Automatic Numberplate Recognition Cameras are special roadside CCTV cameras that capture an image of a vehicle’s registration number-plate and then use on-board software to extract the vehicle number as alphanumeric data from the image. Because the cost of this technology has fallen dramatically in the last few years it is now widely deployed for a whole range of applications. Car parks and car rental companies use it for reconciling vehicle inventories; the City of London uses it to detect cars that have failed to pay the daily fee for driving within its limits; petrol stations use it to tackle bilking (the practice of driving off without paying for fuel); and it is the technology at the heart of a new generation of motorway speed cameras that calculate in real-time every vehicle’s average speed between two ANPR cameras set a distance apart (forcing motorists to maintain lower average speed over distance, rather than simply slowing down in the vicinity of the camera itself, as with a conventional speed camera).
Since 2005, the police have received central funding to develop a nationwide network of ANPR cameras, positioned at strategic ‘pinch points’ on the nation’s road network, to ‘deny criminals the use of the roads’. All of the cameras on this police network feed back to a central police data centre a real-time data stream of every car number-plate passing every camera. This nationwide data can then be searched in real-time for particular vehicles. As with conventional CCTV, the system is only as good as the resources that are available to act on the output it generates. So, for example, seeking data matches against databases held by the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency or by insurers to find those driving unlicensed or uninsured vehicles produces such a volume of uninsured or untaxed vehicles that the police simply don’t have the resources to stop and detain all the offenders. Notwithstanding, the police ANPR system is proving very effective at quickly finding individual cars, for example, those that have been stolen or used in the carrying out of a crime.