This month the British government on a new proposal for encouraging low emissions vehicles: green number plates.
It’s not a new idea. Norway has been identifying electric vehicles through number plates since 1999, where EL, EK or EV. introduced green lettering on white backgrounds for EVs and plug-in hybrids in 2009. After trials at the city level, nationally in 2017, and similar plates for the first time this year.
There are a number of reasons why this is a good idea, the most important ones being entirely practical: it allows police and public officials to identify low emissions cars at a glance. That makes it easier to enforce simple exceptions around cleaner vehicles. For example, vehicles with green plates in Ontario can drive on ‘high occupancy lanes’ even if there’s only one person on board.
Or remember how Beijing by rationing car travel? It was done by number plate, with odd numbers and even numbers banned on alternate days. The strategy is still used in Chinese cities from time to time during spikes in air pollution. Green plates would exempt zero emission vehicles from these bans, as they are not contributing to air pollution.
In Britain, green plates would make it easier to police low emissions zones. Traffic wardens could instantly spot non-EVs parking illegally in a charging bay. It could simplify processes for many of the local exceptions or incentives for cleaner vehicles, such as the free toll bridge access run in Southampton or the discounted parking offered by Westminster council.
Along with the police and traffic wardens, emergency responders need to know if a vehicle is electric or hybrid. With high voltage batteries on board, there is a . This is why hybrid and electric vehicles are marked as such on the back and the side of the vehicle. The Society of Automobile Engineers advises that first responders should be able to spot this information from 50 feet away, so green plates would be a very handy heads-up.
There are other benefits too. Green plates would make low emissions vehicles more visible, and thus help to ‘normalise’ them on the roads. People would be more aware of them, and of the rising number of them. That might help to convince the car-buying public that electric vehicles are common in their area, and a viable option for their next car. The government certainly thinks so, with its proposal framed almost entirely around raising awareness and promoting cleaner vehicles.
And yes, it would reward the drivers of low emissions vehicles with a certain smugness dividend, if you will. But if you were taking to the comments section to declare the idea to be virtue signalling, then see above.