The current system, in place since 1994, consists of a mere seven characters in the format LL DDD LL (with D and L standing for digit and letter, respectively). The first pair of digits is followed by a small black-and-white Italian national emblem. When this system was adopted, it was the first time that Italian registration numbers had completely ignored the province in which the vehicle was registered. However, this proved extremely unpopular, so when the system was updated in 1999, the provincial code was reintroduced, albeit on a voluntary basis. The update was carried out to add two blue bands to the number plate – one on the right and the other on the left. The left band is always the same, depicting the EU stars above Italy’s country code (I), but the band on the right may take several forms. The only compulsory element of the right band is a yellow circle, which is on the same plane as the EU stars and forms a visual counterpart to them. The vehicle’s year of registration may optionally be displayed in this circle. The provincial code may (again optionally) be included underneath the circle.
It is entirely up to the vehicle owner whether to include the province on the plate. For the most part, the provincial codes are a set of two capitalised letters, Rome being the single exception as it is written out in full (Roma). Trentino, South Tyrol and the Aosta Valley are also a little different in that the second letter of the code is in small caps, making room for the addition of their coat of arms. Number plates are usually rectangular in shape, but may also be square, in which case they begin with the letter Z.