The chances of errant drivers, criminals on the move and problem vehicles being detected by police patrolling Northland roads is about to increase with the addition of a second specialist vehicle able to read thousands of car registration plates per hour.

From the outside the red police car looks no different to those patrolling Northland's roads.

But look a bit closer and there are three black boxes housing cameras either side of the flashing blue and red lights on the APNR - Automatic Number Plate Recognition - vehicle.

The cameras are linked to a computer screen next to the driver which then leads back to a hard drive computer in the boot. Immediately high-risk drivers who may be disqualified or forbidden, stolen vehicles or vehicles use in petrol drive-offs are detected.

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Those failing to display current registrations or warrants of fitness also flash up.

Depending on traffic flow, the ANPR unit is capable of scanning up to 3000 plates in one hour.

The number plate of just about every vehicle travelling towards or away from the patrol car will be read, matched against a police database and officers will know if there are any alerts on the car or drivers.


Northland police Inspector Wayne Ewers said the region had one APNR car based out of Whangārei that had covered the roads for three years but another vehicle should be patrolling by the end of the month.

The second vehicle would cover the mid and Far North area.

"It's all about removing unsafe vehicles and drivers off the road and making it safer for everyone," Ewers said.

Just last week a man released from prison stole a car from Auckland and travelled to Northland the same day.

Staff using the APNR car detected the driver near Whangārei where he was stopped.

"We try to operate these cars on the highway for transient criminals and not just traffic offences. This is not about tickets, it's about safety and catching criminals travelling through our district," Ewers said.

"The technology is vehicle-focused, so average law-abiding road users have nothing to worry about."

A short hour-long stint around Whangarei led to several wanted drivers and vehicles being stopped.

Ironically it was not the technology but the sharp observational skills of the two officers in the car that picked up an errant motorcycle rider on a Raumanga street.

The officers catch up with the 23-year-old rider as he nips into a driveway. Checks on the rider reveal he is breaching his bail conditions, is indefinitely disqualified from driving and is on active violence charges.

The motorbike is impounded as he is driven to Whangārei Police station where he was to be given a date to attend court.

The APNR can also be put into "car park" mode which allows officers to drive through a carpark and read the registration plates.

Police said it did not capture personal information about drivers or passengers, and operated without disrupting law-abiding road users.

The technology simply automates a process police normally have to do manually via an officer calling a police communication centre or on their mobile phones.