Road policing

Disrupting criminality

Criminals’ use of roads ranges from minor motoring offences to international organised crime. Forces should use intelligence and enforcement to disrupt criminality. Police may be called to assist with road checks being conducted by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) and be associated with national and seasonal campaigns.

Powers to stop and seize vehicles

The police have a number of powers to enable them to search and seize vehicles.  Forces should work closely with local authorities and other partners to ensure that abandoned vehicles are removed as soon as possible. Local authorities have a duty to remove any vehicle abandoned in the open air or on any part of the highway. The police can seize a vehicle on a road if it may have been used to commit crime or has been left in a dangerous or unlawful position, or in a dangerous condition.

Powers to stop vehicles

  • Section 163 of the Road Traffic Act 1988: a person driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road must stop the vehicle on being required to do so by a constable in uniform or a traffic officer.
  • Section 4 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 allows either all vehicles or those selected by a particular criterion to be stopped in a particular locality in order to locate an offender or witness involved in an indictable offence (subject to authorisation). The location of such road checks is integral to achieving this objective. It should afford maximum protection to both the public and police while giving little warning to the suspect and no escape routes.
  • Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order 1994 gives preventive stop and search powers (subject to authorisation) to the police where violence is anticipated in a particular location.
  • Section 43section 44 and section 45 of the Terrorism Act 2000 give preventive stop and search powers to the police when terrorist activity is anticipated in a particular location.

It is recommended that vehicles are stopped from behind. When stopping vehicles, officers should:

  • Monitor the reactions of other drivers in case they believe an instruction to stop applies to them.
  • Ensure that the target vehicle has stopped before bringing the police vehicle to a stop.
  • Position the police vehicle in such a way as to make the best use of emergency lighting and markings. It may be necessary, to ask the motorist to move to a safer location.
  • On motorways and dual carriageways, consider taking vehicles off the carriageway and stopping them at the next junction or service area.
  • On the motorway hard shoulder, leave a distance of at least 25 metres between the police vehicle and the subject vehicle. This also applies when attending a broken-down vehicle on the hard shoulder.
  • On the motorway hard shoulder, instruct drivers on how to rejoin the carriageway safely. Officers need to be confident that the following advice has been understood:
    • build up speed on the hard shoulder to match the speed of the traffic in lane one
    • signal prior to moving into an available gap
    • ensure that motorists from other lanes are not about to move into the same space.

When stopping a vehicle from the front, the police vehicle’s rear matrix (where fitted) should be used to direct the vehicle to a suitable and safe location, and then stopped.

Seizing vehicles

  • Road Traffic Act 1988 (Retention and Disposal of Seized Motor Vehicles) Regulations 2008 allows the police to charge the driver if the vehicle is to be removed and retained under section 165A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (power to seize vehicles driven without licence or insurance).
  • Section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002 allows the police to seize motor vehicles which are being driven inconsiderately or carelessly on a road or other public place (contrary to section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988) or without lawful authority, off road or on any road that is a footpath, bridleway or restricted byway (contrary to the section 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988) and in such a manner as to cause, or is likely to cause alarm, distress or annoyance to members of the public. A constable shall not seize a motor vehicle under this power, unless a warning is given that continued use will lead to seizure.
  • Section 34B of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 allows vehicles to be seized where they have been used to commit a relevant offence.
  • Sections 173 to 175 of the Transport Act 2000 allow the police and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) to seize untaxed vehicles.
  • Section 41 of the Police Reform Act 2002 allows chief constables to accredit DVSA staff with the power to stop goods and passenger vehicles.
  • Section 64 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 allows the police to enter land and seize vehicles in relation to rave events.
  • Section 45 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 allows the police to seize criminal assets, including vehicles that are subject to a restraint order where it is necessary to prevent the vehicle’s removal from England and Wales.
  • Section 19 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) gives general powers of seizure.
  • Section 25d of the Immigration Act 1971 provides that a senior officer or a constable may detain a relevant ship, aircraft or vehicle if a person has been arrested for an offence under section 25, 25A or 25B of the Immigration Act 1971.

