The split of Czechoslovakia
The split of Czechoslovakia took the vehicle evidence system department at the Ministry of Interior by surprise. They somehow missed the fact that the single production facility for license plates was located in Slovakia, and that the given facility did not take any reciprocal agreement into account. This is why some districts ran out of their stocks of license plates and in the first months of 1993, they issued plates made of some strange material which lasted only on vehicles kept indoors. New facility was equipped by UTSCH, a renown German manufacturer. Plates increased in size to 490 × 100 mm, they were fitted with reflexive surface and several protection marks were added. The characters were scaled back up to the size from before 1986 and the construction of some characters was modified (such as the numerals for 4 and 5). The end of Czechoslovakia also meant the end of the international code plate CS and the introduction of CZ for the Czech Republic. Between 1994 and 2001, Czech license plates had the most varied colours in history, that is, 6 versions in total: black and white/yellow (passenger/ utility vehicles), blue and yellow (diplomats and foreigners), red and white (rental passenger cars), red and yellow (rental utility vehicles), green and white (manipulation and trial vehicles). The first temporary license plate for export came to life in black and white, with a distinctive red chequered symbol denoting its validity. Also for the first time, license plates had joint codes for regions and districts (on temporary plates).

EU entry preparations
The advancing pressure of the upcoming EU entry forced Czech institutions to introduce correct evidence system for all vehicles used on public roads, including those under 50 ccm, for certain special utility vehicles, and other former exceptions. The necessary changes also included different requirements concerning technical equipment of utility vehicles, which did not suit a number of pressure groups, who blocked the implementation of the necessary measures. They went as far as to spreading (untrue) rumours that EU forces us to replace all of our license plates. After long discussions and quarrels, the Parliament put through a new road transport legislation, valid starting with July 1, 2001, which also introduced a new system of license plates, based on the division of the country into provinces, abolishing the subordinate town regions. First cars appeared on the roads bearing license plates reminiscent of bank account codes or temporary license plates of some African country. The single letter used refers to the province of origin or to the use of the vehicle (F=trial vehicle, V=veteran). The attributes desirable in a modern license plate, that is, being easy to remember and being well coded, are missing here. The alphanumerical code is a bizzare sequence of 9P9 9999 (in motorcycles, 9P 9999 and 9P 999) and it is probably devised to obscure the fact that it is simply the old P 999 999 from the dawn of automobile industry. Technically, the plates were adjusted to the European standard of 510 × 100 mm, and their left edge sports space for the so-called Euro-strip. I know of no one who would be happy that this system change took place, let alone the fact that it was not accompanied by a single favourable step towards the regular citizen, for example taking the loss or theft of license plate into account, or, say, the seasonal use of the vehicle or the problem of the third, transferable license plate attached to luggage carrier. Also, the topical question of STK and emission stickers placed on the so-called “snowman” (two circular dimples designated for where the stickers should be applied) remained open. Most European countries, most recently Slovakia, slowly give up the stickers on registration plates, because it isn’t very practical and it attracts theft. All control elements including the verification of the license plate and other data about the vehicle (including, for example, the mandatory liability insurance) may be saved onto a chip or a bar code attached to a sticker applied to the inside of the windshield. (This practice is common in Hungary and Poland, for example). On May 1, 2004, on the day when Czech Republic joined the EU, the license plates with free space on the left were complemented with those that feature a blue strip with the EU logo and the CZ international code in that area. Those who devised the 2001 system claimed that the coding is perfect since the first letter from the left denoting the province of registration can be shifted to the right, and the letters may be organised into nearly endless variations. However, as soon as in 2006, permanent special license plates appeared in green and white fitted with the STK and emission stickers in the format of 99V 9999 for veterans and 99S 9999 for sports cars, where the first two letters (01-14) denote the province of origin. This change was not systematic at all. One cannot guess now what the evolution will be, only time will show.

The future
Finally, one may say that the visual appearance of present Czech license plates is exceptional when compared to the rest of Europe. This is to be attributed both to the forgotten designers of characters used since the 1950s and to the high quality manufacturing process of today. The system could be improved if the codes were adjusted so as to be easily legible and remembered. Also, significant savings could result from introducing a lifetime registration for a single vehicle, such as it is in, say, Netherlands, Sweden, or Hungary. Lots of needless paperwork could thus be abolished. New, smart license plates could be designed so as to minimise the risk of theft and, at the same time, improve the traffic flow in areas prone to congestion. They could fulfil a number of practical tasks, while they would remain visually appealing and unmistakably Czech.

Author: Petr Marinov, Translate: Olga Neumanová
Published by TYPO (typography · graphic design · visual communication)
TYPO.28 - August 2007