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Ask Phoebe: O and I too confusing for general issue plates

By Phoebe Falconer

Officials can reject a personalised car ID if it could be misread
Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

I refer to non-personalised registration (or licence) plates.

Initially, two letters prefixed four numerals. The letter I was used both as the first or second letter, whereas the letter Q was only ever used as the second letter, never the first.

We now have three letters followed by three numerals. I have not seen any of the three-letter combinations using the letter I in any position. (I note that the numeral 1 has serifs to differentiate it from the letter I).

With the current three-letter strings rapidly using up the series starting with the letter H, it is logical to think that the letter I will be the first letter of the next group of three series.

My questions are:

1. Why was Q not used as a first letter in the two-letter prefix series?

2. Why has the letter I not appeared, as far as I can observe, in the three-letter prefix series?

3. Will I be the first letter of the next group of three?

4. Will the letter Q be used, when its turn comes, as the first letter in the group of three?

5. Why is the letter I allowable on personalised plates, but not on non-personalised plates?

Bob Armstrong, Hamilton.

The New Zealand Transport Agency says the letters I, O, V and X have all been excluded for use in the current series of general issue licence plates.

I and O are not used in general issue plates because of the close resemblance to other characters (i.e. the numbers 0 and 1) that could be misread, V is reserved for overseas plates and X for trade plates, which all start or end with X.

The letter Q has not been excluded.

The use of V for overseas plates is only where the overseas plate combination has already been recorded on the Motor Vehicle Register, in which case V is used as the first character followed by the first 5 characters of the overseas plate.

The letters I and O are allowable on some personalised plates - the character combinations for all personalised plates are subject to a vetting process on a plate-by-plate basis and if the character combination is confusing the Transport Agency has the ability to decline to issue that combination. For example, previously declined applications for personalised plates include those along the lines of O0O0 and I1I1I.

For standard issue plates that are manufactured in sequence, in bulk and via an automatic process, it is easier to withhold a complete series rather than exclude only those that could cause confusion.

And, as a supplementary matter, the letter combination FN was never used as the start of the three-letter prefix.

In order not to offend public sensibilities, the Transport Agency decided against using these letters, as they could be seen to be an abbreviation of a common swear word (with the stress on the letter F) even though they would be followed by another letter.

I once owned a car with the number plates beginning FFQ. They lasted a whole week before someone stole them.

- NZ Herald

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