What is ANPR?

Oct 16, 2022

ANPR is a technology that is having a huge impact on traffic management. But what is it and what is driving its exponential rise in popularity?

ANPR is short for Automatic Number Plate Recognition but what is an ANPR system?

An ANPR system combines cameras with other technology to identify a vehicle, its location, and other data. When a vehicle passes an ANPR camera, it takes a picture which is ‘READ’ by the ANPR system. The ANPR system identifies the vehicle number plate from the image and records the READ information. The captured information is then used for a range of law enforcement and traffic management purposes.

A point to note is that Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) systems refer to a vehicle number plate as a Vehicle Registration Mark (VRM).

How does ANPR work?

Following an ANPR READ of a VRM the details are compared to vehicle database records.

An ANPR system identifies a number plate from a camera image using optical character recognition (OCR). Often infrared illumination is used by cameras to help capture clearer images.

ANPR data is made up of READ data and also data referred to as a ‘HIT’. As mentioned earlier, a READ is the capture of the number plate (VRM) via the image of the vehicle taken by the camera. A READ refers to all of the data captured at the time the image was taken. This data can also be referred to as a Capture Record. A HIT refers to the resulting match of the Capture Record once found in the ANPR system’s number plate database.

What are ANPR cameras used for?

Typically ANPR systems are used by

  • Private parking operators, for example, for access control and enforcement of car parks
  • Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) such as the Police
  • Government agencies such as the Department for Transport (DfT)
  • Local authorities, for example, for access control and traffic monitoring to council-controlled car parks, however, under the Road Traffic Act (RTA), ANPR cannot be used by local authorities for enforcement
  • Private companies, for example as part of their security systems.

Can ANPR cameras monitor congestion?

ANPR systems are used to control the traffic flow through variable speed limits on Smart Motorways. In 2022, the UK Government organisation Highways England operated 1 camera for every 27.3 miles of the road network feeding vehicle data into the National ANPR Data Centre (NADC). Approximately 11,000 ANPR cameras were submitting 50 million ANPR records every day.

Highways England’s traffic flow monitoring works slightly differently from cameras used for enforcement. When a vehicle passes a traffic flow camera, the number plate is read and identified as a non-unique reference number, referred to as a tag. Every time the number plate passes a Highways England ANPR camera it’s identified using the same tag. The tag is cross-referenced across all of the locations it was recorded to calculate journey times. This data is then used to monitor traffic congestion and manage motorway warning signs. The data is also used to feed congestion information to satnavs and mobile device mapping apps.

ANPR cameras are commonly used around the globe for this type of traffic flow management.

How do ANPR speeding cameras work?

ANPR systems are used on major roads in the UK for average speed checks. Cameras take timed images that are then used to check the average speed of vehicles between fixed camera points. The resulting vehicle identification data is used to issue any necessary speeding fines.

What do the Police use ANPR for?

The UK police use the ANPR network to detect, deter and disrupt criminality at local, regional and national levels. The Police do this by taking a wide range of actions such as detecting uninsured/untaxed vehicles, identifying stolen vehicles, or using the data as case evidence for major, and organised crime.

The UK Police use ANPR cameras that are part of the National ANPR Infrastructure (NAI). All Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) that use the NAI have approved LEA status and are listed in the National ANPR Standards for Policing (NASP).

Who controls the use of ANPR camera data?

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is the UK’s independent organisation that enforces information rights and handles complaints about ANPR camera and CCTV misuse.

Organisations that use ANPR cameras must comply with the ICO’s CCTV Code of Practice and data protection laws.

How is ANPR used in car parks?

Local authorities and private parking operators use ANPR systems to monitor vehicles accessing and exiting car parks and parking sites. However, as previously mentioned, it’s important to note that under the Road Traffic Act (RTA) local authorities cannot use ANPR to enforce parking regulations.

ANPR parking management systems enable automated payment processes, visibility of spaces, and ticketless parking. The systems use timed photographs of the accesses and exits of vehicles, often used for ticketless ‘pay as you leave’ parking sites.

Organisations using ANPR parking management systems have permission to obtain details of registered vehicle owners via the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) if they are a member of a DVLA-approved trade body. They use this information to enforce civil parking penalties for parking contraventions. It’s important to note that parking operators do not have access to Police records when accessing vehicle and owner information. Read more on our page on ANPR parking systems.

How Zatpark ANPR integration helps

Zatpark is a cloud-based parking management service. It provides end-to-end management of parking management processes.

Benefits of ANPR from Zatpark

  • Zatpark ANPR improves efficiency and extends your enforcement hours
  • Improves customer service
  • Seamlessly integrates the processing of ANPR images
  • Provides innovative tools to minimise administration
  • Speeds up booking-in processes for pre-booked parking
  • Reduces your financial overheads
  • Reduces the need for on-foot patrolling officers
  • Zatmobile mobile app extends Zatpark’s ANPR features to on-foot staff
  • Zatmobile’s ANPR capability speeds up vehicle observations.

Talk to us to discover how Zatpark ANPR can help you.

Learn more about ANPR

Further reading on this topic: ANPR Access Control

CCTV Code of Practice
BPA Code of Practice for Parking on Private Land

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