How technology is keeping our roads safer

By: Kath Heiman, Photography by: Kath Heiman

Australia’s vast distances challenge law enforcement but technology is closing in.

How technology is keeping our roads safer
I just hope that, with the introduction of MANPR devices into our nation’s patrol vehicles, there’ll be a few less idiots on the road to spoil my day

Thanks to my daughter, I’ve spent more time around police in the last two years than during the rest of my life put together. But don’t be concerned. It’s all been by choice. My daughter’s only four years old and she’s fascinated by the police. So every fete we attend, she’s on the lookout for our local friendly constabulary. And any opportunity she gets, she’s in the front seat of a patrol car looking for the button that makes the lights flash and the sirens wail. 

So, when we recently pulled up opposite a highway patrol vehicle at the southern end of the Royal National Park, NSW, it didn’t surprise me when my daughter made straight to the driver’s side to say hello to the police officer. What did surprise me, however, was to see a rear image of my vehicle displayed on the patrol car’s dash-mounted screen, along with various data about the status of my car’s registration and my licence history. What I was looking at was the visual display component of a Mobile Automatic Number Plate Recognition (MANPR) system – and I’ve since learnt that these devices have become very common.

MANPR has been used by the New South Wales police since 2005. It comprises roof-mounted cameras linked to optical recognition software and supporting databases. The system identifies unregistered and stolen vehicles, disqualified or suspended drivers as well as other ‘persons of interest’, including those with outstanding warrants. If there’s a match, the software notifies the police officer via the patrol car’s dashboard screen, recording the time, date, location and plate details.

There’s been some backlash against the introduction of this technology in Australia, with opponents fearing abuse of power and the erosion of civil liberties by police. But I’ve got to say, for my part, I’ll be pleased to relinquish a little privacy if it helps get unlicensed drivers off the road. 

Recent Centre for Road Safety statistics indicate that unlicensed drivers are involved in 5% of all fatal vehicle crashes, and up to 30% of motorcycle fatalities. The report also reveals that crashes involving unlicensed motorists have a higher incidence of alcohol, drugs and speeding which results in more severe injuries. With AusRoads reporting that 70% of unlicensed motorists are driving on a semi-regular basis, it appears these people are placing me – and my family – at risk. And with their insurance invalidated due to their unlicensed status, I don’t see why I should have to lean on my insurance policy to cover an accident caused by a driver who shouldn’t have been on the road in the first place.

The introduction of MANPR technology is just another illustration of how the rapid growth of technologies is significantly changing the way that personal information is collected and used in this country. From CCTV footage in public areas across our cities, to smart phone apps enabling our geo-location 24/7, it’s getting increasingly difficult to maintain anonymity, even when we think we’re alone.

It’s one of the reasons that many of us find the open road so appealing. After all, it’s still possible to find communication blackspots in Australia that are tens of thousands of kilometres in radius. Out here, technology is far more of a luxury than it is a threat to civil liberties. With handheld GPS and PLBs readily available and affordable, modern technology offers us levels of unprecedented security to support our remote area adventures.

The fact is that technology has already fundamentally changed the relationship between private citizens, the government and law enforcement entities. Big Brother is watching – and there are simply fewer and fewer places of refuge from today’s modern world.

I just hope that, with the introduction of MANPR devices into our nation’s patrol vehicles, there’ll be a few less idiots on the road to spoil my day.

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Check out the full feature in issue #94 November 2015 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.