NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — If you’ve driven on the highway lately, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that most Tennessee license plates are now blue, a transformation to a new plate design that began early this year.
While the blue plates might be aesthetically pleasing, law enforcement initially complained they were very hard to read at night by LPR (license plate recognition) cameras. These cameras are used extensively by police, sheriff, homeowners associations, and even schools, to catch criminals, find missing people and maintain safety.
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On Monday, representatives of Flock Safety, one of the leaders in the industry, told News 2 the company has made many technological updates to read the new plate at night.
The state began disseminating the new plates in early 2022. It didn’t take long for law enforcement officers to find that the new blue plates at night were not showing up clearly on LPR cameras like those used by Flock Safety and many other vendors.
News 2 conducted its own experiment, driving a pickup truck multiple times past a Flock LPR reader at night. The truck had a blue plate on the back. Sheriff’s officials with access to the LPR technology told News 2 they were not able to read the license plate on the back of the pickup truck.
According to experts interviewed by News 2, the problem is a reflectivity issue with the new TN license plate design and how it’s seen by the infrared cameras at night.
“The nighttime readability of the new plates has gotten significantly better over the last several months, we can certainly tell you that,” said Holly Beilin of Flock Safety.
According to Beilin, Flock Safety is a leader in the LPR industry with LPR systems in more than 100 police, sheriff, and homeowner associations throughout Tennessee.
“Our machine learning team has been continuously updating the software, the code, and updating the machine learning and computer vision, and we are confident that nighttime readability is at the same level it was with the original [Tennessee] plates,” said Beilin.
Officials with the state Department of Revenue have consistently maintained there is no change planned to the plate design and the LPR companies will have to adapt their technology to read the new blue plates.
“We have an exceptional engineering and product team at Flock Safety, and we have law enforcement partners who really need to use our tech to help solve and reduce crime,” said Beilin.
News 2 reached out to the state Department of Revenue for this story. The department had no further comment except to update figures indicating that 4.9 million blue plates have now been produced with more than 5 million expected to be on the roads by the end of the year.
Michelle Sanders Parks, Director of Communications with the state Department of General Services did respond to several News 2 questions regarding LPR cameras on state right of ways and the bidding process for vendors.
Sanders Parks wrote:
“Local governments continue to maintain the ability and independence to procure LPRs consistent with state law and may place them on local roads as permitted. Local police departments do not have the authorization to place cameras on state property unless explicitly granted permission by the State.
If granted permission, the State has determined that the best way to maintain state oversight of any cameras placed on these right of ways is to limit such installation to cameras purchased by and through the existing state vendor. The State competitively procured the vendor, Vigilant of Motorola Solutions in 2021 and maintains information sharing through this vendor.”