Facts

A vehicle registration plate is a metal or plastic plate attached to a motor vehicle or trailer for official identification purposes. The registration identifier is a numeric or alphanumeric code that uniquely identifies the vehicle within the issuing region’s database. In some countries, the identifier is unique within the entire country, while in others it is unique within a state or province. Whether the identifier is associated with a vehicle or a person also varies by issuing agency. Depending on the country, the vehicle registration plate may be called a registration plate (UK), license plate (US), number plate, or tag.
Some jurisdictions license non-traditional vehicles such as golf carts, particularly on on-road vehicles such as this one in Put-in-Bay, Ohio.

Legal requirements
Most governments require a registration plate to be attached to both the front and rear of a vehicle, 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 and mileage recorded during the vehicles annual (or bi-annual) road worthiness test, Vehicle identification (Chassis) Number and the name and address of the vehicle’s registered owner or keeper.

In some jurisdictions plates will be permanently assigned to that particular vehicle for its lifetime. Some countries permit the re-registration of the vehicle with “personal” (“vanity” or “Cherished Mark”) plates. If the vehicle is destroyed or exported to a different country it will require re-registering in the country of import. China requires the re-registration of any vehicle that crosses its borders from another country, such as for overland tourist visits, regardless of the amount of time it is due to remain there; this has to be arranged with prior approval.

In others, such as U.S. states, they may require periodic changing. For cost-saving reasons the tendency for the past three decades has been to replace a small decal on the plate or to use a decal on the windshield to indicate the expiration date of the registration. Some jurisdictions follow a “plate-to-owner” policy, meaning that when a vehicle is sold the seller removes the current plate(s) from the vehicle. Buyers must either obtain new plates or attach plates that they already hold, as well as registering their vehicles under the buyer’s name and the plate number. A person who sells a car and then purchases a new one can apply to have the old plates put onto this car. One who sells a car and does not buy a new one may, depending on the local laws involved, have to turn the old plates in or destroy them, or may be permitted to keep them. Other states keep the plate with the vehicle when ownership passes.

Plates are usually fixed directly to a vehicle or to a plate frame that is fixed to the vehicle. Sometimes the plate frames contain advertisements inserted by the vehicle service centre or the dealership from which the vehicle was purchased. Vehicle owners can also purchase customised frames to replace the original frames. In some U.S. states license plate frames are illegal. Plates are designed to conform to standards with regards to being read by eye in day or at night or by electronic equipment. Some drivers purchase clear, smoke-colored or tinted covers that go over the license plate to prevent electronic equipment from scanning the license plate. Although perhaps useful to those avoiding detection from police, these covers are not legal in the United States and their use is discouraged in other countries. The British system of traffic and DVLA number recognition system cameras incorporate filter systems that make such avoidance attempt unworkable, usually with infra-red filters.

A license plate from another state can be worn on a vehicle if the jurisdiction and local laws permit it. If the local laws assign only a rear plate, it is possible to have the license plate of another state, doing so will not result in illegality.[citation needed]

Many jurisdictions have reciprocal agreements with other jurisdictions, allowing license plates from other jurisdictions to be used in their jurisdiction. For example, if a vehicle is registered in any U.S. state (including Washington, D.C. and its territories), under federal law that vehicle may be driven into any other U.S. state, and into some other countries, including Canada and Mexico, due to international agreements and treaties.
[edit] History

License plates have been around for longer than there have been automobiles. The City of Victoria in the Province of British Columbia, Canada was the first to introduce the vehicle licence plate in 1884 for a horse-drawn hackney carriage.[1] France was the first country to introduce the license plate, in 1893, followed by Germany in 1896.[2] The Netherlands was the first country to introduce a national licence plate, called a “driving permit”, in 1898. The first licences were plates with a number, starting at 1. By August 8, 1899 the counter was at 168. When the Netherlands chose a different way to number the plates on January 15, 1906 the last issued plate was 2001.

In the U.S., where each state issues plates, New York State has required plates since 1901. At first, plates were not government issued in most jurisdictions and motorists were obliged to make their own. Massachusetts and West Virginia were the first states to issue plates, in 1903.

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.

Earlier plates varied in size and shape from one jurisdiction to the next, such that if one moved, new holes would need to be drilled into the bumper to support the new plate. Standardization of plates came in 1957, when automobile manufacturers came to agreement with governments and international standards organizations. While peculiar local variants still exist, there are three basic standards worldwide.
* 300 mm by 150 mm (12 by 6 inches) – in the majority of the license plates in the USA.