In Germany, the font you'll find on license plates is called FE-Schrift.
Image by Wassim Chouak on Unsplash
FE-Schrift was designed by German typography professor and designer Karlgeorg Hoefer. It was applied to license plates starting in the 1990s as a replacement for the previous font used for license plates, DIN 1451.
DIN stands for Deutsches Institut für Normung, which translates to "German Institute for Standardization." DIN 1451 was designed for industrial uses and traffic signs as it's easy to read.
The problem was that DIN 1451 is also very easy to modify and forge; this became a problem in the 1970s and '80s when Germany was still divided, and victim to violence from the homegrown Baader-Meinhof Gang, a/k/a the Red Army Faction. This group carried out terrorist-style assassinations, bombings and kidnappings. They robbed banks for funding and tended to get into shootouts with the police. To avoid detection, they often used license plates that they modified.
Hence the introduction of FE-Schrift, which is short for Fälschungserschwerende Schrift, which translates to "anti-counterfeiting font." It was created specifically to make forgery difficult.
As an example, with your average sans serif font the letter "P" is easy to change to "R," "B" is easy to change to "3," and "F" is easy to change to "E." So let's say your license plate contains "PBF," and you want to change it to "R3E." If you try that with FE-Schrift, at first glance it seems do-able:
Image by Stybn, CC BY-SA 3.0
However, when you stack up the fake (red) "R3E" with the real way it'd be printed in FE-Schrift, the differences become apparent:
Image by Stybn, CC BY-SA 3.0
The casual onlooker might not be able to spot the fake, but it was good enough for the primitive license-plate-reading cameras and software Germany was using at the time of its introduction.
FE-Schrift fully became Germany's official license plate font in 2000.
Lastly, a question for you typography nerds: Why are there two types of "6" and "9" in DIN 1451?
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Googled it :-)
DIN 1451 was also used in road signs and underwent several changes over the time. The most apparent change in the 1980s were the digits "6" and "9". From the old round type to the straight line type version. With this newer version, the digits 6, 8 and 9 are easier to distinguish.
This is a great example of parameters influencing form. The shape of the "O" is really interesting, but made all the more so when you know it was designed that way to prevent it from being changed to a zero or a U being closed up into an O.