Smoky vehicles can now be caught on camera

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Automated system tried out in Hougang earlier this year, now in Loyang till Dec

Vehicle owners who are slack with maintenance or who fill up with poor quality fuel may have nowhere to hide soon if their vehicles are spewing smoke.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) is trialling a new camera system which can detect and identify smoky vehicles on the road. The automated system was tried out in Hougang earlier this year and is now being tested in Loyang.

A pair of cameras were mounted on a pedestrian overhead bridge on Loyang Avenue on Sept 20. They will remain there till December.

An NEA spokesman said the cameras are part of R&D efforts "to leverage sensor technology for monitoring emissions from vehicular sources".

The surveillance system comprises "customised prototype cameras coupled with sensors, developed in collaboration with technology solution providers", NEA said.

The agency refused to say more about the system, such as how it works, and whether it detects only black smoke from heavy vehicles, or any kind of smoke from any vehicle.

However, observers reckon the system is similar to something Australia implemented a decade ago on a highway outside Sydney. According to information on the New South Wales Roads and Maritime Services website, its system was installed in June 2006 at a cost of A$3 million (S$3.2m).

"The smoky vehicle camera system is designed to detect, identify and record smoky vehicles using smoke detectors, video and still cameras to detect the vehicles, and optical character recognition software to capture the identity of large 'smoky' vehicles," the website read.

In Singapore, acting against smoky vehicle owners remains an uphill battle despite mandatory vehicle inspection and legislated fuel quality. An average of 9,000 summonses were issued a year in the last three years.

Asian Clean Fuels Association director Clarence Woo said implementing such a camera system "would be great" because of manpower constraints.

Mr Woo added that such a system was necessary since there may be ways for fleet owners to evade detection at inspection centres.

With this system, "vehicle owners will need to maintain their vehicles at all times... Rather than wait for the annual inspection".

Commercial vehicle owner Jaesen Ng, 63, who runs a food business, said: "It is a good idea. Even though we have vehicle inspection, a lot can happen between inspections."

Mr Ng, who owns two vans, both less than five years old, said the biggest culprits are Malaysian trucks.

"Almost every one of them is smoky, but there's nothing much we can do. We need the goods which they bring in."