This article was published in 2004, in Newsletter 52.
Some years ago I read that a high percentage of motorists who park illegally in disabled bays have a criminal record (33%), and that 49% of the vehicles concerned had a history of traffic violations. At the time I thought this was a good counter to motorists who say, ‘The police should be out catching real criminals, not persecuting motorists.’
Now I’ve come across a recent Home Office report Engaging criminality – denying criminals use of the roads, on a pilot study into the use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) to identify vehicles and their drivers where some offence may have been committed.
ANPR has been around for decades, but the costs were huge and it was generally limited to anti-terrorist activities; now the plunging costs of IT and communications, linked databases, and improvements in imaging technology, mean it could soon be as common as speed cameras. The image from a camera in the police vehicle is scanned for a number plate and checked against the many databases. Officers are then informed of any suspected offences.
It is estimated that one million persons regularly drive without insurance, 10% of cars have no MOT, over 1.5 million vehicles have no road tax, and there is no registered keeper for nearly two million vehicles. Historically the police have not focused on such crimes as they were not seen as significant, but the results of this study, and others, means attitudes are changing.
In the pilot studies, police officers were catching ten times more criminals than officers on ‘normal’ duties. Out of some five million ‘reads’ some 5% were ‘hits’ but officers only stopped about 12% of these hits, resulting in approximately 3,000 arrests for serious offences. We’re not just talking about a little back vehicle excise duty, but stolen cars, drugs, driving whilst disqualified, and other serious offences. In fact the largest number of arrests were not for driving offences but for theft or burglary.
The report concludes that moving just 1% of officers to ANPR would increase arrests by 10%. It is also worthy of note that many people complain about the lack of ‘visibility’ of the police, and these ANPR duties could well rectify this, as we’re likely to see police vehicles with this equipment on our busier roads.
Will this make our roads safer? I’d say definitely ‘Yes.’ It will ensure that a much higher percentage of illegal drivers and vehicles are removed from the road, and should lead to a greater respect for the law of the road.
Of course, there are those criminals who use bicycles, but none of us would park in disabled bays would we?
The full report can be seen at: