UPDATE: Read the latest on the license plates issues here.
UPDATE (x2): Some Tennessee specialty plates already on the roads could also be hard to pick up by LPR cameras at night.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Are the new Tennessee license plates being sent to motorists across the state invisible to some license plate recognition cameras being used in some cities?
That’s a question state officials and local law enforcement agencies are now asking.
By now, you have undoubtedly seen Tennessee’s newest license plate. It’s blue with white letters with the Tennessee Tri-Star in the middle.
According to the Tennessee Department of Revenue, 400,000 of these new plates have been mailed to motorists around the state. Revenue officials say by the end of the year, that number will be around 5.5 million.
But some, like electrical engineer Tim Holman, are raising questions about the new plates, especially how readable they are at night to LPR cameras.
“I have had a lot of plates from a lot of different states go by my cameras over the years and I’ve never seen this issue till this new plate came out this year,” Holman said.
Holman is an electrical engineer who has his own LPR system at his home. He said he created it using cameras that are commonly available on the market, adding specific software that allows his cameras to read license plates that go by their field of vision.
“I’ve used those to give police info about license plates on vehicles involved with crimes on my street,” Holman said.
On Wednesday, Feb. 2, around 1:51 am, Holman said thieves broke into numerous cars around his home. He went to his LPR cameras to see if he could find some license tags so the police could investigate.
Holman said he knew the time of the crime, but when he checked his system, nothing was coming up.
He did a more thorough check, and that is when he discovered that at night the new Tennessee license tags are blurry or even invisible to his LPR system.
Holman said the ability to see the new tags diminishes greatly if there is rain or snow or adverse weather conditions.
He believes the problem is how the plates are designed.
“I think the dyes they are using to create the plates are not providing good contrast under infrared light, and so they both reflect about the same way and they blend into each other,” Holman said.
Holman said his LPR cameras are similar to others used around the state and he would not be surprised if other entities are having similar problems.
“It’s a common standard for security cameras — 850 nanometer infrared light. And if it has the same type of infrared light, then I think they might be having the same type of problem I’m having on my system.”
Holman said the new plates are seen in the daytime. The problem is when it gets dark.
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“Cameras use a certain type of invisible light called infrared light,” Holman said. “And the plate has to have good contrast between the letters and the background. And that contrast is missing in the new Tennessee plate. It is very hard to read the lettering against the background in infrared night vision.”
News 2 contacted the Tennessee Department of Revenue. Officials there send us this brief statement:
“We are aware of this issue, and we are engaging in conversations with our partners at the Tennessee Department of Safety to more fully understand it.
It would be premature to discuss any further actions we may take until we fully vet the concerns raised.”
“These plates should have been tested to a certain visibility standard for nighttime viewing, and my question would be, where are those test results before those plates were manufactured by the state of
Tennessee,” Holman said.
Holman said the LPR systems are crucial to law enforcement for not only solving crimes but also assisting in Silver Alerts and AMBER Alerts. Holman also said the new Tennessee tags might not work at Quick Pass toll booths at night in other states.