Automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) surveillance systems are still getting confused with older numberplates, causing havoc with classic car parking and leading to situations where owners can potentially be stranded at the exit barrier.

The issue hit the headlines earlier this year, when it was revealed that traditional numberplates with a black background could not be detected by many of the ANPR systems increasingly being deployed to clock the time and licence plate details of vehicles entering car parks. ANPR is also used by police using cameras on-board and a fixed locations to detect motoring offences, but while the National Police Chiefs Council has admitted that classic car number plates can be misread, it’s the cheaper ANPR systems fitted to areas like car parks that are more likely to be confused.

As a bonus, that can mean drivers of historic cars can often park for free as the cameras won’t know you’ve ever been there. But as Classic Car Buyer reader Neil Cairns revealed, there can be a downside. When barriers are fitted, you might not be able to get out – or even gain entry in the first place.

“I’ve been plagued with my local ANPR car parks not reading my 1952 MG’s number plate,” explained Neil. “I’ve found that the RAF Museum at Hendon’s system can only read reflective plates, with the same problem arising at Central Bedfordshire’s multi-story car-parks, Morrisons car-parks, Central Milton Keynes’ brand-new multi-storey car park and the ‘intu’ multi-storey the other end of Central Milton Keynes. No end of classic car, vans and motorcycle owners say they too are having problems, and a few stated they were barred entry in some cases.”

“At first it looks a bit of a perk, but when you get to the barriers you cannot get out; this leaves one struggling with a not-very-helpful voice from a speaker by the barrier whilst a queue forms behind you.”

In Neil’s experience, car parks are unlikely to fix the fault – at least for the foreseeable future. “They have all purchased cheap systems that cannot cope with old-style plates. I did have a go at our local council, but who rather than try to cure the fault offered me a position on their ‘white list’. This meant I could park for free but it still meant a chat with the fellow the other end of the little speaker button.”

Previously, the older style non-reflective plates were only legal on pre-1973 cars, but an overhaul of licence plate laws in 2015 meant that vehicles manufactured before January 1 1975 could display them providing it was registered within the ‘historic vehicles’ tax class. Although there’s been some confusion over this issue, current DVSA literature says this does roll forward in line with the historic vehicle tax class, meaning that pre-1979 vehicles registered as historic can now wear black and silver plates. With more folk able to fit older-style plates, this could be a blessing or curse, depending on whether barriers are fitted to your car park of choice.