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Electric Cars and Green Number Plates

Green number plates are set to be introduced in the UK in autumn 2020. The government announced the move in May 2020, following a consultation which began in October 2019.

What does a green number plate mean?

The green number plates to be displayed on a vehicle will indicate that it is a pure electric vehicle. It will be available exclusively for electric vehicles with zero emissions. Hybrid vehicles will not be eligible for a green number plate.

What does the new green number plate look like?

Although it is widely referred to as the green number plate, it is actually a set of standard number plates with a green panel at the left side of the plate. Front and rear plates will still be predominantly white and yellow respectively, but each will feature a flash of green at the left.

What is the purpose of the green number plates?

The idea behind the green number plate scheme is to raise the profile of eco-friendly cars by making them easier to identify. Currently, electric cars are not easy to distinguish from standard combustion engine-powered cars from inside another vehicle. Pedestrians may be more aware of which models are electric because they are so much quieter when passing than a conventional vehicle. Many drivers with limited knowledge of the electric car models on the market might not realise how many zero-emissions cars are around.

Why should eco-friendly cars stand out from the crowd?

The government is keen to promote the sale of electric cars because it will play a big part in achieving targets for reducing emissions. The UK has a target to become carbon-neutral by 2050. Transport is now the sector with the highest carbon emissions in the UK. As part of the programme to reach the 2050 net carbon target, cars with a combustion engine will be banned from sale by 2035. This ban has been brought forward from the original target date of 2040, and will include hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars as well as standard petrol and diesel-powered cars.

Sales of pure electric cars are on the increase, but there is still a long way to go. Zero emissions electric cars accounted for 2.7% of all new car registrations in January 2020, a significant rise from below 1% during 2019. In May 2020 the total number of pure electric cars on the road in the UK had reached nearly 120,000. It is hoped the green number plate scheme will help to boost this number rapidly, to enable emissions reduction targets to be achieved.

Are there any other benefits to having a green number plate?

Currently no new owner benefits have been announced, but the expectation is that this will be the next step in the scheme. The introduction of associated perks is likely to widen the appeal of electric cars beyond the early adopters with strong eco-credentials, to reach out to the mainstream car market.

Incentives which could be made available to drivers of vehicles with green number plates include discounted parking charges, and tolls and congestion charges waived – similar to the incentives used in a recent Canadian trial. The pilot scheme in Canada offered a series of benefits for drivers of pure electric vehicles, such as free use of toll lanes and access to high occupancy vehicle lanes. Findings from the pilot programme showed that sales of electric vehicles increased following the scheme.

One of the difficulties with introducing benefits immediately in the UK is the logistics of identifying the vehicles. Most roadside cameras are not currently capable of detecting the colour in the number plate. Standard Automatic Number Plate Recognition (APNR) cameras would need to be upgraded and the network of cameras would need to be expanded. Questions have been raised regarding whether increasing surveillance in this way would be viable or even legal. These are challenges which will need to be ironed out if the programme’s goals are to be achieved.

Will there be a green number plate for other vehicles, such as motorcycles?

The green number plate scheme is designed to cover all zero-emission electric vehicles, including commercial vehicles. Currently, motorcycles are not included in the ban on sales of petrol vehicles from 2035, but the green number plate scheme does include electric motorcycles.

Can a green number plate be fitted retrospectively to an electric vehicle?

Initially, the green number plate will be available for sales of new electric vehicles, but a retrofit scheme is expected.

Is the green number plate mandatory?

No. Under current plans, anyone buying an electric car will be able to opt out of having a green number plate.

The exact date for release of green number plates has not yet been announced, but you can expect to see them on the road sometime during autumn 2020.

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