Automatic number plate recognition cameras operated by police forces scanned 10.1billion vehicles last year – and the technology has been used by councils to generate fines worth almost £500million in half a decade, an investigation has revealed.
There have been 6.9million penalty charge notices for offences such as parking and straying into yellow box junctions in the last five years by cameras installed by authorities.
Research by motoring site Auto Express also revealed that ANPR cameras operated by police forces had generated 203million ‘hits’ on vehicles of interest.
This includes motors without tax, that have no registered keeper or have been used in criminal activity.
Big Brother: Councils use ANPR cameras to enforce a number of offences in their areas. These cameras in City of London helped to generate around £20.5m in fines in the last five years
ANPR cameras are now a common sight on UK roads.
They can be used by councils to enforce a number of motoring offences and are commonly used to capture drivers using bus lanes incorrectly or running red lights.
According to a Freedom of Information request by Auto Express, there are more than 8,768 being operated by councils, police forces and Highways England (on motorways), and they’re on the increase.
That means the chances of being caught are higher than ever – and some local authorities are utilising their benefits to generate huge fine revenues.
Of the 114 local councils in England, Scotland and Wales that reported back to the automotive magazine, 65 said they use the cameras to issue penalties for a variety of motoring offences.
The PCNs issued can range in value from £40 to £130 depending on the type of infringement, with the average calculated to cost drivers £68.50.
That means the councils have raked in approximately £472million from the 6.9million tickets issued to motorists between 2014 and 2018.
Highest earning councils from ANPR-generated fines (2014-2018)
1. London Borough of Barnet
£38.3m* generated by 547,393 fines
£33.9m* generated by 566,598 fines
3. London Borough of Islington
£27.8m* generated by 397,624 fines
4. London Borough of Barking & Dagenham
£24.1m* generated by 345,589 fines
5. London Borough of Brent
£21.8m* generated by 312,031 fines
6. Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames
£21.4m* generated by 358,046 fines
7. City of London
£20.5m* generated by 316,369** fines
8. Leeds City Council
£15m* generated by 250,317 fines
9. Essex County Council
£14.6m* generated by 244,010 fines
10. Coventry City Council
£13.5m* generated by 270,596 fines
Source: AutoExpress *estimated fine amount **Over 20 months
London Boroughs were found to be most prolific for issuing fines for offences captured by ANPR cameras.
Barnet topped the list of authorities, with almost 550,000 PCNs issued over the five-year spell with a total estimated value of £38.3million.
Glasgow council collected the second highest fine revenue for offences caught on ANPR cameras, amounting to a calculated £33.9million via 567,000 PCNs.
The London Borough of Islington completed the top three, pocketing around £27.8million from almost 400,000 fines between the start of 2014 and end of 2018.
Records for ANPR cameras used by private parking firms across the country were not included in the investigation.
ANPR cameras are increasingly being used by private parking firms, which are then charging huge fees to motorists who have overstayed restricted times
Research by the RAC Foundation found that 19,000 motorists a day had their personal details bought by private parking firms in 2017.
This works out at 570,000 people over the course of a 30-day month.
Certain private parking companies can buy your personal details from the DVLA at a cost of £2.50 per motorist.
This means that these firms only need to claw back a £60 charge from one in every 24 drivers to break even on the cost of buying your details.
Police-operated cameras are just as prevalent but are being used to identify ‘vehicles of interest’ rather than to enforce driving offences.
Of the forces across the country contacted, 31 said they used 6,094 number-plate-scanning cameras to get hits on cars being used for criminal activity or being driven without road tax or registered keepers – information that is cross-referenced with Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency records.
Most number plate scans by police ANPR cameras in 2018
1. West Midlands Police (308 ANPR cameras)
896,785,269 vehicles scanned resulting in 23,983,701 hits on vehicles of interest*
2. Thames Valley Police (359 ANPR cameras)
780,734,346 vehicles scanned resulting in 14,388,461 hits on vehicles of interest*
3. Cheshire Police (317 ANPR cameras)
773,010,999 vehicles scanned resulting in 20,790,909 hits on vehicles of interest*
4. South Yorkshire (ANPR camera numbers n/a)
726,867,269 vehicles scanned resulting in 186,729 hits on vehicles of interest*
5. Surrey Police (292 ANPR cameras)
584,000,000 vehicles scanned resulting in 1,139,114 hits on vehicles of interest*
6. Merseyside Police (297 ANPR cameras)
550,689,769 vehicles scanned resulting in 364,734 hits on vehicles of interest*
7. Lancashire Police (150 ANPR cameras)
520,314,326 vehicles scanned resulting in 14,344,069 hits on vehicles of interests*
8. West Mercia Police (208 ANPR cameras)
447,167,232 vehicles scanned resulting in 819,420 hits on vehicles of interest*
9. Wiltshire Police (182 ANPR cameras)
445,313,100 vehicles scanned resulting in 15,277,015 hits on vehicles of interest*
10. Dyfed-Powys Police (330 ANPR cameras)
414,295,902 vehicles scanned resulting in 10,581,255 hits on vehicles of interest*
Source: AutoExpress *Methods of classification vary between forces
ANPR camera technology is now advancing at a staggering rate.
In fact, four different types of number-plate scanning systems are being used for speed enforcement on UK roads.
That’s according to our comprehensive guide to speed cameras, which includes a quiz about the different types in operation on road sides.
However, privacy campaigners have taken issue with their prevalence.
Silkie Carlo, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, told Auto Express that it’s investigation had uncovered the ‘astonishing scale of secretive ANPR surveillance in the UK’, which authorities have no legal obligation to use to monitor innocent motorists.
Highways England uses ANPR cameras on motorways. These cameras are painted green, making them easy to distinguish from traditional speed cameras
Concerns about privacy are somewhat stemmed by the police’s requirement to delete all ANPR footage after 12 months – though non-offending drivers still might take offence to these Big Brother tactics.
Local Government Association Councillor Martin Tett defended the use of the cameras, saying councils ‘make no apologies for enforcing the law’ and all surplus revenues generated go back into the issuing authority’s transport-improvement pot of funds.,
He also claimed that 99 per cent of the fines given to motorists were not appealed, suggesting that motorists acknowledge that they have have committed an offence and have been caught doing so.
A spokesperson from the National Police Chiefs’ Council told Auto Express that the use of ANPR cameras is necessary to protect the public and reduce crime, though their operation had to be ‘as transparent as possible and protect individuals’ privacy’.
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