ANPR technology more about serious crime prevention than clobbering poor old motorist

An Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) device

An Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) device - Credit: PA

Paul Jolly, classic car specialist and valuer:

Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) is a most useful crime detection system which is more than just spotting untaxed cars.

ANPR is a technology for automatically reading vehicle number plates.

It is used by law enforcement agencies in the United Kingdom and beyond to help detect, deter and disrupt criminality including tackling organised crime groups and terrorists.

Vehicle movements on UK roads are recorded by a network of 13,000 cameras capturing up to 55 million ANPR ‘read’ records daily.

These records are stored for up to two years in the National ANPR Data Centre, which can be accessed, analysed and used as evidence as part of investigations by UK law enforcement agencies 

This is not just about catching motorists for tax, MoT and insurance lapses but tracks criminals across the country.

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On November 18, 2005, British police constable Sharon Beshenivsky was shot and killed during a robbery in Bradford. The CCTV network was linked into an ANPR system and was able to identify the getaway car and track its movements, leading to the arrest of six suspects.

This is European wide and so a terrorist suspect can be tracked over many countries with town centre visual images able to confirm the identity of the front occupants.

Since March 2006, most motorways, main roads, town centres, London's congestion charge zone, ports and petrol station forecourts have been covered by CCTV camera networks using automatic number plate recognition.

Existing traffic cameras in towns and cities are being converted to read number plates automatically as part of the new national surveillance network. 

A major feature of the National ANPR Data Centre for car numbers is the ability to data mine.

Advanced versatile automated data mining software trawls through the vast amounts of data collected, finding patterns and meaning in the data.

Data mining can be used on the records of previous sightings to build up intelligence of a vehicle's movements on the road network or can be used to find cloned vehicles by searching the database for impossibly quick journeys.

More and more police patrol vehicles now have these cameras quietly ‘reading’ every plate they pass and alerting the officer as required.

This technology is more about serious crime prevention than clobbering the poor old motorist. As a criminal detection tool, it has to be commended as a great step forward.