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)