Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras have long enhanced safety, security, and efficiency. This technology can instantly recognise and record vehicle license plates, even in low light or poor weather conditions.

ANPR cameras are widely used in applications such as traffic management, crime prevention, parking enforcement, and toll collection. This article explains how ANPR cameras work, their benefits, and their diverse applications.

What is ANPR?

Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) is a technology that uses specialised cameras and software to identify and read vehicle license plates automatically. 
The system captures images of passing vehicles’ license plates and processes these images to extract the plate numbers. This is done using Optical Character Recognition (OCR), which converts the visual data into digital text. 
ANPR technology is designed to function effectively in various conditions, including low light and bad weather, making it a reliable tool for monitoring and managing vehicle movement.

How Does an ANPR Camera Work?

ANPR cameras capture and analyse vehicle license plates using advanced technology. Here’s a simplified overview of the process:

  1. Image Capture:
    • High-resolution cameras, often with infrared lighting, capture clear images of vehicle license plates under various conditions.
    • Scene illumination ensures that the license plate is visible even in low-light conditions.
  2. Plate Detection:
    • The software processes the image to detect the license plate area. This step involves analysing the reflectance of the license plate.
  3. Character Segmentation:
    • The detected plate is further processed to isolate individual characters—adjustments such as the F-stop in the camera help in capturing usable video.
  4. Optical Character Recognition (OCR):
    • OCR technology converts isolated characters into digital text. Cameras with Automatic Gain Control (AGC) help optimise image quality for better OCR accuracy.
  5. Data Processing:
    • The recognised license plate information, along with additional data (e.g., date, time, location), is stored in a database.
  6. Real-Time Use or Storage:
    • The data can be used immediately for tasks like alerting authorities or stored for future reference, such as managing parking facilities.
ANPR Camera Height Infographic

This infographic illustrates the process of capturing usable video footage of a vehicle’s license plate using an Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system:

  1. Scene Illumination: Adequate lighting is crucial to illuminate the vehicle’s license plate for clear visibility.
  2. Reflectance: The system analysess the reflectance of the license plate to ensure the plate numbers are detectable even under varying light conditions.
  3. F-stop: The camera’s aperture setting (F-stop) is adjusted to optimise image clarity and depth of field.
  4. Usable Video: Ensuring the captured video is clear enough for processing.
  5. AGC (Automatic Gain Control): This feature adjusts the camera’s sensitivity to enhance image quality under different lighting conditions.

This step-by-step flow ensures that the ANPR system effectively captures and processes license plate information under diverse environmental conditions.

Applications of ANPR Cameras

ANPR cameras are highly versatile, which is why they’re used in a variety of applications. Let’s explore some of their most common uses:

Traffic Management and Control

ANPR enables efficient traffic flow monitoring. For instance, in cases of traffic rule violations such as speeding or running a red light, the camera can capture the offender’s plate number, which can be later used for enforcement. For example, ANPR is used in London to enforce congestion charges, improve traffic flow, and reduce pollution.

Parking Enforcement

ANPR cameras help manage parking in private and public car parks. They record the time when a vehicle enters and exits the car park, making it easier to manage parking spaces and billing. Many shopping centres use ANPR to automatically charge registered vehicles for their parking time, which saves customers time and improves their shopping experience.

Security and Surveillance

Another use case for ANPR cameras is security and surveillance. These cameras identify and track criminal activity and stolen vehicles. The system will alert security personnel or the police when a match is found. The Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) use ANPR to help detect, deter and disrupt unlicenced drivers and untested vehicles.

Toll Collection and Congestion Charging

For toll roads, bridges, or congestion charging zones, ANPR can automate the collection process. Vehicles passing through are identified, and charges can be applied without the need for manual operations or physical toll booths, improving efficiency and reducing congestion.

In 2021, Transport for London operated a network of 1,544 ANPR cameras to monitor and enforce:

  • The Central London Congestion Charging Scheme
  • The Central London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ)
  • The Central London Emission Zone (LEZ)
  • Direct Visition Standards (DVS)
  • HGV Safety Permit Schemes

Access Control

ANPR technology is also crucial for controlling vehicle access in secure areas. It ensures that only authorised vehicles are allowed entry, enhancing security and efficiency. For example, many gated communities and secure facilities use ANPR to automatically grant access to vehicles that are registered in their system. This not only improves security but also streamlines the entry process for residents and authorised personnel.

Case Study: London Waste

We implemented an ANPR system for London Waste to enhance its access control measures. This system automatically recognises and grants access to authorised vehicles, ensuring only permitted vehicles can enter the facility. You can read more

Read the case study Explore Access Control ANPR Solutions

Integrating ANPR with Other Systems

The usefulness of ANPR technology increases when integrated with other security or traffic systems. For instance, ANPR can be combined with CCTV surveillance systems for broader security coverage. In access control systems, ANPR can automate the entry and exit of authorized vehicles, enhancing security and efficiency.

ANPR technology, with its capacity to recognise license plates rapidly and accurately, provides a range of benefits. Its applications stretch beyond simple security and surveillance, extending to traffic and parking management, law enforcement, and more. The future may see even broader uses as ANPR technology continues to evolve and integrate with other systems.

3 CCTV cameras installed on a ceiling next to a smoke detector

Key Takeaways

  • ANPR cameras utilise advanced optical character recognition technology to capture and analyse license plate images rapidly and accurately.

  • They can function effectively under challenging conditions like poor weather or low light, making them a reliable tool for various applications.

  • Key applications of ANPR cameras include traffic management, parking enforcement, toll collection, and security surveillance.

  • ANPR technology can assist law enforcement by identifying and tracking stolen vehicles or those involved in criminal activities.

  • In parking management, ANPR cameras can help monitor parking occupancy, duration, and violations.

  • For toll roads and bridges, ANPR cameras can automate the collection process, enhancing efficiency and reducing congestion.

  • The integration of ANPR with other systems like CCTV cameras or automated gates increases its usefulness and effectiveness.

  • The versatility of ANPR technology points towards a future where it could play a pivotal role in the development of smart cities and intelligent transportation systems.


The ability of ANPR to quickly and accurately capture and analyse license plate data, even under challenging conditions, underscores its robustness and versatility. From assisting law enforcement and parking management to optimising toll collection and access control, the potential uses of ANPR are vast and continue to expand.
As we move forward, it’s exciting to envision how this technology will further evolve, seamlessly integrating with other systems and contributing to the development of smart cities globally. In a world increasingly reliant on data and technology, ANPR cameras undeniably hold a significant place. They symbolise a future where technology and innovation harmoniously blend to create safer, more efficient, and more intelligent environments.