HM Revenue and Customs have the power to seize vehicles suspected of being used to smuggle tobacco and alcohol into the UK.

Arrested persons

Where the necessity test is met under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) Code G, transportation of detainees should only be undertaken in accordance with force policy. Consideration should be given to:

  • searching the back of the police vehicle and removing any equipment before placing the suspect in the vehicle
  • searching the suspect before placing them in the car
  • using handcuffs
  • activating the child locks to prevent the suspect opening the car doors, and deactivating any electric windows
  • seating another officer behind the driver, watching the suspect at all times
  • searching the back of the police car on arrival at the police station, in the presence of the suspect.

If the occupant(s) of a vehicle is arrested, officers should ensure that the vehicle is left in a safe position.

Dynamic risk assessment

Officers should carry out a dynamic risk assessment prior to stopping a vehicle and ensure that it is stopped in a position which gives approaching traffic sufficient warning. There are additional factors to consider when a vehicle(s) is suspected of being involved in terrorism or is believed to be carrying:

  • firearms – in this case specialist advice from a firearms advisor should be sought
  • drugs – the National Crime Agency (NCA) diamond database can provide information on the movements, transportation methods, routes used, packaging, markings and concealment methods
  • vulnerable people – this includes those subjected to child sexual exploitation, human trafficking, kidnap and extortion, mispers and child abduction.

Anti-social behaviour

Forces should adopt a problem-solving approach to anti-social behaviour on the roads. Examples of anti-social behaviour on the roads include:

  • using of mini-motos
  • road rage
  • gatherings of young drivers in public areas
  • cruise events
  • obstructions and illegal parking
  • illegal off-roading
  • abandoned vehicles
  • illegal dumping of waste.


Technology can transform how the police tackle criminality on the roads. It can also assist in counter-terrorism activity. Technology available to forces to disrupt criminality includes:

  • Automatic number plate recognition (ANPR)
  • CCTV
  • Vehicle tracking – devices which may be fitted to vehicles by manufacturers or the public. Some allow vehicles to be immobilised remotely. Many police vehicles and air support units have tracking equipment fitted.
  • Smartwater – a clear liquid substance only visible under ultraviolet light. It contains a unique code and is used to mark property.
  • Roadside fingerprinting (project lantern).
  • Facial recognition.
  • Average speed safety cameras.
  • FIND (facial images national database) project.

Automatic number plate recognition

Automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) is technology which provides a quick and effective means of identifying vehicles and matching them against pre-determined indices or flags. It is a proactive policing tool for response policing and investigations which can prevent criminality by targeting criminals through their use of the roads.


  • automatically reads vehicle registration marks (VRMs), allowing these details to be compared against database records
  • provides a tactical option to disrupt, deter and detect criminal activity and, by doing so, helps to increase public confidence
  • only identifies a vehicle of interest based on the number plate it is displaying, but such identification should not replace thorough investigative enquiries and officer discretion.

The ANPR number plate reading device (NRD) takes images of numberplates and the picture is passed to a reader. This locates the VRM and reads the letters and characters so that they can be identified using optical character recognition (OCR) software. An image of the plate patch (and in most cases an overview) is saved. Where the information is gained through a non-law enforcement agency (LEA) operated system, in some circumstances images may not be retained. The information is checked against local and national databases, and feedback is provided to the operator

To enable the development and integration of ANPR, all ANPR systems operated by the police service in England, Wales and Northern Ireland should be compatible with one another and comply with common standards supporting a national strategy. These standards are the National ANPR Standards for Policing (NASP) part 1 and part 2.

