was Norway, but it too has now joined the exclusion policy. Details of how bans work vary from state to state, and some countries still allow access to vehicles merely passing through their territories. Others ban private cars but allow buses.

Political football

Restrictions on freedom of travel by Russian vehicles, and the use of number plates as a tool to enforce them, will obviously not stop the war in Ukraine. As a cumulative body of punitive measures against an aggressor state, however, it all adds up. Asset-freezing, travel bans, trade restrictions and embargoes: it is impossible to say whether any of these will be the proverbial last straw but as long as there are non-military options to increase the pressure for peace, it surely makes sense to pursue as many of them as possible.

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The role of DVLA

Car registrations and number plates, including personalised number plates, in the UK, are the responsibility of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, usually known as the DVLA. It issues new registrations twice a year and also maintains the central database that records details of all vehicles licensed to drive on UK roads, along with their keeper and registration information.

Regtransfers works closely with DVLA to complete registration transfers as quickly and efficiently as possible. Regtransfers is a DVLA-registered supplier of personal car registrations and number plates and is listed on the DVLA Registrations website. All number plates supplied by Regtransfers comply with DVLA's prescribed standards and regulations.

DVLA administers all UK registration transfers and issues updated registration documents when the registration number of a car is changed, or when a registration is removed from a vehicle and placed on a retention document in accordance with the DVLA Retention Scheme.

DVLA is a registered trade mark of the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency. Regtransfers is not affiliated with the DVLA or DVLA Personalised Registrations. Regtransfers is a recognised reseller of unissued Government stock.

Number plate regulations

When a car is on the road, it is an offence to display number plates bearing any number other than the vehicle's officially recorded registration number. If you purchase a private registration, learn how to transfer private plates before displaying the new number.

All registration number plates displayed on UK vehicles must comply with the official number plate regulations. DVLA oversees enforcement of number plates display regulations and maintains a register of approved manufacturers and retailers of vehicle number plates.

Regtransfers is not part of, and is not formally affiliated with DVLA.

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