NUMBER PLATES of vehicles entering some service stations, shopping centres and hospitals are to be scanned in an effort to counter petrol thieves and boom-gate runners.

The Herald Sun can reveal hi-tech cameras will be installed at several locations in a VicRoads-led trial to thwart drive-offs, which cost retailers $20 million a year.

Under the trial, which will start in coming weeks, detailed vehicle registration information from a central database will be made available to approved users to help them to identify rogue drivers.

Powerful cameras will record vehicle numberplates at hospital, shopping centre and petrol station entrances, alerting staff to those vehicles involved in petrol thefts or dodging of parking payments.

It is unclear whether private operators would refuse service to drivers of red-flagged vehicles or if they would merely monitor them to try to ensure they did not break the law.

The fuel industry is welcoming the trial, under which Victoria Police and the Department of Justice and Regulation would have the job of charging offenders. Drive-offs are normally a civil matter.

Some major city hospitals charge $35 for a day’s parking, and at the weekend in Melbourne a 60 litre tank of petrol cost $94.

The technology being tried is similar to the automatic numberplate recognition technology police use to scan thousands of numberplates an hour. Databases allow police then to instantly identify drivers wanted on outstanding warrants, for licence breaches, and unpaid fines, and intercept them.

Various options for quick access to registration information, including scanning dozens of plates at once, will be tried in the test.

Australasian Association of Convenience Stores chief executive Jeff Rogut said that with access to the data “the service station attendant would get a red flag and they would then not authorise the pump. If someone is not genuine they would hop back in the car and drive off.”

VicRoads’ director of registration and licensing practice, standards and solutions, Helen Lindner, said the trial was in its early stages.

“VicRoads has established a working group with representatives from Victoria Police, the Department of Justice and Regulation, Fines Victoria, the Crime Statistics Agency and National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council looking into the misuse and theft of numberplates,” she said.

In a controversial 2013 decision to save 18,000 man hours a year, Victoria Police said it would not investigate fuel drive-offs unless there was clear evidence of deliberate non-payment. This left petrol stations to pursue drivers through the courts.

Some spent as much as $75,000 for cameras and numberplate recognition technology linked to a privately-run database of plates of vehicles that had been involved in drive-offs.

Each year, about 20,000 plates are stolen, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace. Stolen plates are used to evade tolls and to commit crimes.

Extracted from Herald Sun