Any driver who’s ever received a ticket after being flashed by a speed camera probably won’t be the most vocal proponent of surveillance technologies, and those who get caught in traffic jams every day may scoff at the notion that they actually help limit road congestion.
However, ANPR cameras are actually well-equipped to carry out a number of functions that make our lives easier.
Rather than merely existing to punish drivers who speed, ANPR technologies actually have a number of uses that we take for granted every day, and a number of potential uses that could set exciting precedents for the future.
ANPR cameras and congestion
ANPR systems are highly equipped to deal with congestion, providing detailed real-time information about congestion and traffic flow. This allows traffic-management professionals to execute decisions quickly.
ANPR cameras provide a detailed, real-time picture of the flow of various routes, allowing local authorities to highlight problem areas that can be improved. If a certain area is particularly prone to congestion, for example, smart traffic technology highlights this issue to city planners before it becomes a significant enough problem to provoke complaints from the general public.
Additionally, it can be used to relay information to the public about average journey times or delays on popular routes.
Let’s say you’re driving down a busy motorway, and suddenly the traffic grinds to a halt. You’re on your way to visit some family who are eagerly awaiting your arrival, but you’ve got no idea how long this delay will take.
You pass a bridge with an electronic sign, informing you that there’s been an accident, and that traffic should be moving again within the hour. The information sent to these digital signs is collected in real time by ANPR systems, and can inform road users of road closures, delays, or if traffic is moving along at regular speeds.
Now you’re able to call your family – provided you have a safe-to-use hands-free phone built into your car, naturally – and inform them how long you’ll be. Dinner won’t be cold.
Crime fighting and prevention
In February of this year, London mayor Boris Johnson threw his support behind ANPR technology as a means of crime fighting, giving the police access to 1,500 cameras across the capital.
This came after the Metropolitan Police proved it a worthy crime-fighting tool, after using their own (much smaller) ANPR network. The Met’s website cites a case in which they were able to catch and arrest a suspected child abductor after he was identified by ANPR technology.
Following the Met’s access to TfL ANPR cameras, the number of arrests has ballooned; nearly 1,500 arrests were made from September 2013 to February 2014.
The system allows police to detect and question the drivers of cars that have been involved in some alleged criminality, whilst ‘allowing law-abiding drivers to go about their business unhindered,’ according to the Metropolitan Police. The system has proved very successful and is utilised widely by police forces across the length and breadth of the country.
Indeed, ANPR technologies were recently utilised in Peterborough after two drug dealers caused the death of a young customer in particularly nasty circumstances.
So whilst ANPR cameras do punish drivers who drive in excess of the speed limit, it is incorrect to assume that that is their only function. As the above examples from London and Peterborough show, the types of criminals this technology can help bring to justice are of a much more sinister kind than those who commit driving offences.
Additionally, ANPR technologies have been used for automatic toll collection, including for the London congestion charge.
ANPR cameras are placed at a toll booth, typically on a bridge, and when a car passes through its license plate is scanned and the money for the toll automatically debited from the driver’s bank account.
This system allows cars to pass through en masse without interruption, circumventing the issue of congestion that often occurs at toll booths. If the driver is not recognised by the system, they are stopped and have their card details synchronised with their license plate so that they can pass undeterred next time.
The first UK toll point to use this method will be Dartford in Kent, which introduced the Dart Charge system on 30th November 2014.
The London congestion charge currently has an opt-in system, allowing drivers to sync their bank details with their license plate to allow instantaneous transfer of funds, receiving a £1 saving in the process.
The use of smart surveillance traffic systems is not merely a method of local governments ‘keeping tabs’ on their citizens, but helping to improve life in urban areas.
As well as fighting crime and traffic congestion, these systems have also been used in attempts to protect the environment. In 2012, the city of Copenhagen introduced a smart traffic system attempting to reduce the amount of carbon emissions given off by traffic in the Danish capital.
The system prioritised public transport and bicycles, as part of a wider aim to push the percentage of people travelling by bike to 50% by 2015. At present, 41% of all journeys in Copenhagen are taken by bicycle.
The programme is in its infancy, but should it be a success we could see similar systems being implemented in the United Kingdom.
CA Traffic, a producer of ground-breaking ANPR technology, is at the forefront of these changes in traffic policing and management. Their latest model, the Evo8 ANPR camera is said by many to be the best at dual-lane detection on the market.