The Cayman Islands government has signed a five-year contract with a multinational company to provide new electronic license plates and vehicle registration coupons for more than 45,000 drivers on the islands.

However, Department of Vehicle and Drivers’ Licensing Director David Dixon said Tuesday that the cost of the winning bid for the system, the contract for which was signed in January 2016, would not be made public because it is considered commercially sensitive information. The Cayman Compass is filing an open records request for the cost of the contract.

The contract is with Sistemat, S.A. Tonnjes C.A.R.D. International, which is based in Panama, according to the company’s website. The Sistemat firm is linked to the German Tönnjes company.

According to the Tönnjes website: “As one of the leading suppliers worldwide of security license plates as well as vehicle registration and identification systems, the Tönnjes Group through its export companies focuses on the customer-specific development of international vehicle registration systems for protecting the vehicle registration as well as subsequent identification of the national vehicle fleet against attempts at manipulation, counterfeiting and theft.”

Mr. Dixon on Tuesday sought to address a number of concerns regarding how the electronic licensing system will be used by the DVDL and the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.

First, he said, the electronic plates the government is buying cannot be used to “track” vehicles using a GPS-type system.

The number plates and the windscreen coupons are fitted with Radio-Frequency Identification chips, computer chip/antenna devices that can store relatively small amounts of information.

“They may simply be scanned by authorities, with only insurance and other vehicle particulars available to system users,” Mr. Dixon said in a statement. The users of the system are DVDL employees, who manage it, and the police, who will have “read only” access to the vehicle registration system.

One practical law enforcement use for the new technology could be in the area of traffic stops initiated by police officers. For instance, an officer using an electronic plate-reading device at a roadblock could immediately scan and receive information that tells him that an unregistered vehicle is being operated. At present, that officer must first pull over the vehicle, check license and registration and contact the 911 Emergency Centre by radio to obtain the data.

Mr. Dixon said there would be no change in the present data exchange process between the RCIPS and the DVDL in terms of prosecuting someone for expired tags or failure to register their vehicle. Under the Traffic Law, the police must make a request to extract the information and receive a certificate of validity from the DVDL, a process that takes up to three days.

Ministry of Planning officials said there are other options for using the technology in the future, including putting electronic transmitters on stop lights or power poles to scan vehicle registrations. Those devices can tell system users where a vehicle was at a given time and date, but placing those scanners in enough places to physically track a vehicle as it traverses the island is considered cost-prohibitive.

Unregistered vehicles

The electronic plates purchase came as the result of a government policy decision to improve customer service at the DVDL and provide some extra law enforcement/public safety tools, according to Mr. Dixon.

A request for proposals on the system went out in June 2014 with a primary purpose, according to ministry bid documents, of reducing lost revenue from vehicles not being registered.

“[The revenue loss] is directly related to the failure of motorists to legally register and license their vehicles,” the request for proposal document stated. “The purposeful avoidance to register vehicles is the most significant contributors [sic] to revenue losses within Department of Vehicle and Drivers’ Licensing.”

A secondary goal of the system was identified: “Government aims to utilize the appropriate technology to enable law enforcement to electronically identify, validate vehicle roadworthiness or authenticate registration plate transfer via security features … Law enforcement will not have to rely on manual or visual inspections to validate vehicles’ identity or roadworthiness.”

Replacing the current vehicle plates with the electronic tags and windscreen stickers will also allow drivers to re-register their vehicles without having to visit the DVDL offices. Once the licenses and coupon are in place, it is possible to update a registration, following inspection, by paying online. The window coupon will not have a date printed on it, so it can be updated electronically once the driver has passed the inspection and paid the fees.

DVDL officials said they hope the new system will result in greater efficiencies for drivers and in fewer visits by the public to the DVDL offices.

Plate production

The unmarked aluminum alloy electronic plates are shipped to Cayman as part of the contract and are being embossed with plate numbers at the DVDL’s headquarters on Crewe Road.

