The hi-tech mobile scanners can register license plates while travelling at high speeds to check for outstanding fines. Photo: Henk Kruger

The City of Cape Town’s six new “spy cars” arrested 35 motorists on their first day of operation.

The cars joined 34 “ghost squad” vehicles on Cape Town’s roads on Wednesday.

The spy cars, fitted with Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras, were introduced as part of an “Operation Reclaim” roadblock on the Stellenbosch arterial route near Blackheath.

Traffic spokeswoman Merle Lourens said the spy cars helped officers arrest 35 drivers for a range of offences.

A further 23 warrants of arrests were issued for fines totalling R681 000.

Motorists also coughed up a total of R7 250 in fines using the new instant-pay systems. The new system allows motorists to pay fines over the counter (cash, cheques and postal orders) at City of Cape Town cash and housing offices, municipal courts and traffic centres.

Fines can also be paid at all Absa branches and post offices; at ATMs (for Absa clients only); on the internet; by cellphone, via an application called Pocit which can be downloaded; and at roadblocks, using cash, cheques, postal orders and credit and debit cards.

Previously motorists could only pay for fines at their local traffic department or municipal court.

Drivers who want to pay overdue fines or have them reduced can visit various municipal courts.

The unmarked spy cars and ghost squad vehicles, including 12 unmarked, high-powered motorcycles, were due to continue with another ongoing operation on Thursday, Operation Restore, which would focus on moving violations on the road.

The ANPR allows the “spy cars” to drive at highway speeds past a line of parked cars and pick up the cars’ registration numbers.

This information is instantly fed from the cameras to on-board computers, installed on the vehicles’ back seats, and here the plates’ information is matched against various huge databases from both eNatis (National Traffic Information System) and the City of Cape Town’s vehicle registration department.

This information is presented to traffic officers in the vehicles’ passenger seats on computer screens.

Every time a number plate is picked up, they hear a “ping”, then a hooting alarm every time the computer picks up a wanted offender.

The systems can even tell officers when a licence plate is being fraudulently used on a different vehicle.

The cameras are roof-mounted.

The City of Cape Town confirmed on Wednesday that about 1.6 million drivers owed a total of R600m in unpaid fines and some of these could date back for over a decade.

Authorities hoped the new technology would help them recover some of the money.

The city said the top taxi offender had 80 warrants of arrest and owed more than R70 000, while the top private vehicle offender owed over R15 000 for his 28 fines.

JP Smith, the mayoral committee member for safety and security, said mobile units would help to police a far wider range of communities and areas. - Cape Argus