ANPR – Parking Your Car – Beware!

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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

Human error

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.

Your rights?

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.

Protect yourself

Basically, it’s down to individual drivers to be aware of the potential problems and guard against them as best they can.

Do:

  • 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.

Don’t:

  • 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. This one from Which is excellent.
By |March 15th, 2019|Categories: Driving|

5 Comments

  1. K Hargreaves August 9, 2019 at 8:04 am - Reply

    Secret is never use a car park where you have to put in your registration. You are open to making a mistake if the sun is shining on the machine and the visibility is poor. Your time of staying is limited to what time you have selected and these companies make millions out of your slight mistakes. Use a car park where you pay with a disc or exit payment machine where you pay for what time you have used. Can’t make a mistake with these.

  2. Magpie ANPR July 9, 2019 at 10:25 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing this one. Well-appreciated.

  3. Ann June 12, 2019 at 5:51 pm - Reply

    David, the only way is to provide concrete proof that you weren’t there between the times they’re citing. Shop receipt, other parking tickets or anything with the date and relevant time that you can use as evidence.
    A lot of ANPR car parks work on a ‘first-in, last-out’ basis where the technology sees your number plate more than twice in one day, just takes the first arrival time and the last departure time and assumes you’ve been there for the whole period in between.

  4. David June 12, 2019 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    I am currently appealing against a charge through POPLA after being refused by Brittania parking. Basically I dropped my children off at Frankie and Benny’s in Spalding then picked them up again 2 hours later. At no time did I park in a space and left immediately each time. The so called fool proof ANPR camera pictured me entering the first time and leaving the second time. The company declined my appeal because their camera has a fail safe system of checks. The only evidence they have is a pictur if me entering and leaving but no evidence of me actually parking because I didn’t. POPLA are now asking me for further evidence as Britannia have provided the same photos as they did initially. There is no others CCTV in the area. Clearly the system is at fault but how do I get evidence of this? Can anyone help?

    • Bruce July 23, 2019 at 12:22 am

      Thought to help.

      If you have an Android phone pull up your location history for the day. It will show all of your time/journeys/locations on Google maps Take a screen dump and send it in.

      If they refuse that data send Google a SAR and ask them for location data on that particular day. Then send that to prove your case.

      As ANPR is automatic processing and it impacts you financially you can SAR request the parking company to explain how the system logic actually functions. If it only records first entry and last exit then it is flawed.

      You could repeat the exercise with a dashcam and a GPS logger. When they send you another bill send in the evidence refuting the new claim and also ask them to cancel the first bill or see them in court. You could also ask for an apology and costs. Threaten Small claims court action.

      If your car has a built in Satnav go back through history and see if it has logged the journey.

      Ask F&B if they have video of the party inside the restaurant which will show party arriving/leaving and you not there. Plus do you have any phone logs showing calls from another phone to your phone at around pick up time.

      Do not know if you can request from your mobile phone provider the data regarding which mast your phone was logged to. If you can get this data eg submit a SAR, then it will show your phone out of the F&B area for 2 hours.

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