Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 31st August 2017

The ultimate expression of freedom is owning a motorbike, as you’re able to go anywhere you want. Every part of a motorbike is important, including the number plate. Number plates have a rich history, going all the way back to the early 1900s. For a long time they didn’t even have a date on them! With the date ID number changing from 66 to 67 on the 1st September 2017, we take a look back at the history of number plates.


Dateless number plates

At the start of the 1900s, there was an increase in the number of moving vehicles, causing more accidents to happen. This led to the creation of the 1903 Motor Car Act, which extended to motorbikes as well. It became a requirement for every vehicle to be registered with a number plate.

Although it’s widely claimed A1 was the first mark to be issued in the UK, DY1 was issued in Kent on the 23rd November 1903. The person to register for A1 was Frank Russell, grandson of prime minister John Russell. Determined to claim the mark, Russell camped outside the council offices all night so he could get it. This is one of the earliest examples of getting a personalised plate for a vehicle.

Early on, a number plate featured a local council identifier code of up to three letters and three random numbers e.g. BCD 234. The first plates lacked any date, so there wasn’t any way of telling the year a motorbike was issued. Surprisingly, this system stayed in place until the 1960s.


Suffix number plates

In 1963, a lot of local councils had run out of registrations, even after adding extra digits and reversing them. This led to the introduction of the Suffix system, and a letter indicating the registration year was added to the end of a plate.

Since 1903, police checks on vehicle records had been time consuming. Everything had to be done manually, which meant the system needed to be revamped. In 1974, the centralised DVLA system was created, meaning local councils weren’t responsible for vehicle registration anymore.


Prefix system

When the Prefix system was introduced in 1983, the letter indicating the year of registration moved to the beginning of the plate.

Here’s a breakdown of what each part of a prefix plate means:

The first letter represents the year a motorbike was registered and put on the road. A stands for 1983, B for 1984 and so on. The last two letters represent the area code where the plate was registered. The remaining numbers and letters don’t have any specific meaning. They simply provide variation.


Current system

The current system was put in place in 2001. A standard plate features the local region, date and random letters. Based on police evidence, witnesses are more likely to remember letters than numbers, and as people read from left to right, it made sense to put the local region at the beginning of a plate.

Under the current system, the date of registration for a vehicle changes in March and September. The system began with 51 to represent the six months from September 2001 and 02 replaced it in March 2002. 52 represents September 2002, 03 represents 2003 and it carried on all the way to 67 for 2017.

The table below gives a more detailed look at the date changes.


YEAR 1st March to August 1st September to February
2001/02 51
2002/03 02 52
2003/04 03 53
2004/05 04 54
2005/06 05 55
2006/07 06 56
2007/08 07 57
2008/09 08 58
2009/10 09 59
2010/11 10 60
2011/12 11 61
2012/13 12 62
2013/14 13 63
2014/15 14 64
2015/16 15 65
2016/17 16 66
2017/18 17 67


If you’re looking to upgrade to a new bike this year, then feel free to tell us about it on our Inside Bikes Facebook channel. All of our policies come with new vehicle replacement up to six months at no extra costs‡. If you’re sticking with the old faithful, Carole Nash has policies to suit you too, such as our future classics policy.


‡Must have comprehensive cover and bike must be less than six months old, subject to underwriting conditions.