Numberplate reading device

ANPR systems usually consist of a camera linked to an NRD that captures and reads data. These functions can be separate, with NRDs sending remote feeds to readers. The capability of the reader dictates the number of vehicles that can be read. NRDs can be:

  • Static – a static ANPR system is built for the primary purpose of capturing and reading VRMs and is located in a fixed position with no intention of the system being moved.
  • Moveable – a moveable system is built for the primary purpose of capturing and reading VRMs and is located in a fixed position on a temporary basis.
  • Dual lane – a dual lane ANPR system has the capability to read the VRM for vehicles travelling in two lanes of the highway using a single NRD.
  • CCTV integrated – is where a dual-purpose CCTV camera can operate as a CCTV camera and as an NRD. The camera should be optimised for the purposes of ANPR. Integrated systems only provide data to the back office facility (BOF) when in ANPR mode.
  • Mobile – a mobile ANPR system is built for the primary purpose of capturing and reading VRMs. These include vehicle-mounted ANPR systems and other portable systems deployed on a temporary basis.
  • Covert – circumstances may arise where temporary static, portable systems or purpose-built covert systems are deployed in support of an investigation in circumstances where it is not possible to establish a live-link to the BOF.

ANPR data

ANPR data comprises read data and hit data. A read is the capture of the VRM and image of the vehicle as it passes through the NRD. Read data is the term used to describe all the data collected as vehicles pass through the ANPR reader. A hit is a record of the match to a VRM held within the database being searched.

Reads are saved in a central repository in each force and are then transmitted to the national ANPR data centre (NADC). ANPR data is accessed via the BOF. In addition to the VRM, ANPR data includes the time, date and location of the read and any associated images.

It is the responsibility of forces to ensure that ANPR readers are calibrated to record the time, date and location for all images that are obtained. Forces are required to prove the accuracy of ANPR data when it is used in evidence.

Back office facility

Each force uses a centralised database for storing and analysing ANPR data, commonly known as the BOF. The BOF can be searched on a case-by-case basis in support of an investigation for matches in both read and hit data. Searches of local data must be in accordance with local policy. Searches of NADC or other law enforcement agency systems must be in accordance with the National ANPR Standards for Policing (NASP) part 2.


It is important that forces develop force policy and procedures for the effective management and deployment of ANPR assets. These should cover a range of issues that maximise the benefits of ANPR within core police business and support the development of relationships with partner agencies.

The development of a service level agreement (SLA), or memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the LEA and partners, should be considered for the operation of ANPR systems. The SLA provides the necessary information for all parties on how, when and what type of ANPR alerts the police will respond to, and the responsibilities of individual partners.

Key roles

ACPO officer or equivalent – owns the LEA policy. They also ensure that:

  • ANPR is embedded in core business
  • investment opportunities are regularly reviewed to achieve optimum benefit using ANPR technology
  • information sharing agreements (ISAs) with partners are in place
  • staff undertake the correct level of training, as appropriate to their role.

The ANPR manager advises and supports the development of the ANPR LEA policy and procedures, partnership agreements and ISA. They also ensure that the audit and quality assurance processes are in place and compliance is evident. The manager also provides operational support to ANPR systems.

The controller is responsible for monitoring ANPR hits and then controlling and coordinating the response to hits in line with force policy.

ANPR tactical advisers provide advice on the use of ANPR. They require sound investigative knowledge as well as technical knowledge of ANPR systems and capabilities. They should understand and be able to advise on the benefits and drawbacks of ANPR in relation to, for example, evidential issues, and how ANPR can be integrated with other investigative strategies.

Response or intercept officers are any operational police officers who respond to an ANPR hit.

Legal considerations

The use of ANPR for law enforcement and crime prevention purposes depends on maintaining the public’s confidence that the technology is being used lawfully and appropriately.

