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ANPR cameras: what are they and what do they do?

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April 20, 2021
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ANPR cameras are commonly found across the UK so it is worthwhile understanding what they are and how they are used. Find out everything you need to know about ANPR cameras here.

What does ANPR stand for?

ANPR stands for Automatic Number Plate Recognition. ANPR cameras read vehicle registration plates which are used alongside location data for a variety of traffic and law enforcement purposes.

How is ANPR used?

ANPR technology is used by Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) including the police, as well as private companies, local authorities, the DVSA and the DVLA.


ANPR camera van on motorway with traffic passing in foreground in England UK

Image source: Adobe Stock

The UK police use ANPR technology “to help detect, deter and disrupt criminality at a local, force, regional and national level, including tackling travelling criminals, Organised Crime Groups and terrorists.”

In other words, the police use ANPR data in a variety of ways, including detecting uninsured vehicles, locating stolen vehicles and even solving cases of terrorism, major and organised crime.

Do all police cars have ANPR?

Not every police vehicle is mounted with an ANPR camera. Exact figures of how many police vehicles have ANPR systems installed is not readily available for all regions. That said, some police forces do disclose this information on their websites. Dorset Police for example, possess 18 vehicle-based ANPR systems.

Car parks

ANPR cameras are used in many privately-run car parks and those managed by local authorities.

ANPR parking has many benefits such as ticketless parking, ability to track the number of available spaces, easier payment processes (e.g. via an app) and car theft prevention.

ANPR car parks also provide additional security by matching the vehicle’s number plate to the ticket issued, preventing ticket fraud. Timed photographs taken from ANPR systems can also give an accurate recording of how long a vehicle has parked there.

Traffic management

Busy motorway pictured on a cloudy day

Image source: Adobe Stock

Highways England operates around 1,100 ANPR cameras across approximately 500 sites on motorways and trunk roads.

ANPR systems are used to calculate journey times, which the National Traffic Operations Centre (NTOC) communicates to the general public through services such as Traffic England.

Security and access control

ANPR camera systems are also used at sites that require a high level of security such as prisons and private warehouses. The technology enables specific vehicles access to a location based on a predefined list.

What do ANPR cameras check?

In general, number plate recognition cameras can detect or be used to calculate the following:

  • Average speed of vehicles
  • Untaxed vehicles
  • Uninsured vehicles
  • Stolen vehicles
  • Instances of terrorism, major and organised crime
  • Traffic flow
  • Bus lanes and box junctions
  • Parking in car parks
  • The use of toll roads
  • The London congestion zone
  • Traffic journey times.

Do ANPR cameras check MOT?

Yes, it is possible for ANPR cameras to determine whether or not vehicles have a valid MOT. This is because ANPR systems can be used to cross-check vehicle registrations with the relevant databases that track vehicles without valid MOT certificates or road tax.

How does ANPR work?

ANPR camera technology takes a snapshot of a vehicle’s number plate and then converts that image into machine-encoded text – this is known as optical character recognition. The vehicle registration is then cross-checked with whichever database is being used by the ANPR operator for their specific requirements.

Police ANPR for example, reads a vehicle’s registration number as it passes a number plate recognition camera and is instantly checked against database records of ‘vehicles of interest’. Using this information, police officers can then intercept any vehicles red-flagged by the system, check it for evidence and, where necessary, make arrests.

How long is ANPR data stored for?

According to the police, ANPR data is stored for a maximum of one year. That said, the police staff only have access to ANPR data if it is relevant to their role and most can only access it for 90 days from the date it was collected. Some police staff can access data for up to a year, subject to authorisation.

Where are ANPR cameras?

Sign warning that ANPR cameras are in use in the area

Image source: Adobe Stock

According to the police, there are around 11,000 ANPR cameras across the UK which submit around 50 million ANPR ‘read’ records to national ANPR systems every day.

As well as being mounted within some police vehicles, ANPR cameras are used at fixed locations where they help to detect, deter and disrupt criminal behaviour. However, the police cannot disclose details of ANPR camera locations due to national policy – this information could benefit criminals.

While it’s not possible to know exact ANPR locations, there is data available that suggests where ANPR cameras can be found. According to data gathered by AutoExpress for example, the top 10 ANPR-scanning police force areas include:

  • West Midlands
  • Thames Valley
  • Cheshire
  • South Yorkshire
  • Surrey
  • Merseyside
  • Lancashire
  • West Mercia
  • Wiltshire
  • Dyfed-Powys.

Make sure you have car insurance

Not only is car insurance a legal requirement for all UK drivers, ANPR cameras can detect if you have valid car insurance. Thankfully, with more than 40 years experience in the insurance industry Adrian Flux can help you to find the right car insurance policy to suit your needs.

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