Motoring experts believe that there is a fear the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) could start mistakenly handing out fines to innocent drivers because of shocking errors that are being made by Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras, as tax discs begin to become obsolete.
As new figures reveal that police cameras are wrongly identifying as many as 1.2 million vehicles per day, it is thought that many motorists, through no fault of their own, could be given penalty charges from the DVLA as the process of scrapping tax discs begins to kick in.
The paper tax discs, which have been in existence and used for almost one hundred years to show and confirm when a motorist has paid tax, is to be abolished from the 1st October 2014. They will replaced by a more advanced digital system, which will involve cameras that are able read vehicle number plates. However, there are grave concerns that the change might lead to drivers becoming the victims of being wrongly penalised after recent figures revealed the apprehension about the cameras’ accuracy.
A presentation that was delivered by the Home Office and officials from the police force at a recent conference highlighted that the automatic number plate recognition cameras will often make errors when they are scanning four in every 100 licence plates. It was revealed that in 27 per cent of the cases, these cameras would mistake a number for a letter, for example recognizing a zero for an “O”. There was also the issue that in 25 per cent of circumstances, the error happened because there were screws and bolts positioned too close to characters on the plate, which caused confusion for the cameras. In another 25 per cent of cases, errors were caused due to broken or damaged plates and in 22 per cent of instances there was too much dirt on the number plate and the camera was unable to read the licence properly.
The police force has a national network of around 500,000 ANPR cameras, which currently capture about 30 million individual images of licence plates every single day. This suggests that as many as 1.2 million plates could therefore be read incorrectly.
The figures that were revealed in the Home Office and Police presentation were captured from a study that was carried out looking at 20,489 vehicles on roads in the counties of Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire by an independent ANPR consultant and former police officer, David Joy who said; “There is that little part in the back of my head saying, ‘how are they going to enforce this?’”.
Officials at the DVLA revealed that they did not recognise the figures, whilst insisting that all the camera images would be cross referenced against their electronic records to ensure they could match the make and model of the car with the licence plate on their records. A spokesperson at the Swansea based DVLA argued that penalties would only be handed out when officials were absolutely sure that the correct tax had not been paid by the car owner. But despite these reassurances, leading motoring groups in the UK are still fearful that motorists, who have correctly paid their tax in all good faith, could mistakenly be sent a letter of demand and fined for lack of car tax.
President of the AA, Edmund King said, “The fact the system will totally rely on computer data and ANPR reading means that some innocent people will be targeted for not having tax when they actually do.” The AA conducted a populous poll late in 2013, which revealed that almost half of all car owners were worried that they might forget to pay their new tax in time without the aid of a disc on their windscreen to remind them.
However, AA members who might feel naked without a tax disc on their windscreen can now fill the gap with a badge reminding them when their next payment is due.
The AA is now distributing similarly-sized badges to its members which will fill the void in the corner of the windscreen. King said, “It is nostalgic in a way, cars have had these discs in them for 93 years and I think drivers will really miss them. It will leave a gaping hole on the windscreen. Even if it was just a round bit of paper, you had got something for your money. It is part of our motoring heritage that will be blown away with this digitalisation.”
John Hewson of the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency insisted that motorists who had forgotten to renew their tax in time would get a “short period” of grace, but they would receive an £80 penalty in addition to the unpaid tax if any warning letters were not heeded and simply ignored. They could also be taken to court for non-payment of fines. Hewson said, “The last thing we want is people to fall foul of the law by accident. That concerns us much more than people trying to evade.”
Tax discs were first introduced to the UK roads in 1921, but the DVLA is confident that its electronic systems will mean that they are no longer needed and the changes will help taxpayers save about £20 million per year. Motorists will still need to pay tax on their vehicles on an annual basis, but they now do not need to display a disc in their windscreens to prove that they have done so. The change will also help to put an end to the practice of unexpired tax discs being passed on to new owners when a car is sold.