Standardised number plates for Malaysian cars – 20 years later, still nothing to show

Hans · Dec 27, 2020 05:00 PM

Image from and Harith Iskander

Earlier this week, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development said that the Ministry of Transport will table a new bill to replace vehicle stickers for persons with disabilities with a special number plate.

One week earlier, the Johor state police announced a crackdown on vehicles with ‘fancy’ vehicle number plates – plates that don’t meet JPJ’s standards.

The bigger question is, why after more than 20 years, Malaysia still can’t enforce standardized vehicle number plates?

Proposals for a centralized/regulated production of vehicle number plates have been mooted since the late ‘90s, but until today, there’s nothing to show.

We even made it to Wired. Article was dated November 2006

In 2006, JPJ had proposed to install ‘e-plates’ on all new vehicles. These electronic number plates were supposed use RFID technology, allowing for better protection against theft. Until today, we haven’t heard any updates about it.

Enforcing vehicle number plate standards is the most basic form of traffic regulations enforcement.

Even lesser developed countries like Indonesia and Vietnam can get it right, because if the authorities allow anyone to make custom number plates, how else are the police going to go after traffic violators, or worse, more serious crimes like robbery or hit and run cases.

How come Indonesia, which has far more cars to deal with, is able to enforce it?

Indonesian roads are super congested with motorcycles but you will be hard pressed to find one that doesn’t have use standardized number plates, nevermind cars.

Image from Yogi Hendrawan

Indonesia is serious about standardised number plates because as part of the Jakarta city’s (futile) effort to ease traffic congestion, entry of single occupant vehicles into the city is limited according to the vehicle plate’s last digit - even/odd numbers, corresponding to even/odd week days.  

Also, Indonesia's vehicle road tax information is printed on the number plate.

Road tax expiry date is below the vehicle registration number, so tampering with the number plate is a serious offence

In Malaysia, motorcycles are big culprits in crimes, especially snatch thefts, and it’s not uncommon for motorcycles to have nearly illegible number plates, making cases difficult to solve. The e-plate proposed by JPJ was supposed to allow for better tracking of motorcycles.

The proposal was revived again in 2015, but once again, it went quiet soon after.

Malaysia is probably the only country in ASEAN’s Big-3 that, despite having two national car companies, is unable to enforce the basic traffic regulations like standardised vehicle number plates.

Thailand's red trade plate is similar to our blue trade plate, but with a twist - New cars are often delivered unregistered, owners have up to 6 months to register the car

In countries like China, traffic police no longer do road blocks that cause traffic jams, or hide in bushes with speed cameras. Instead, automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras are setup in nearly every street. Sometimes, even drones are used.

The system is so effective that nobody steals cars in China anymore, at least not in the cities. Driving discipline is still poor but speeding is rare. You can’t drive out the main street without AI-driven ANPR cameras recording the car’s location and driving speed.

Shanghai traffic police's AI camera red flags this truck driver for holding a phone to his ear while driving. Enforcement is fast, thanks to standardised plates

Some of these AI-driven cameras are so smart that they can detect if the driver is texting, or not wearing their seatbelts. Illegal dark window tints? Be prepared to explain to the cops if the AI marks and red flags the vehicle.  

Speed limits are enforced with their version of AES, but with ANPR capabilities, enforcement is very efficient.

I remember hosting a friend visiting from China, he was quite intrigued with our parking payment machines, as if it’s a novelty, because in China, hardly anyone uses parking machines anymore.

In China, regular combustion engine cars use blue plates, electric and plug-in hybrid cars use green plates, for access to public charging bays

Since vehicle number plates are standardized, even the lousiest open car park with untarred ground uses ANPR cameras and parking charges are automatically debited from the car owner’s e-wallet. Nobody winds down the windows to collect parking tickets anymore, that’s so 1990s.

Why is this important for the future? Well you can't plan towards a future for driverless cars if driverless cars can't enter/exit car parks on their own.

To a Western-minded person, the prevalance of cameras might seem like a dark Orwellian future but violent crimes, car theft, hit and run cases are almost unheard of to Chinese citizens today. Even tiny streets are monitored by ANPR cameras.

German EVs and PHEVs have number plates ending with 'E'

Elsewhere, electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles are given special number plates, to ease enforcement against regular combustion engine vehicles hogging public charging bays.

In China, battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles are given green number plates, while in Germany, these cars’ number plates end with the letter ‘E’

Never mind Redzuan Yusof’s flying cars or Cyberjaya’s geo-fenced test route for driverless cars. If we can’t get basic things like number plates correct, all these projects are at most, interesting academic curiosities.