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Number Plates Go Green

According to the Transport Studies Unit at Oxford University, sales of all-electric cars increased 70% year-on-year in 2019. However, still only a tiny percentage of new and used cars sold in Britain are electric.

Zero tailpipe emission cars costing £40,000 or less are already exempt from all road tax, but to increase the awareness of electric vehicles the Government has begun a consultation involving the motor trade, and public on introducing green number plates.

The exact design of the number plates has yet to be finalised, but they will be green coloured, at least in part, so that zero tailpipe emission cars will be instantly distinguishable from their traditional internal combustion engine counterparts. That said, a completely green number plate is known to create problems for Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras, so a traditional yellow plate with a green square is the preferred option.

A similar scheme introduced on a trial basis in Ontario, Canada, offered electric vehicle drivers’ incentives such as using restricted high-occupancy vehicle and toll lanes free of charge, this scheme increased registrations of the vehicles in the province. The Government hopes to do the same for the UK by allowing local authorities to offer similar incentives, such as the use of bus lanes and discounted or free parking.

However, such incentives, even if successful in increasing electric vehicle sales, could only ever be temporary with reduced parking revenues and congestion in bus lanes likely to lead to their reversal sooner rather than later.

In the summer of 2018, the Government launched its so-called ‘Road to Zero Strategy’, an ambitious £1.5 billion package which aims for at least 50% of new car sales; and 40% of new van sales to be ultra-low emission by 2030.

In the meantime, Britain has become the first Group of Seven (G7) countries to legislate for net zero emissions by 2050. The Government hopes that this latest initiative, plus increased funding for charging points on residential streets as announced by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, will provide the boost for electric vehicles sales and help achieve its target.

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According to Nicholas Lyes, Head of Roads Policy at the RAC, green number plates are unlikely to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles.

While environmental pressure group ‘Friends of the Earth’ said, that without an increased number of public charging points which electric vehicle drivers tend to use as an insurance policy, or financial inducement, such as tax breaks for electric cars, green number plates alone would have little effect.

Graham Vidler, Chief Executive of the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK, was similarly critical of the suggestion that electric vehicles should be allowed to use bus infrastructure.

While Ian Plummer, Commercial Director at Auto Trader, had previously said that vehicle fuel type among buyers was a challenge for the motor trade in general.

The debate goes on!