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The Motor Car Act 1903, which came into force on 1 January 1904, required all motor vehicles to be entered on an official vehicle register, and to carry alphanumeric plates.
These regulations do not extend to Northern Ireland as there is no consensus on a national symbol.
Many buses delivered to London Transport between 1973 and the mid-1980s continued to bear white-on-black plates.
In addition, characters on number plates purchased from 1 September 2001 must use a mandatory typeface and conform to set specifications as to width, height, stroke, spacing and margins.
Within the UK itself there are two systems: one for Great Britain, which dates from 2001, and another for Northern Ireland, which is similar to the original 1904 system.
Both systems are administered by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) in Swansea; until July 2014, Northern Ireland's system was administered by the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) in Coleraine, which had the same status as the DVLA.
Vehicle registration plates (commonly referred to as 'Number Plates') are the mandatory alphanumeric plates used to display the registration mark of a vehicle, and have existed in the United Kingdom since 1904.