How Police Use ALPR to Catch You Driving Without Insurance

ALPR (Automatic License Plate Recognition) is a technology that is currently being deployed on toll roads, traffic intersections, and even on law enforcement vehicles around the world. Increasingly, these units are being utilized to catch drivers that have existing warrants, outstanding traffic violations, possess a stolen vehicle, or even just simply drive without a current license or insurance policy.

Known as ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) in the UK and many other parts of the world, this technology is even being deployed to track car movements around the UK. These devices are being used to enforce congestion charges associated with specific driving areas that normally experience a high amount of vehicle traffic. Essentially, it’s a tax for driving in an area where too many people drive. Crazy, right?

Here in the US, one of the biggest problems we face is driving without insurance. Should you get into a collision with someone who doesn’t have insurance, your chances of having costs and/or medical expenses covered are reduced greatly. In some cases, even when you’re not at fault, your insurance rates will skyrocket as the result of filing a claim for uninsured drivers. It’s a bad situation for anyone, and it’s one of the reasons police around the states are beginning to include insurance information in their ALPR databases.

ALPR isn’t just for congestion and insurance. It’s also used to detect vehicles that are:

  • Reported stolen
  • Owned by a wanted fugitive
  • Owned by someone with active warrants
  • Owned by someone with a suspended license
  • Owned by someone under house arrest
  • Speeding through an intersection
  • Driving through a toll road without a prepaid RFID transmitter
  • In repossession
  • Displaying an expired registration sticker

ALPR takes an instant to read a license plate and check the vehicle against its databases. In many cases, patrol cars are regularly updated with state, federal, and local data that helps them discover if a vehicle is flagged in another region.

Cars can be scanned in parking lots, while driving in adjoining or oncoming lanes, when approaching from the rear of the patrol car, or driving in front of a patrol car. It would be difficult (if not impossible) to have a license plate within sight of a patrol car fitted with these devices without being detected.

Modern ALPR cameras record visual data constantly, capturing both the license plate and the vehicle itself as it scans. This opens the door for law enforcement methods such as red light cameras, a controversial ticketing method where a driver can be sent a citation by mail after the offense without a police officer even being present.

I know it sounds pretty crazy, but this technology is being used by both the public and private sector right now. The myths surrounding law enforcement regulations preventing this type of automated crime fighting are spread far and wide through the Internet. The fact is, it’s a great way to generate revenue for the local and state government.

For now, traffic enforcement cameras fitted with ALPR sensors aren’t located everywhere. In Austin, TX (from where I’m writing this post) there are about nine scattered throughout the city. Often, the only way you’d know you’ve crossed paths with one is by receiving a ticket in the mail a few weeks after that yellow light you thought you could catch turned red while you were passing under it.

Perhaps the best way to keep yourself out of trouble is to keep your insurance current and your paperwork in order. You never know when you might be approaching an intersection with one of these installed.

Photo: Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • David P.

    As much as I dread the idea of getting tagged by of these systems, I still think they are a good idea.

  • Sorin

    The congestion charge in London was implemented so as to prevent a lot more people from using their cars in the city and use public transport instead. At £10 ($15) per day, it is helping.

  • http://twitter.com/davidclare1 David Clare

    Great article

  • KilgoreTrout

    These are too invasive and they don’t work. I live in a city with 90% Mexican population, a large percentage of which are here illegally. I have trouble buying things in Walmart because I only speak English. And I can tell you that the “unlicensed” and “uninsured” drivers here are not being pulled over. I was hit by an illegal alien two months ago. The policemen were kind but they told me the illegal alien would probably get a wrist-slap and be back on the road in a few days. Cameras watch our every move, our email can be read without warrant, and TSA can get their jolly’s while acting like “brown shirts.” God bless America

    • Tinman57

      I’ve said it a thousand times, we live in a police state now. This new technology WILL be abused. The courts finally put a stop to the police from putting GPS tracking on vehicles without a warrant. Well now the police have an answer to that, ALPR, to effectively spy on everyone without a warrant. They can log just about everywhere you go, what route you used, how long you were there, etc. All without a warrant. Big Brother is watching you….

