Number plate changes in 2021 you need to know

Driving on the UK’s roads might look a little different in 2021 – particularly if you’re returning to the UK after spending time abroad.
 
There are distinct changes to newly issued number plates, eg removing EU flags and recognising low emission vehicles. They’re important to know if you want to drive your vehicle abroad or enter clean air zones.
 
Plus, there’s been a whole host of other alterations to driving laws in recent years – and there are more on the cards.
 
So, driving in the UK might be somewhat confusing if you’ve been out of the country for a while. Fortunately, car insurance for expats will help you get back behind the wheel.
 
Read on for our brief guide to the new number plates and other recent and upcoming changes.
 

EU flags on number plates

The UK has now left the European Union, and this is to be reflected in all number plates produced after 31st December 2020.
 
When choosing a new plate, you will no longer have the option to pick an EU flag. Instead, you’ll have the choice of the Union Flag or Jack, the Cross of St George, the Cross of St Andrew or Saltire, or the Red Dragon.
 
These will be accompanied by letters or national identifiers, including: GB, UK, England, Scotland, Wales or Cymru. Other variations are available.
 
The flag must be above the identifying letters, and neither can be on the margin of the plate. They must not be more than 50 millimetres wide.
 
If your number plate has an EU flag already, don’t worry – there’s no need to change it. The system will apply the next time you buy a new car or number plate in the UK.
 
While the choice of flag and identifier is yours, you should be aware of what it means when driving abroad.  If your number plate includes the letters GB and the Union flag or Jack, you don’t need to add a GB sticker.
 
However, you must include a sticker if you have a Euro symbol; an English, Scottish or Welsh flag; or numbers and letters only with no flag or letters. This applies from 1st January 2021.
 The EU flag on the side of a GB number plate

Other number plate changes

If you’re an electric car driver, you’ll be pleased to know you can now get number plates with a ‘green flash’. This helps identify zero-emissions vehicles, which are entitled to cost-free entry into clean air zones in cities.
 
It’s hoped this move will raise awareness of electric vehicles, encourage local authorities to introduce incentives such as lower parking charges, and simplify the process for drivers to obtain these benefits.
 
There have been claims that some drivers are ordering these plates for standard petrol or diesel vehicles in the hope of gaining free entry to clear air zones. However, this is illegal, and the DVLA is working with suppliers to close this loophole.
 
New number plate standards are also being introduced. From September 2021, plates will be made from a tougher material that is not only more resilient, but also shows up better on ANPR cameras. Two-tone number plates will not be permitted, and only solid black digits will be allowed.
 
Your plates will also have to display the supplier’s business name and postcode. The name of the number plate manufacturer and the new standard, BS145e, must also be included. The borders will remain the same.
 
Finally, from 1st January 2021, vintage number plates are permitted only on pre-1980 vehicles.
 

Brexit changes to driving regulations

If you’re a UK citizen accustomed to hopping back and forth between the UK and mainland Europe, you should be aware of several changes. It’s easy to get caught out.
 
You’ll need a green card from your insurance provider, your driving licence, and a GB sticker or number plate identifier – see above.
 
If you’re driving your own car, you should take your V5C logbook, while a VE103 form proves you are permitted to take a hired or leased car out of the UK.
 
Fortunately, if you have a photocard driving licence, you won’t need an international driving permit. Many countries will still accept paper licences, too.
 
Check out the latest Government information about driving in the EU post-Brexit.
 

Other recent changes to driving in the UK

If you’ve been living abroad for a while, there may be other changes to UK driving regulations that you have missed. Here are some of the more significant ones.
 
Since March 2017, the penalties for using a mobile phone behind the wheel have become stricter: you now face six points on your licence and a £200 fine.
 
From 2018, the MOT test was changed to introduce stricter diesel emissions checks. Defects are now graded as dangerous, major, or minor, and smaller issues are called advisories.
 
When it comes to motorway driving, you can be issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice and a fine for hogging the middle lane or driving on a smart motorway lane with a red X above it.
 
There have been several changes to Vehicle Excise Duty, known as car tax, in recent years. You no longer have to display a tax disc, and when you sell your vehicle, you must cash in your VED rather than pass it on to the new owner.
 
If you drive with children in your vehicle, you should know that it’s now illegal for you or your passengers to smoke. Booster seat regulations have changed, too, so make sure you follow the manufacturer’s labelling.
 A man using his phone with one hand while driving

Changes to driving regulations in 2021/22

As well as Brexit-related changes, there are a few other alterations you should know if you’re returning after living abroad.
 
Laws around mobile phone usage have now been tightened. Previously, only text messages and calls were banned, meaning that drivers could still take photos or even play games. That loophole has now been closed, and you are not allowed to hold your mobile phone while driving.
 
You can still use it hands-free, for example as a sat nav. And using it to place orders at a drive-through is exempt.
 
Other upcoming changes to driving in the UK include mandatory speed limiters in new cars from 2022, and the possible introduction of Automatic Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS).
 
It’s always wise to keep an eye on the Department for Transport’s webpages to ensure you’re up to date with the latest changes.
 
Expat car insurance is specially designed to meet the needs of drivers returning to the roads in the UK after a period overseas.
 

Clean Air Zones

You could be caught out by clean air zones in cities. Since 2019, driving most petrol or diesel vehicles into the central London ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) costs £12.50 per day. For heavier vehicles, the charge is £100.
 
Other cities are introducing their own clean air zones, each of which has different regulations.
 
In Bath, private cars are exempt from charging to enter a central area. However, Birmingham will introduce charges for higher polluting vehicles, including private cars, in a central area from June 2021.
 
Cities in the process of drawing up their own plans include Bristol and Manchester. Bristol looks set to follow Birmingham’s example, and charge higher polluting vehicles for entry to a central zone. Manchester, however, is likely to follow Bath’s lead and exempt private cars.
 

Why might you need expat car insurance?

If you’re a UK citizen who has spent or plans to spend time abroad, you might benefit from specialist car insurance.
 
It could be that you’re returning to your home country after a lengthy trip abroad or after emigration. In that case, you might want your new policy to recognise any no claims bonus you accrued while abroad, as well as your clean driving record.
 
Or you might be taking your UK vehicle to Europe for a period of time and want broader cover than is usually provided under the green card insurance system.
 
Finally, you could be leaving a car in the UK while you go overseas for an extended period. As UK car insurance is usually available only to UK residents, you’ll need to take out specialist cover for your vehicle.
 

Get a quote from Insurance Factory today

At Insurance Factory, we know how bewildering all the changes to driving in the UK can be – particularly if you’ve been living elsewhere for some time.
 
One thing that doesn’t change is the excellent service we provide to our customers.
 
We’ve been arranging cover for more than 20 years and have access to expert underwriters.
 
We can navigate the complex world of expat car insurance on your behalf to find you policies that suit your unique situation as well as your budget. With good links to underwriters abroad, it’s possible to transfer your no claims bonus to your new UK policy, potentially saving you money.
 
We can help expats returning from most EU or Commonwealth countries get cover to get back on the UK’s roads. Comprehensive cover and flexible payment options are available.
 
So make your return to the UK simpler by contacting us for a quote today.

Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.