For many, the assignment of car number plates is a mystery, but in reality there is a very specific logic behind the alphanumeric sequence. Let’s find out how license plates have changed over time, how they are assigned and what they are for
The number plates of Italian cars have a long history and over time the criteria for assigning an alphanumeric combination to the car have changed. To understand how license plate assignment works, you have to start from far away, from when the owner of the car took charge of its creation.
The history of license plates takes us to the present day, with modern license plates consisting of two letters, three numbers and two other letters. Let’s find out with what criteria the plates are assigned and how they are read.
Today we are used to seeing plates all of the same type, with a white background and a combination of letters and numbers in black. In the beginning it was not like that, but the plates were different from each other, because it was the owner himself who commissioned its production and the result was always different.
The obligation of the plate was introduced only in 1897 and although it may seem strange, the first plate actually had an appearance that does not at all resemble today’s ones. According to a regulation of the Municipality of Milan, both the name of the owner and the number of the license granted by the municipality had to be shown on the side of the vehicle.
Today no one would ever go around with their name on the side of the car, yet in the beginning it was mandatory. In the space of a few years the functioning of the Italian plates has evolved and for the turning point the Royal Decree n.416 of 1901 was decisive.
The legislation provided that the owners of the cars in circulation, which were very few at the time, had to make the plate at their own expense, respecting some characteristics:
Even these indications are a little smile today, also because the names of some provinces are quite long and were not abbreviated at first. If the motorists of Rome got along with little space, the residents in the municipality of Caltanissetta probably needed a larger license plate.
Someone must have noticed the problem of the length of the names of the provinces, so the acronyms that are still used today were finally introduced. At this stage the plates were therefore minimalist and a plate from the province of Milan could be for example MI 1.
With the exception of the letters used for the province, in the early twentieth century the plate number contained only numbers, while the letters were introduced again in the Fascist period.
It was not only the shape and size of the plate that changed over time, but also the colors. If before we used the black background with white characters, then the abbreviation of the provinces has become orange and now instead we use the white background with black letters and numbers.
The method for assigning the license plate number has therefore undergone a long evolution, but the one used today is quite recent, in fact it was only developed between 1994 and 1999. Until the end of the 90s a sequence of numbers was used after the abbreviation of the province, but then the method changed.
The system that provided for the use of progressive numbers originally used, was abandoned very soon, because the characters to be used, for a matter of space and always ensure maximum readability, are only 7. The use of progressive numbers would have allowed assign only 9,999,999 plates.
It is precisely for this reason that another system has been adopted, which involves using two letters, three numbers and then two more letters. To avoid confusion, some letters of the alphabet have been excluded and in particular the vowels I, U and O and the consonant Q, but even in this way the cars that can be registered are 134,256,000.
Once this number of combinations has been reached, the method for assigning the number plates to an alphanumeric code that is unique and different for each car must be changed.
The first license plate assigned with the current procedure was AA000AA, while the car registered immediately afterwards had the AA000AB license plate. Once the combinations of the last two letters are exhausted, the changes concern the first two and then it is the turn of the numbers.
By changing a number or a letter from time to time, different combinations are created, so that each new registration corresponds to a different license plate number.
The numbering and assignment of number plates is entirely managed by the Civil Motorization and for each car free to circulate on the national territory, a number plate is assigned. In this way, all vehicles can be easily identified.
The Highway Code provides that the number plate is mandatory, not only for cars, but also for motor vehicles, mopeds and even trailers. For two-wheeled vehicles and minicars, the “fixed plate” mechanism came into effect only in 2012, while previously the plate was linked to the owner.
For cars, there must be two plates, one on the front and one on the rear. The deterioration, loss or destruction of even a single plate must be reported to the offices of the Civil Motorization, in order to provide for its replacement and a new re-registration of the car.
Those who drive without a license plate or with a tampered or irregular license plate face penalties: the fines range from € 84 to € 7,953 in the most serious cases. To avoid penalties, the license plate must always be visible and any attempt to cover the plate, perhaps to avoid receiving a fine, is severely punished by traffic regulations.
The plates assigned by the DMV are also indicated in the vehicle registration document and the agent who stops a vehicle always refers to the alphanumeric code indicated in the registration certificate, where each change of ownership is also indicated. It is no coincidence that at the checkpoints the police always ask for a valid identity document and car booklet.
This procedure allows you to first check the ownership of the vehicle by crossing the data of the various documents (in fact it is not necessary to circulate with the ownership certificate) and secondly to check the correspondence and regularity of the plate.
The vehicle license plate is now also used to check whether a vehicle is covered by insurance or not. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport has made the Motorist Portal available to road users, where it is possible to type in the license plate to find out if the vehicle is insured.
If, on the other hand, you want to use the license plate to trace the owner of the vehicle, you will need to have a search with the PRA (Public Automobile Register).
Some people swear to be able to identify the year of registration of the vehicle only on the basis of the license plate, but in reality it is not that simple. Once you understand the assignment mechanism, in fact, it is not difficult to understand which car was registered before and which after.
Going back to the exact year is a bit more difficult, because it is true that the assignment of number plates is progressive based on the registration date, but the number plates are assigned en bloc to the offices of the DMV of the various cities and only at a later time. are attributed to a specific vehicle.
To identify the year exactly, one should therefore also know the origin of the vehicle and given that there are 110 provinces in our country, it is certainly not an easy task.