If your daily commute involves a toll bridge or highway, you may already be familiar with cameras that read license plates to extract turnpike fees. Now, the British government is exploring ways to use similar devices to keep uninsured motorists off the roads -- by preventing them from filling up in the first place.
According to a report in the Mirror, officials in the U.K. are looking at high-tech cameras as a way to reduce the number of uninsured motorists. Such cameras are already installed at gas stations across the country, where they use number plate recognition software to scan and record the license plates of cars who pull in to fill up.
Currently, that data is used to track down motorists who dash off without paying for their gas. But under the proposed new program, the camera's scanning software would cross reference each license plate with the U.K.'s database of insured drivers. If a plate isn't registered to someone with adequate insurance, the motorist wouldn't be allowed to gas up.
The good, the bad
On the one hand, uninsured motorists are a major problem, both in the U.S. and the U.K. Across the pond, there are about 1.4 million drivers without insurance, or around 4% of the driving pool.
In the U.S., that figure is much higher. Recent data indicates that around 13% of American drivers are uninsured.
This results in a number of problems, not least of which is the cost of auto insurance for those who do pay for it -- a cost that's ratcheted up to compensate for the uninsured. And of course, in the event of an accident when an uninsured motorist is at fault, it's the law-abiding victim who's left holding the bag.
On the other hand, the British plan seems like a recipe for total disaster if it were implemented in the U.S. Let's not even consider the issue of personal privacy: the fact that the government would rely on information scanned by a camera, then cross-referenced with data sourced from dozens of insurance agencies -- each with its own quirks and glitches -- seems like a ludicrous plan, to say the least. One disgruntled insurance agent with sub-par typing skills could spell headaches for scores of innocent drivers.
Gas station owners in the U.K. have already voiced concern about the plan, worried that their staff would have to deal with infuriated customers. We're pretty sure that members of the general public will come forward with other grievances before long.
Bottom line: Both the U.S. and the U.K. need to reduce their numbers of uninsured motorists -- that much is clear. But there are probably better ways to tackle the problem than the solution currently on the table.