Electric car drivers could be given green number plates to allow them to use bus lanes and park for free

  • The new scheme is part of a £1.5 billion drive to boost the sale of electric cars 
  • Green plates on the vehicles could be introduced within 12 to 18 months 
  • Plan based on a trial in Canada where green drivers were given free road access

Drivers of electric cars could be given green number plates that allow them to use bus lanes and park for free.

The scheme is part of a £1.5 billion drive to boost sales of electric vehicles.

Town halls will be encouraged to grant incentives to cars with the green plates, such as free or cheaper parking. Three designs are being considered, the most radical of which is an all-green plate.

If approved, it will be the first major change in plate design since 1969, when silver-on-black plates were replaced with today’s yellow and white reflective versions.

The above number plate has been designed specifically for zero-emission cars and could benefit drivers

The above number plate has been designed specifically for zero-emission cars and could benefit drivers

The other two proposed designs feature a green stripe and green dot on the traditional plate.

Ministers have launched a 12-week consultation on the plans with a view to introducing green plates within 12 to 18 months.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: ‘The UK is in the driving seat of global efforts to tackle vehicle emissions and climate change and improve air quality, but we want to accelerate our progress.

‘Green number plates are a really positive and exciting way to help everyone recognise the increasing number of electric vehicles on our roads.’

The new number plates could either by completely green or could feature just a green dot (as above)

The new number plates could either by completely green or could feature just a green dot (as above)

The number plates could inspire road users to drive in a more environmentally friendly way

The number plates could inspire road users to drive in a more environmentally friendly way

The plan is modelled on a trial in Ontario, Canada, where drivers of electric vehicles were given free access to toll roads and high-occupancy vehicle lanes, resulting in a spike in electric vehicle registrations.

Elisabeth Costa, senior director at the Behavioural Insights Team, which is part-owned by the Cabinet Office, said: ‘The number of clean vehicles on our roads is increasing but we don’t notice as it’s difficult to tell clean vehicles apart from more polluting ones.

‘Green number plates make these vehicles, and our decision to drive in a more environmentally friendly way, more visible on roads. 

'We think making the changing social norm noticeable will help encourage more of us to swap our cars for cleaner options.’

The DfT's green number plate consultation document revealed the three designs being considered for electric cars

The DfT's green number plate consultation document revealed the three designs being considered for electric cars

But road campaigners warned the move could ‘foster resentment’ among owners of petrol and diesel cars, particularly those who are unable to afford the high up-front cost of switching to electric.

Nicholas Lyes, head of roads policy at the RAC, said: ‘While the sentiment seems right, there are question marks as to whether drivers would see this as a badge of honour or alternatively it could foster resentment among existing drivers of petrol and diesel vehicles.

‘On the face of it, drivers we’ve questioned don’t seem too impressed – only a fifth think it’s a good idea and the majority said the number plates wouldn’t have the effect of making them any more likely to switch to an electric vehicle.’

However, Edmund King, the president of the AA, said the green plates could incentivise people to buy electric cars.

A poll of 19,350 AA members in April this year found that around two fifths (37 per cent) supported the introduction of green plates for all new ultra-low emission vehicles - a much higher proportion than the RAC found.  

'While some will see it as a ‘plate of honour’, drivers should be given the option of adding them onto their vehicle,' King said.

'Other incentives such as cheaper parking will help, but reinstating the grant for hybrids would also encourage those not ready to go for the full EV.' 

Owners of plug-in hybrid and electric cars in Hungary have been able to request green plates for their vehicles since 2015. Displaying a green plate allows them to park for free in Budapest

Owners of plug-in hybrid and electric cars in Hungary have been able to request green plates for their vehicles since 2015. Displaying a green plate allows them to park for free in Budapest

If the plans are to go ahead, the UK wouldn't be the first European nation to introduce green plates for green vehicles.

Since October 2015 the Hungarian government has allowed owners of plug-in hybrids and electric cars that meet certain criteria to request for their vehicles to be fitted with green plates.

Drivers of these cars enjoy additional benefits of displaying the plates, including free parking in Budapest and some other cities.

Mike Hawes, chief executive at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said the UK automotive industry 'welcomes all initiatives' that boost the popularity of electric vehicles, including green plates.

'Increasing consumer awareness will help but to encourage the uptake of these vehicles to truly meaningful numbers, we need world-class measures including a long-term commitment from government to fiscal and other financial incentives and substantial investment in infrastructure,' he said. 

'The range of zero and ultra low emission vehicles is increasing rapidly to ensure all drivers will have a vehicle that meets their needs.'

Electric car drivers could be given green number plates to allow them to use bus lanes

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