      • zitiboat

        Yeah, Big Brother is watching you by recording and tracking your use of a “PRIVILEGE” to drive a motorized vehicle on public roads. Nobody was ever given the right to drive. We all signed a license to be afforded the privilege to use roads built mostly by the government with honest tax payers money so that a convenient infrastructure could be enjoyed instead of dirt paths. In order to gain that privilege we must promise to obey laws and uniform traffic codes so that chaos does not prevail on the highways. Enforcement of rules for a society should be the responsibility of all its citizens. Courts and discretion of the police officers is a way to see justice done but all too often those methods are abused by corruption. It is not a perfect society because too many people are trying to get away with breaking the laws.

        • Tinman57

          Those who give up their freedom in the name of security deserve neither freedom nor security. – Benjamin Franklin

  • http://www.facebook.com/gary.snyder.5473 Gary Snyder

    Here’s what I’m predicting is not too far off.

    Expect the next thing coming will be an electronic circuit/component, on
    every new car, coded to the VIN and matched to the license plate.

    This will be mandated to the auto industry by
    Washington.

    When the police find a car on their list, they will then transmit a coded
    signal, which then prevents the car from being started and driven.
    Additionally, if they are in pursuit of a vehicle, they can send that same
    signal and shut off the ignition module. This will only prevent the sparkplugs
    from firing, but allow steering and braking components to be still active. This
    will eliminate the dangers associated with high-speed pursuits of felons. This
    is perfectly doable with today’s technology. Nothing new or special needs to be
    invented or developed for this to happen. It could be installed and in place on
    2014 models.

    Think what that would do to the value of your older vehicles
    NOT having that technology in place! I can see
    manufacturers issuing recalls and retrofitting this tech to older models, as
    well as installing same when a vehicle comes in for scheduled maintenance, or
    any type repair. Nor would they be required to inform you afterwards that it
    had been installed.

    I do not know this for a fact, I’m just surmising. But I did predict,
    sometime before these license plate scanners were ever developed, that one day
    this technology would be possible. I did this back in the early 90’s.
    SO, REMEMBER WHERE YOU HEARD THIS FIRST!

    • Raymond Combs

      Do you remember in the mid-’50’s when they first proposed seat belts? They were recommended for safety… because they would never be “required”! This led to shoulder harnesses and air bags (also now required). Unleaded gas would never be more expensive than leaded fuel. Can’t fight the oil companies to maintain that policy… so ban leaded gas!
      None of my three cars have a “brain” – so good luck in “retro-fitting”!!!

  • http://chris.pirillo.com/ Chris Pirillo

    I’ve never been without it.

    I’ve only been hit by people who had it.

  • http://netsperience.org decibel_places

    also If you want to get get caught you can also get a speeding ticket like that guy in Long Island who faked his death ‡¡‡

  • Matt33263

    I worked in Law Enforcement, particularly in a Dispatch role. I just left that profession less than a week ago. I went to a training class about 2 months ago that highlighted a “new” program that uses this technology. Camera’s are everywhere, even on private property. Well the companies that monitor those cameras have given permission to the government to place this ALPR software in their cameras. I don’t know the specifics because it was a very brief overview of it but basically not only is it government owned cameras it’s also some private cameras that are all “hooked up” to this database of stolen vehicles and such.

  • thompa

    If you are doing nothing wrong then you have nothing to fear!
    Some Insurance companies in the UK are now issuing a black box which records your style of driving and they give discounts for ‘safe’ drivers.
    Anything which reduces the number of deaths on the road is of benefit to us all.
    The Congestion charge in London, does work… but it ends up that only the wealthy can drive in the center. With a limited number of roads and growing number of vehicles something has to be done to manage how we move about. Congestion charges help by encouraging people to use public transport which is more efficient.
    Road charging, in general, was a Policy of the current UK Government but the backlash from the public has caused them to drop proposals. It would help in LA! There is only a limited amount of tarmac that we can lay!

    We cannot build ourselves out of congestion!