To do a post on vehicle registration plates is slightly depraved. But here is the thing: if there is one thing wrong with modern Ireland it is some of the crazy, insular decisions made in public administration.
Irish vehicle registration plates (those used in the Republic) used to have the value, at least, of simplicity – two digits for the year, one for cities or two for counties, and then a number. Even then, this wasn’t perfect – it resulted in too many digits to be easily memorable, because even assuming you remember the year and the city/county, you have still a five- or even six-digit serial number to remember in most cases.
That system, simple though it was, still breached the European norm which has always been no more than eight digits in total, and preferably no more than seven. France and Italy, countries with high car ownership at over 60 million people, have recently introduced systems which have seven (rather than eight as previously); the Netherlands, with close to 20 million, makes do with just six. Only Germany (82 million) really now allows eight digits, and even that is infrequent. The only exception to all of this, already, was Ireland, which typically had eight (plus two hyphens, where even Germany makes do with one) despite a population of just 4.5 million. So the system was simple, but not particularly memorable or user-friendly.
Politicians and car dealers got agitated, however, by the prospect of the two-digit plates for 2013, starting as they would with ’13’ and then the city/county code. This would not do, decided the authorities – and promptly added another digit, and worse still had it added to the year code! So now, where even France and Italy are making do with seven digits, Ireland (population half of Greater Paris and about the same as Rome) will frequently have nine! Not only that, but the simplicity of the system is wiped and the memorability limited – and to make matters truly awful, the extra digit may only be a ‘1’ (for January-June) or a ‘2’ (for July-December). If the above plate looks bad, imagine what it will be like in the second half of 2020 with fewer ‘1s’!
This is just a quirk, surely? Yet sadly it seems to typify too many public administration decisions. No one sat down and thought what a good number plate system would do and what was important about it (say, by comparison with other countries); no one gave any consideration to the memorability of the system (the whole point of the plates to start with); no one thought of the legibility of a plate with nine digits and two hyphens; and I daresay no one thought of the aesthetics of it either. If that is what happens with vehicle numbering systems, we have to wonder what is going on with the system for giving out prescription drugs, or assessing education standards, or ensuring efficient policing? That is the real issue.
Carelessness, insularity and laziness typified the decision to make Irish number plates look so daft – an example of two many aspects of public decision making. The public should demand much better.