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Number plate scanners target speed and gangs

THE planned high-tech crackdown on speeding motorists might also be used in the battle against criminal gangs, the Herald has learned.

A nationwide network of sophisticated number plate recognition cameras are to be introduced on Irish motorways next year.

The aim is to bring down the overall number of road deaths.

But it has now emerged the authorities may allow the gardai to use this national 'spy network' to track down criminals and lawbreakers.

However, it is understood a number of legal loopholes may have to be closed off before the plan gets the go-ahead.

A Department of Transport spokesman said no decision on the matter had yet been made.

But it will be discussed with the relevant "stakeholders" before legislation is brought to government later this year.

He said the Department has responsibility for setting overall road safety policy, but is also in regular discussion with the gardai and the Department of Justice, when initiatives impact on their respective areas.

The plans announced by Transport Minister Leo Varadker will involve two cameras being placed on a stretch of road – if a motorist breaks the speed limit between both points a fine will be incurred.

Automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) is already in place at Dublin's Port tunnel and Cork's Jack Lynch tunnel.

However, the information is not being used to prosecute drivers as legislation is required to allow digital records be used as evidence in court.

The new cameras – to be placed above toll booths and overhead gantries – are expected to be rolled out in 2015.

ANPR uses optical character recognition technology to automatically read vehicle registration plates.

Gardai already use ANPR systems in its Traffic Corps vehicles.

DATABASE

A special database highlights car registration numbers of known criminals and stolen vehicles.

It also flags vehicles connected with car insurance scams, as well as suspects involved in the drugs trade and other crimes such as people trafficking.

A video camera records on-the-scene evidence of speeding, and offences such as dangerous driving, crossing continuous white lines and breaking red lights.

One of the main benefits of the system is that number plate recognition is available to gardai as they measure speed levels and violations of the highway code.

Some 114 vehicles, mainly from the Traffic Corps, are now fitted with the technology and ANPR vehicles are deployed in every garda division.

Roadside cameras are already used by many police forces worldwide in criminal convictions.

Since March 2006, most motorways in the UK have been covered by CCTV camera networks using the technology as part of a national system.

hnews@herald.ie


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