diamond geezer

 Tuesday, February 13, 2024

My latest numberplate-spotting game, as I said yesterday, is trying to spot all the pairs of letters at the start of a vehicle registration plate.

I left you by suggesting you have a go at spotting all the pairs starting with L, at least if you live or work in London which is where this particular letter's registrations are based. You might expect these 23 pairs to be approximately evenly distributed, i.e. the same proportion of each, but this turns out not to be the case. Most come up reasonably often, some rather less often and a couple of them hardly ever. Like so.

I tried spotting L-pairs over the weekend - a dozen attempts in various parts of town for roughly fifteen minutes each. The dark green pairs always came up, or very nearly always did. LF, LJ and LY weren't quite as frequent, with LA, LE and LW trailing behind. But LH and LU turned out to be really really stubborn, as if they don't exist at all or are only issued under special circumstances.

Here's a graph showing actual surveyed frequencies, this time from 250 L-starting numberplates I spotted yesterday.

What I saw most were LLs and LVs, with LT and LX not far behind. But I saw only four LAs and LKs, only three LWs and just two LEs (the latter both taxis). Bottom of the shop were again LH and LU, both entirely absent during my walkabout yesterday. I did however spot an LH in Hoxton on Sunday, an event so rare I stopped to take a photo.

According to all the widely circulated numberplate blurb, London's letter pairs were originally issued from three DVLA offices as follows.

   Wimbledon: LA LB LC LD LE LF LG LH LJ
   Borehamwood: LK LL LM LN LO LP LR LS LT
   Sidcup: LU LV LW LX LY

And yet it seems Sidcup has obsessed over LVs and LXs, been a little stingier with the LWs and LYs, and barely bothered with LUs at all. This is not in any way an equality of outcomes.

What I think's going on here, based on weeks of actual numberplate spotting, is that several of the advertised pairs aren't in fact generally issued. But they do still exist on personalised numberplates, where you can have almost whatever you want, so to see "all the numberplate pairs" you're reliant on spotting vanity plates to complete the set.

Wikipedia suggests as much with a list of pairs it says are "Reserved for select issue". These are they.

   AH AL
   VD VW
(plus all the Js, Ts and Us, plus most of the Xs)

You can see these pairs might be popular with certain groups, for example doctors, unmarried women and Volkswagen owners. I was amazed when I finally spotted a VD, but it seems someone in south London is perfectly happy driving round with that on the front of their car. The only WC I've seen, yes, was on a plumber's van.

But my supposition is that the reserved list is rather longer than this, or at least there are multiple other pairs that are rarely released if not officially restricted. Two readers suggested as much yesterday, one saying "Oxford only issues OE, OU, OV, OW, OX and OY, any other O marks will be special sales", this because the local area has more marks allocated than it needs. That'd explain why I spotted these six pairs before all the other Os, and have then taken several weeks trying to spot the other 17 pairs on vanity plates. I still have two to go.

It seems the actual lists of plates issued aren't available online - I've searched and searched and found nothing. So unless you're in the know ("oh yeah, in Essex EC, EE, EM and EW aren't routinely issued") you'd never realise the full extent of the omissions. This is what numberplate pair-spotting has taught me.

At this point today's post crosses the nerd event horizon, so feel free to stop reading. But here's what else I uncovered while numberplate spotting, one letter at a time.

A: I took a long time to spot AM, AN, AT and AW. I didn't spot AW until I actually went to Norfolk at Christmas.
B: I knew BY would take a while, but BE, BR and BS took almost as long. BM took longest of all.
C: I was looking for just CC and CG for the longest time. I finally spotted CG on a 4×4 in Pall Mall last week.
D: The final holdouts here were DO (officially restricted) and DJ (on a sporty car in Harrow).
E: For Essex I was swiftly left with EC, EE, EM and EW, so I concur with the aforementioned reader. EC was the last to turn up, appropriately enough in Hornchurch.
F: Completed in one month flat, the last two being FB and FS.
G: G means Kent so, being in London, I sped through almost all of them. But GT, infuriatingly, still hasn't appeared.
H: My longstanding Hampshire omissions were HM and HP. Seen 'em all now.
J: These only appear on vanity plates so I'm amazed I've already seen all 23 of them. I guess a lot of people have first names beginning with J.
K: My second letter to be completed. KA and KG lasted longest, but relatively speaking not that long.
L: My first letter to be completed, obviously. I think I got very lucky with LU, I've only seen it twice since.
M: I thought this was on course for a fast finish but inexplicably I still haven't seen MG (presumably on an MG).
N: The first really hard one to complete. NB, NE, NN and NP took nigh on two months, and I'm still waiting on NR and NW.
O: The second really hard one to complete because it contains more restricted pairs than most. But I've been ploughing steadily through the rarities and now just need OF and OL.
P: I took a while to see a PH and a PS, but for some reason I still haven't seen a PV.
R: The third really hard one to complete, which seems ridiculous given Reading's just outside London. Somehow I am still looking for RC, RG, RL, RM and RP.
S: There are a lot of Scottish vehicles on London's roads. SR took the longest, but not that long.
T: Like J all of these are on vanity plates, and like J I've seen them all. But I got lucky with TV, which was just about to drive off outside a pub in Hounslow.
U: Like J and T all of these are on vanity plates, but this time nowhere near as common. Possibly the hardest full set to see. I still need UE, UH, UJ, UT, UV, UW and UX.
V: An abject disaster, relatively speaking. I suspect this is because most of the Severn Valley pairs are unissued. It remains my longest unspotted list, specifically VB, VH, VJ, VL, VR, VS and VY (although I did finally spot VM on Saturday so there's still hope).
W: Relatively straightforward, apart from the restricted pair WC which I saw on the aforementioned plumber's van in Redhill.
X: XA-XF are reserved for exports, so I've resigned myself to never seeing any of these. Additionally missing I have XG, XM, XW and XY.
Y: My third letter to be completed, there being a lot of vehicles from Yorkshire. The last to fall were YJ, YM, YU and YV.

If only a proper list of numberplate pairs issued existed, and had been published online, I wouldn't have had to subject you to any of that. If anyone has such a list, please do share.

To wrap things up, let me once again advise that you should never ever start playing this numberplate spotting game, mainly because it takes forever but also because no definitive list of issued pairs exists. I have tried to uncover that list by playing the game, but I fear I have failed.

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