Number plates are an invaluable part of a car, as they can help to provide identification and recover stolen vehicles. According to the UK’s surveillance camera commissioner Tony Porter, car number plates need to be better regulated by a network of specialised cameras. He recently presented a report to Parliament that highlighted the number of automatic number plate recognition cameras (ANPR) monitoring UK roads. There’s an estimated 9000 ANPR cameras and they alert authorities for various reasons. This could be because a stolen car has been detected, or the vehicle has an expired MOT.
Porter claims that it’s too easy for car number plates to be modified to avoid being picked up by ANPR cameras. “ANPR depends on the quality of number plates it captures. The whole infrastructure, I would argue, is predicated against the fact that number plates do what it says on the plate – allow you to read the number. If they are frustrated by their design or people easily circumvent capture by screwing a deceptive screw between a 1 and a 1 making a H – then who should be concerned?”
He believes the number of approved number plate manufacturers should be restricted in a similar way to how passports and driving licences are applied. “I understand there are approximately 40,000 (20,000 ‘active’) number plate suppliers in the UK. This, in an unregulated environment, which seems to me tailor made to defeat the system.”
It isn’t known how many number plates are misread by ANPR cameras, yet it’s estimated that it could be as high as three percent. Porter has mentioned that he’s working with the Home Office to establish a proper figure. Finding out this data will be valuable for helping to shape a more secure road environment for motorists.
The report is interesting because it shines a light on a side of the car industry that’s not been explored in depth. The extra security measures brings up the question as to how much surveillance will be necessary. Will drivers feel safer on the road? Or will they feel as if there are too many cameras watching them? It may lead to more safety conscious driving and could deter criminals from changing number plates.
What do you think of a potential increase in ANPR cameras?