Potential Issues with ANPR Car Parks
Everything seems to have ‘smart’ technology involved with it these days. Driving in particular has seen huge changes, with complex, smart motorways becoming more and more prevalent. Now, Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) is in use in car parks all over the country, in retail parks, supermarkets and privately-owned car parks.
Although it should theoretically be fool-proof and fair, some drivers find that there are problems with the system which can cost them dearly in both time and money.
What is ANPR?
ANPR technology is based on the use of CCTV cameras to monitor the arrival and exit of cars, using photos of their registration plates. Combined with the purchase of a timed ticket allowing parking, the system is supposed to ensure that motorists don’t outstay their allotted time in the car park.
Usually, the driver will be required to punch their registration number into the ticket machine and that number will be printed on the ticket, so making the parking ticket non-transferable.
In the case of supermarkets and some other shops, there is often a period of free parking but drivers staying longer than that can be fined.
That all sounds fine – drivers pay for their parking space and time and everything is securely monitored by hi-tech methods, so nothing can go wrong.
Well, that’s the theory…
Potential problems with the ANPR car parks system
No matter how good the technology, wherever people are involved human error will creep in somewhere.
Asking drivers to input their car registration number is a good security measure for the car park owner, as it ensures that tickets with unexpired time can’t be passed on to other motorists coming into the car park.
However, when you’re in a hurry because you’ve an appointment, or it’s pouring with rain, or the kids are running amok, it’s all too easy to accidentally punch in O for 0 or to transpose a couple of letters or numbers. We know, as one of the CLM team got a fine recently for just that reason.
You won’t realise at the time that you’ve done it, but the eagle eye of the camera will normally have registered your true number plate on your way in and on your way out. Then, the technology behind the system will attempt to match up the digital images of your plate with the registration numbers on the tickets sold and, of course, it won’t be able to. So, it assumes that you didn’t buy a ticket.
What happens next is that the car park operators will contact DVLA to get details of your name and address. They are legally allowed to do this because, in their eyes, you’ve committed a breach of contract by using a parking space and not paying for it. A few days down the line, an envelope will plop onto your mat containing a letter detailing your dastardly deed. There will also be an invoice for what is often quite a large amount of money – some companies charge £100 or more – and the amount can be increased if you don’t pay promptly.
Pure bad luck error
Whilst the ANPR technology is good, it’s not infallible. There can be situations where you’ve pretty much done everything right, but you still get that unwelcome letter and demand for money:
Obstructed camera vision – Sometimes, if you’re in a line of cars waiting to leave the car park and you’re either a bit too close to the vehicle in front or you’re right behind a high vehicle, the CCTV exit camera doesn’t get a shot of your plate. So, as far as the system is concerned, you’ve entered the car park and bought a ticket but haven’t left by the time your ticket expires.
Likewise, it’s possible to have a problem with glare from the sun, heavy rain or snow stopping the camera getting a clear image. One interesting case showed that the number plate fixing bolt gave an inaccurate interpretation of the number to the camera.
In and out – You can face an issue if you enter the car park, circle around looking for a space – some parks are large, and this can take quite a few minutes – and then leave if you can’t find one, or if you don’t like the tariff being charged and decide to go elsewhere. The cameras spot you arriving and leaving, but here’s no matching ticket. Yes, they can even fine you for not paying for ten minutes! It can be hard to prove that you actually didn’t park at all.
More than one visit – If you use the same ANPR car park more than once in a day, you could find you also get a nasty letter. If the camera didn’t pick you up leaving the first time, the system assumes that you didn’t and that you outstayed your welcome.
If you think that scenario sounds unlikely, there are numerous reports all over the internet of motorists suffering similar problems.
Basically, it would seem that you have very few.
The ANPR carpark companies don’t have to allow a short ‘grace’ time period after a car has driven in, just in case of in-and-out drivers, for instance. Neither are they obliged to do comprehensive checks for things like double-visits, or make allowances for people entering an incorrect registration number into the ticket machine, even if they can prove that’s what happened.
Some companies operate an appeals system, but they’re generally not obliged to.
There is a code of conduct for parking companies and they can be sanctioned for bad practice, usually by being denied access to the DVLA records for a set time which effectively prevents then from collecting fines, but it’s self-policed and membership is voluntary. The British Parking Association has details of their voluntary code of practice for parking on private land here.
If you do get a penalty charge and you know and can prove you’re not guilty, then the company concerned will often back down if you stick to your guns. They’d look pretty silly taking you to court for something you can prove you didn’t do or wasn’t your fault.
Basically, it’s down to individual drivers to be aware of the potential problems and guard against them as best they can.
- Be extra careful when inputting your registration number into the machine.
- Keep your ticket for a couple of weeks at least. Then you can prove you bought one and, if you did accidentally put in the wrong registration, you can prove that too.
- Make sure your number plates are clean and can be easily seen.
- If you do get one of those letters, try to dig out proof that you couldn’t have been in the car park when they said you were – other car park tickets for the same day with times on; timed receipts for places too far away from the car park for you to be there when your car was allegedly parked. Anything that can support your case.
- Drive too close to the vehicle in front leaving the car park. If it’s a tall vehicle, leave extra space – you do need to be quite a way behind it for the camera to have a good view of your plate.
- Pay the fine in a panic if you’re quite sure you’re not at fault. It’s always worth contesting the charge if you know you didn’t do anything wrong. There are loads of helpful sites which have specimen letters and useful info you can use.