Videalert provides full time enforcement with part time workload
First publishedin ITS International
Schools are becoming the latest places to benefit from automated enforcement
Videalert says its algorithms on automated enforcement can reduce the workload on staff while providing an effective deterrent to offenders. Colin Sowman reports.
While members of the public may believe that the enforcement of parking regulations, bus lanes and box junctions has no practical benefit and is purely a money-making operation, for many authorities the opposite is true. Enforcement is a loss-making but vital exercise as illegally parked vehicles create obstructions and dangers leading to gridlock on our roads which slows down vital services such as public transport in towns and cities.
Local authorities find themselves caught between the need to enforce the regulations and the cost of doing so. It is not a practical option to have civil enforcement officers (CEOs) standing in the middle of box junctions and bus lanes issuing tickets so automated CCTV-based enforcement solutions are the only safe option but of course these can create public resentment.
A good example is bus lanes with car parking spaces on the nearside or vehicles turning right across a box junction. Simply capturing the registration number of every vehicle travelling in a bus lane or stopped on a box junction can create high numbers of false referrals and potentially result in erroneous penalties being levied. In addition, capturing details of motorists that have not committed any offence could potentially leave the authority open to a legal challenge on privacy grounds. To overcome such problems, UK-based enforcement software specialist Videalert has developed a solution that ensures that only the details of offending vehicles are captured, transmitted and stored. Videalert director Tim Daniels says: “Our system can work with digital or analogue cameras and the aim of our software is to only capture details of offending vehicles. Relying on ANPR alone means details of all vehicles are captured, causing extra work for CEOs and requiring high levels of storage capacity to hold that amount of video evidence.”
Such a system will not only please privacy campaigners, who are not opposed to offenders’ details being captured, it also means that only vehicles committing infringements are referred for manual checking by CEOs for potential prosecution.
The software tackles these problems in several ways, the most significant of which is to define offending vehicles in the camera, so only data regarding offenders is transmitted and stored for checking by CEOs. Information such as white lists are checked in camera as are black lists of wanted vehicles and, if a vehicle of interest is detected, the data can be immediately sent to the police. Details of non-offending vehicles are either not gathered or immediately deleted.
Videalert bus lane enforcement in Leeds
A major part of the operation to detect offenders is to define the area of interest within the scene and thereby exclude vehicles in adjacent lanes and those travelling in the opposite direction. The company has developed a set of algorithms and filters which define a series of rules that are applied to all vehicles entering the target area to determine if an offence has been committed.
So, for instance, where a bus lane runs alongside some parking bays, details of all vehicles running in the bus lane would initially be captured and checked against the white list of permitted users such as buses and taxis. When a driver pulls into the bus lane and then parks in an available bay, the vehicle’s details would not be sent for subsequent review and validation prior to issuing a penalty charge notice (PCN).
Therefore this process excludes permitted users (both known and unknown) and means that most, if not all, of the remaining vehicles are probably offenders. In many countries legislation requires that each potential offender captured is manually checked by a CEO to eliminate any other permitted users and those who have offended through no fault of their own. To enable this assessment to be made, and subsequent fines to be levied, an evidence file is automatically compiled for each offence and sent to the authority’s server for review. Each file contains a contextual video clip of the offence taking place, three still images and a detailed number plate image. Should the number plate be unreadable from the close up shot, ANPR can be performed on any image in the contextual view.
The details of the offending vehicles are then forwarded to the back office system for processing where a PCN is issued.
As a way of quantifying the benefits of the system, Daniels says that in the Northern UK city of Bradford, enforcement cameras were placed on five bus lanes. With Videalert’s software filtering out all non-offending vehicles, there was no need to increase staff numbers to manually review the evidence as the existing CEOs were able to carry these out between their on-street patrols. In the first year after installation, over 60,000 penalty charge notices were issued.
When enforcing the obstruction of box junctions, the Videalert system takes into account the vehicle’s direction to differentiate between those making a legal turn and being prevented from clearing the junction versus those offenders who move into the box junction when their pathway is not clear and become stationary for at least the authority-prescribed period of time. The system is capable, subject to camera positioning, of simultaneously checking for multiple offences such as bus lane infringement, prohibited turns and speeding.
Videalert has gained approval for single camera enforcement of stationary offences
Videalert has just gained approval from the UK authorities to use a single camera to detect stopped vehicle offences – a move prompted by head teachers concerned about parents flouting the restrictions on stopping outside schools. According to Daniels: “The areas outside some schools can be chaotic places making parents even more reluctant to let their children walk to school. Taking them to school by car causes further congestion and makes the situation even worse.”
Using the Videalert system, if a vehicle stops within the predefined area for more than ‘x’ seconds, the camera records a contextual view, automatically zooms in to capture the number plate and then pans round to show the parking restrictions sign. “Basically this mimics what a manual operator would do,” added Daniels. “Drivers that are held up by illegally parked motorists are not prosecuted as the video clips in the evidence files will show they only stopped because they were obstructed, not to drop off or collect somebody.”
Set against a background of some public hostility, Daniels believes his company’s system can help authorities to cost-effectively enforce regulations without fostering resentment from people who feel they have had their privacy infringed or have been fined for an offence they didn’t commit. “We would like to see signs warning motorists of all cameras to demonstrate that the aim of the enforcement is to keep traffic flowing and improve public safety and not to raise revenue,” Daniels concludes.
Mobile or permanent installations
Many enforcement authorities use mobile installations such as camera cars to detect illegally parked vehicles, the misuse of bus lanes and other offences. Daniels says: “Parking regulations, box junctions and other restrictions are put in place to help traffic flow freely by ensuring parked vehicles don’t reduce road capacity and impatient motorists don’t block junctions.
“Enforcement should be designed to persuade motorists to comply with the regulations. If authorities rely on temporary cameras, many motorists will either check for camera cars before committing offences or simply take a chance that the cameras are deployed elsewhere. Either way, they are likely to create the very problem the regulations are trying to avoid.”
He argues that only if they know there is a permanent camera to capture their offences will most motorists be deterred from going into a bus lane or blocking a junction. He quotes the Leeds bus lane project as an example. “Since the cameras were installed two years ago the number of motorists illegally using the bus lanes has fallen by 74%. This allows the buses to run freely and on time, giving motorists even more of an incentive to leave their cars behind and use public transport – which was the council’s intention when the bus lanes were created.
“What’s more, because it is only the minority of the public who persistently offend, the vast majority of the public support the scheme,” says Daniels.