Traffic camera services

Highways England uses traffic cameras to assist with the management of traffic on the trunk road and motorway net­work in England

Highways England and traffic cameras

We own over 1500 traffic cameras which have been used to assist with the management of traffic on the trunk road and motorway network in England for nearly 30 years. Wales and Scotland have separate operations.

The traffic cameras are usually mounted on 12m high masts on the grass verge or on overhead gantries but are often inconspicuous because they are not painted with high visibility paint, primarily because they are not used for speed enforcement.

Primary users

The primary users of the traffic cameras are our Regional and National Traffic Operations Centre operators. The operators are able to move and zoom the cameras to monitor and manage congestion and incidents. The cameras give a bird’s eye view of what is happening which helps the operator to decide on the support needed.

Traffic camera images

We've developed policies and a technical interface that will allow stakeholders to view the images in a format suitable for their needs. The mechanism by which stakeholders are linked to the traffic cameras is known as the VIH (Video Information Highway).

An innovative partnering approach with media organisations and web hosts has been implemented, allowing nominated third parties or ‘media partners’ to access and disseminate still and live images to the public through their own traffic news bulletins and websites.

Who can access traffic camera images?

Everybody can access traffic camera images through the Traffic England website.

We've developed various services that will allow stakeholders such as operational partners and stakeholders to view traffic camera images, however this service is currently suspended.

Why does Highways England use Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR)?

We currently operate an ANPR camera system through the National Traffic Operations Centre (NTOC) with around 1,100 cameras.

These cameras can be identified by their bright green casings, and are spread across around 500 sites on motorways and trunk roads. The data gathered is used to calculate journey times across our network and enables the NTOC to communicate this to the travelling public through services such as Traffic England.

The ANPR cameras read a Vehicle’s Registration Number (VRN) as vehicles pass them. The number plates are immediately converted though a mathematical process (known as hashing) into non-unique reference numbers (known as tags) at the roadside and the same number plate will generate the same tag on every pass of a NTOC ANPR camera. It is not possible to accurately derive the original number plate from the tag which is not unique to a number plate i.e. a number of different number plates can produce the same tag.

The system presently records about 14 million tags a day and the ANPR camera system transmits the following data to the NTOC at 5 minute intervals:

  • the hashed Tag
  • the time the Tag was registered
  • country of origin (derived from the original plate)
  • site number of the ANPR camera

The camera system does not transmit:

  • images of the driver
  • images of the vehicle
  • images of the license plate
  • the 'original' number plate characters

Through matching these tags at consecutive cameras the NTOC can derive a journey time between those two points.

Frequently asked questions

How long do you keep data for?

The data is retained only for the time needed to match a journey between two cameras, up to a maximum of 6 hours, and is then deleted.

Do you provide the data to third parties?

No. The data is only collected for the NTOC to model the network effectively through the calculation of journey times.

Do you send data to the police?

No. The non-unique tag data obtained from our ANPR cameras is only transmitted to the NTOC over secure data networks.

Do you support the police in other ways?

In common with the statutory duty of any public body, we will provide assistance to the Police in the investigation of specific serious crimes (typically those which carry a life sentence). As no ANPR data is stored, Highways England ANPR data is not available for use to assist in police investigations.

Can the cameras search for specific tags?

No. The cameras record what passes them and send that data to the NTOC at 5 minute intervals.