Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Automatic Number Plate Recognition

with 5 comments

I have on numerous occasions on this blog recommended that speed limit enforcement needs to be upgraded. The BC Liberals, under Gordon Campbell, got rid of photo radar in response their supporters claims that the program was a “cash grab”. No satisfactory examination was conducted on its impact on road safety – so far as I am aware. I have often suggested that Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) be used to detect vehicles that travel lengths of road at speeds far above the posted speed limit. ANPR is already used for various travel surveys – such as turning movements through an intersection. My information of course is based on my knowledge and experience which is now very much out of date. When ANPR is used with current data processing techniques its impact is far reaching.

I would still like to see something much more effective being done to reduce the daily experience of seeing most cars on most roads exceeding the speed limit with impunity. But I must admit that reading “How Britain Exported Next-Generation Surveillance” was an eye opener for me.  There is nothing in the article that refers to Canada. But as we saw from the tv news coverage of the attack on Parliament Hill, and many other news stories, there is a lot of surveillance going on here. There was also that appeal for people to look at cctv videos of people who took part in the Stanley Cup riot in downtown Vancouver.

A lot of what has been introduced since September 11, 2001 in the name of security has been very intrusive and arguably not very effective. As the Matter article notes, much of the apparent success of the ANPR system has been due to sheer luck or other  investigative techniques. But in Canada police surveillance of law abiding protests, and tracking of people labelled “extremists” simply because they express a preference for clean air, drinkable water, nutritious food and a livable planet is already a legitimate concern.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 6, 2015 at 12:30 pm

5 Responses

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  1. I’m not a fan personally. Data collection starts to have unintended consequences – I’m not particularly interested in Ottawa suddenly having the ability to monitor where I drive and when, nor am I thrilled about the prospect of our neighbours to the south getting a hold of that information and then making their own decisions about what it might mean.

    In areas with road users who aren’t encased in an armoured metal box we definitely need reduced vehicle speeds AND we need to see them enforced, but those areas aren’t typically compatible with automated methods, especially the ‘automated number plate’ type systems that calculate average speed over a set distance. Most of the areas where high speeds are most likely to cause death/injury are places like Hastings or Broadway where there’s lots of pedestrians/cyclists/children/etc but average speeds are always going to be low due to crosswalks, lights, etc.

    The consequences of a vehicle going 20 over the limit on Highway 1 are generally non-existent, while a vehicle going 20 over the limit in a pedestrian heavy area skews the results of an accident from an injury towards death. I’d like to see more VPD officers out with radar guns in school/playground/bike zones, not the ‘all seeing eye’ recording my movements.


    January 6, 2015 at 2:52 pm

  2. South island police are BIG fans of ANPR, and very secretive on what they do with the data.

    GOOGLE it.

    The other half is insurance companies will start DEMANDING owners put data trackers in their vehicles, and that data will be used to set rates. If you think ‘Big Brother’ is going to stay away from that treasure trove of info, you’re living in a fantasy.

    o/t guest

    January 6, 2015 at 3:35 pm

  3. imagine the traffic on marine way / marine drive following the posted limits. It would be gridlock in the morning rush.
    Nothing beats paying attention .


    January 6, 2015 at 5:06 pm

  4. Actually, it wouldn’t. Gridlock is always the fear – but it is a temporary problem if it occurs at all. In cities where lower speeds have been introduced, traffic flow has improved. As always, the documented reality is different to the “common wisdom”.

    Stephen Rees

    January 6, 2015 at 5:43 pm

  5. @istvan
    There are optimum speeds for city and highway roads that maximize the number of vehicles per hour. Remember that slow moving vehicles are much closer together than fast moving ones.
    For a city you want everyone going at 50km/h and out on the freeway you want everyone going 95km/h. Those speeds maximize safe throughput of vehicles per hour.
    If even one vehicle is attempting to go faster or slower than everyone else then the whole system gets messed up and vehicle throughput drops. Elimination of speed differences is one reason why self-driving car advocates claim they can reduce congestion and cut fuel consumption. Another purported efficiency of self-driving cars is the reduced reaction times allowing cars to travel closer to each other. Top speeds, however, will likely go down rather than up to maximize energy efficiency. It takes more horsepower and fuel to travel 105km/h than it does to go 90km/h.


    January 13, 2015 at 10:09 am

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