The new electronic plates and windscreen coupons are expected to be issued beginning next month, with an initial replacement of about 700 temporary licenses the DVDL has issued since December. After those temporary plates are replaced, drivers with the old license tags will have those replaced as they come to the department to register their vehicles each year.

The entire replacement process is expected to take up to 36 months.

The new electronic plates and coupons are “tamper-proof,” Mr. Dixon said.

“The license plate holder is installed onto the vehicle and the plate is inserted into the holder and locked into place,” he said. “Similarly, once the coupon is stuck to the windshield, any attempt to remove the plate/coupon renders the unit useless and new ones will be required.”

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10 COMMENTS

  1. The spending of all public money must be open to the scrutiny of the public. Indeed, it is normal practice in open, democratic governments to make public the procurement process including the tender documents.
    The only reason for Mr Dixon to refuse this is, simply, he has something to hide.
    Go Compass.

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  2. I’m confused.

    The purpose is to catch those drivers who are driving unregistered cars. But the registration plates will only be changed when a car is bought in for inspection.

    By definition the currently unregistered cars are NOT being bought in for registration and will not receive new plates.

    As this is going to be a 3 year process surely a car on the road without a new registration might be an illegally unregistered one or might be a legal one that has not been changed yet.

    Since the plates are changed when the car is being inspected and this takes place every year why can’t all cars be charged within a one year cycle?

    Just have to wonder why there is no trace of these plates being used elsewhere.

    Has this supplier actually demonstrated that these thing work?

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    • Norman, a new car can go three years without inspection. So any new cars registered in 2016 – before government started issuing temporary plates – would only come up for inspection in 2019. That being said, no reason that they couldn’t require people to switch the plates early since there is no cost. As you point out, it will be completely useless in detecting unregistered vehicles for as long as the two systems are running in parallel. As for no sign of these things in place – seems the company has the same system working in Peru! Guess we are not quite first, although it would be a little more comforting if a major jurisdiction had trialled them first. The refusal to disclose cost is worrying though.

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  3. It’s worth reading this story from the UK – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/news/2719092/Microchipped-number-plates-join-fight-against-vehicle-crime.html – that was written in 2002 but it never happened. The reason for that is probably because ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) proved to be far more effective.

    If I remember correctly ANPR was supposed to be part of the CCTV package we bought into a few years ago so what the heck happened to that?

    If you’re not familiar with ANPR it gives police officers and other public officials in the UK instant access (no three-day wait here!) to not just a vehicle’s status but also that of the driver. ANPR will not only tell officers in a patrol car if the vehicle type matches the plates but it’s insured, taxed and has a current MoT (inspection), and it will flag up any outstanding warrants or past convictions involving the owner.

    I wonder why nobody wanted to buy into that technology?

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    • While much of what Mr Williams says is true, the ANPR system in the UK does have some limitations.
      Firstly, it reads the number displayed – one way around this is to use stolen plates or, more likely, just get a set of plates made up with another number, one that doesn’t raise suspicion.
      Secondly, the records returned show only who is the ‘registered keeper’ and not who is the driver (indeed, unless you actually stop the vehicle and carry out an identity check, there is no way of knowing who is actually behind the wheel). What the system can do is link to the insurance database (actually operated by the Insurance companies) which can provide the names of all those who are notified to the insurance companies as legitimate drivers.
      Finally, the UK no longer requires the display of a ‘tax disc’ – that is the annual fee paid to allow the vehicle to be on the road – and the enforcement for this is via the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency – an organisation separate from the police. They have their agenda – Vehicle Tax evasion – and have very little interest in other potential violations – no insurance, etc. The various agencies who operate CCTV systems targeting vehicles do not, traditionally, work well together, although the situation is slowly improving.
      You cannot beat old fashioned stop and checks.

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  4. I agree with you completely David Williams.

    There is significant ROI to be had on the CCTV solution already in place.

    And Normal Linton, you are spot on. This is being done backwards, at least we know the newly added vehicles with temporary plates are legal, they just went thru the process to be roadworthy.

    A quick web search will reveal that ANPR or similar systems are effectively use in parts of Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States.

    It would be interesting to see the cost benefit analysis on this one.

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