Legal considerations should include:

  • Data retained and stored as a result of ANPR could be viewed as an infringement of an individual’s right to respect for private and family life as set out in Article 8 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Any infringement of this right must have a lawful basis and be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. In determining whether the use of the equipment is proportionate, the deploying officer must consider the purpose of the deployment and the necessity of its use for the offence being investigated as compared with the impact on the individual’s rights under the ECHR. The decision to deploy ANPR must also be fully accountable and the decision documented.
  • The use of ANPR data must be comply with the principles of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). ANPR data is classed as personal data as defined by the DPA. The requirements for the retention of and access to ANPR data must be detailed within force policy, taking account of the requirements of legislation. The force data controller must ensure that when a request is made by the data subject (eg, the registered keeper of the vehicle) they are provided with the following information
    • the identity of the data controller
    • the purpose for which the personal data is intended to be processed
    • further information to enable processing in respect of the data subject to be fair.
  • The use of information signs where ANPR NRDs are deployed, or where ANPR vehicles are patrolling, should always be considered. This may include permanent signage throughout a force area. The DPA, however, allows an exemption to this requirement where the provision of such information would be disproportionate or impracticable.
  • Personal data gathered (by the police) using ANPR technology should be obtained only for a specified purpose for which it has been registered and it shall not be used for any other purpose. If it is not relevant for a specified and lawful purpose, the data must not be retained. The reason for retaining ANPR data must be documented in case of any future investigation by the information commissioner.
  • The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 and its associated code of practice contain provisions regulating the use of ANPR. They state that the secretary of state must publish a code of practice for surveillance camera systems which includes ANPR. Although the provisions of the code are not directly enforceable, relevant authorities, such as the police, should have regard to these in the conduct of their functions.

ANPR for response policing

A number of  issues should be considered when using ANPR as part of a response policing strategy. These include:

  • deployment considerations:
    • nature of the crime
    • intelligence and information available
    • traffic flows
    • available vehicle site
    • additional support resources
  • tactical considerations:
    • environment and location
    • other operational commitments
    • type and number of available resources
    • other agency support or partnership working
  • ANPR systems fitted to police vehicles should remain operational as much as possible to gather read data (for example, when single-crewed or already dealing with an incident).
  • the potential to collect intelligence which would otherwise not be gathered.
Police national computer data and ACT/REACT reports

If a vehicle comes to the notice of a response patrol as a result of a police national computer (PNC) check, it is expected that it will be dealt with according to the information contained within the report. An action (ACT) report may include the requirement to STOP the vehicle or ASSESS – where the action should be determined based on the information within the report and the circumstances relevant at the time.

A reaction (REACT) report is used to cancel an ACT after the required action has been completed. If it is apparent that the ACT report is of ongoing relevance to an investigation or an enquiry, a REACT report should not be created.

An officer who stops a vehicle but does not have live-link access to the PNC should verify any information in the ACT report.

Pre-planned operations

ANPR can be used as part of a pre-planned operation where an immediate response can be made to a hit on a local database. Consideration should be given to the location of the NRD, and the operation should be planned and managed to reduce the possibility of a pursuit.

Cross-border operations should form part of the level two tasking and co-ordination process.

ANPR infrastructure

An NRD may only be deployed at locations identified following an assessment that establishes a need for ANPR at that location in order to detect, deter, and disrupt criminality. This also applies to LEAs receiving data from ANPR systems operated by other organisations. Where a need is identified, it is also necessary to consider whether the deployment or receipt of data is appropriate and proportionate with balancing protection of the public with the rights and legitimate expectations of individual privacy.

Strategic assessment should take account of the following factors:

  • national security and counter terrorism
  • serious, organised and major crime
  • local crime
  • community confidence and reassurance, crime prevention and reduction.

A privacy impact assessment (PIA), which includes consultations with relevant stakeholders, is required for all planned new infrastructure. The extent of consultation should be determined in the context of the proposed development, with a presumption that it will include all persons and organisations with a reasonable interest in the proposal, unless that would be contrary to the purpose of the development.

The continued requirement for an NRD at a location, or for an LEA to receive data from ANPR systems operated by other organisations, should be monitored. The device should be removed, or the receipt of data terminated, should the justification for deployment at that location cease. The locations of all NRDs, and the need to receive data from systems operated by other organisations, must be reviewed at least annually, taking into account the above factors, to ensure that the deployment or receipt of data remains appropriate and proportionate.

Page last accessed 21 July 2019