All motorised road vehicles are tagged with a registration or licence number in India. The licence plate (commonly known as number plates) number is issued by the district-level Regional Transport Office (RTO) of respective states — the main authority on road matters. The licence plates are placed in the front and back of the vehicle. By law, all plates are required to be in modern Hindu-Arabic numerals with Latin letters. Other guidelines include having the plate lit up at night and the restriction of the fonts that could be used. In some states such as Sikkim, cars bearing outside plates are barred from entering restricted areas.
Plates for private car and two-wheeler owners have black lettering on a white background (e.g., TN 77 CZ 0025). Commercial vehicles such as taxis and trucks have a yellow background and black text (e.g., AP 33 TV 2223). Vehicles belonging to foreign consulates have white lettering on a light blue background (e.g. 22 UN 14). The President of India and state governors travel in official cars without licence plates. Instead they have the Emblem of India in gold embossed on a red plate.
The current format of the registration index consists of 3 parts, They are
- The first two letters indicate the state to which the vehicle is registered.
- The next two digit numbers are the sequential number of a district. Due to heavy volume of vehicle registration, the numbers were given to the RTO offices of registration as well.
- The third part is a 4 digit number unique to each plate. A letter(s) is prefixed when the 4 digit number runs out and then two letters and so on.
This scheme of numbering has some advantages:
- the State or District of registration of a particular vehicle
- In the case of a police investigation of an accident or vehicle-related crime, witnesses usually remember the initial area code letters — it is then quite simple to narrow down suspect vehicles to a much smaller number by checking the database without having to know the full number.
In some states (such as the state of Delhi, Gujarat and Bihar) the initial 0 of the district code is omitted; thus Delhi district 2 numbers appear as DL 2 not DL 02.
The state of Delhi has an additional code in the registration code:
DL 11C AA 1111
Where DL is the two letter code for Delhi (DL). The additional C (for category of vehicle) is the letter ‘S’ for two-wheelers, ‘C’ for cars and SUVs, ‘P’ for public passenger vehicles such as buses, ‘R’ for three-wheeled rickshaws, ‘T’ for tourist licenced vehicles and taxis, ‘V’ for pick-up trucks and vans and ‘Y’ for hire vehicles. This system is also applicable in other states.(For example Rajasthan, where ‘RJ’ is the two letter code, ‘P’ is for passenger vehicles, ‘C’ for cars, ‘S’ for scooters and ‘G’ for goods vehicles.)
All those driving motor vehicles with registration number plates not conforming to the specifications, will be penalised. So please have your vehicle’s registration number plate checked and ensure they are in accordance with the specifications.
Specification for the minimum size of letters / numerals and spacing between them on a number plate.
Class of vehicles
Front Letters and Numerals (in mm)
Rear in (mm)
All Four wheeled vehicles
Mopeds and Motor Cycles less than 70cc
Other Motor Cycles and Scooters
Background colour, colour of letters and numerals and number of lines on the number plate.
Class of Vehicles
Background colour of number plate
Colour of letters and numerals
No. of lines
|1.||All private vehicles||White||Black||1 or 2||1 or 2|
|2.||All commercial (except rent-a-cab scheme) vehicles||Yellow||Black||2||2|
In case of two lines, the state code and registering authority code will form the first line and the rest will form the second line, one below the other.
All Indian states and Union Territories have their own two-letter code. This two-letter referencing came into action in the 1980s. Before that each district or Regional Transport Officer’s office had a three-letter code which did not mention the state. This led to a fair degree of confusion — for example, MMC 8259 could fit in anywhere in the country. To avoid this ambiguity the state code was included along with the district or RTO’s office. In some states, such as Maharashtra, licence plates before 1960, when the state was known as Bombay Presidency, bear notations such as BMC.
The newly created states of Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand (from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar respectively), are registering vehicles under their new two-letter codes, while the old numbers registered in the RTO offices of these states under the RTO code of the parent state still stay valid. In 2007, the state of Uttaranchal was renamed Uttarakhand, thus the state code changed from UA to UK.
The Government of India, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, the nodal ministry, has formulated strict specifications and enforcement rules for the new High Security Registration Plates (new number plates). The states have recently started introducing them in a phased manner. This standardisation, along with strict enforcement, is expected to bring about a change in law enforcement and in the registration process of vehicles in the country.
The list of two-lettered state codes is as follows:
All the letters should be in English and numerals / numbers should be in Arabic e.g. DL2CA 1234.
E.g. TN 56, 56 denotes the Perundurai RTO in Tamil Nadu.
Since all the states have two or more districts, the district is given the charge of registering the vehicle. A vehicle bears the registration of the district in which it is bought rather than the district of residence of the owner. In many states, officials insist that the plates be changed to the local numbers if the owner shifts residence.
The number of districts in the state need not equal the number of permutations of the district field of the licence plate. Often, in large cities the geographical district can be split into two or more administered regions, each governed by an RTO. A case is the Tirupur district which has the plate bearings TN-39,TN-42,TN-78 .
Also the 01′ digit may reflect the capital district of the state, though it may not always be the case.
In some states such as West Bengal, each RTO issues two numbers, one for commercial vehicles and another for private vehicles. E.g. Kalimpong, has the numbers WB-79 for private vehicles and WB-78 for commercial or public ones.