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30.12.2003 Feature Article

Coding Ghana Automobile Registration Numbers

Coding Ghana Automobile Registration Numbers
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A JoyNewsOnline report (Dec 28 2003) under the caption "DVLA Flouts Registration Procedure" tells us that, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority, DVLA has started issuing out Eastern Region registration numbers to vehicles registered in the Greater Accra Region because the Greater Accra Region had run out of the numbers allocated to it for the GR, GT and GW prefixes. JoyNews reports that, according to the Chief Executive of the DVLA, Mr. Joseph Osei Owusu, the reason behind the introduction of the new numbering system in 1995 has not been effective. Mr. Osei Owusu was reported to have further explained that, "mostly in the past, people had claimed they were leaving in particular places, got registration for them even when they were not in fact residents of the said areas". The problems Mr. Osei Owusu highlighted in his interview with JoyNews, are the by-products of the vehicle registration numbering system adopted and the lack of verifiable addresses in Ghana. If the number of vehicles registered in the State of California is more than the entire population of Ghana yet California has not run out of numbers, my question is, how on earth did the Greater Accra Region run out of numbers? One can only wonder how long it would take our politicians and decision-makers to recognize the fact that, something as basic as a vehicle registration number system wouldn't work efficiently without a comprehensive house numbering and street address system in the country. Before getting into the details of this piece, let me quote Henry Ford, Founder, Ford Motor Company -“Everything can always be done better than it is being done”. Against this background, I would like to submit that, there is a better way to design a vehicle registration number system for the DVLA - a design that will ensure efficiency and, the DVLA would never run out of numbers. Geo-referencing automobiles to specific geographic districts within a nation is common practice worldwide. In many countries, alphabets are combined with numbers in a functional and logical manner to generate vehicle registration numbers. There are no written rules to follow. However, the “3alphabets-3numbers” vehicle registration numbers format has gained wide acceptance and used in many countries. The 3alphabets-3numbers format uses permutation and combination "theory" to generate large amounts of vehicle registration numbers. Encoded in the vehicle registration number is an alphabet or number that identifies the geographic district in which the vehicle’s owner lives, and could also be the code that identifies the DVLA office that handles vehicle registration in that location. A 3alphabet-3number format based on a unique mathematical model developed by the author is presented as follows: VRN = {[ab] " [1-10]: $ [ab] g " [A-Z] - t" [000-999]} Where: ab = The region identifiers, the official abbreviations used to identify the country’s ten regions. = [AR, BA, CR, ER, GT, NR, UE, UW, VR, WR] g = The geographic/political district identifier and, is assigned letters from A to Z. These letters will identify the geographic district in which a vehicle was registered and the DVLA office that handled the registration. This means motorists can identify with their locality. t = Serial numbers [000 - 999], used for the permutation and combination of the region and geographic district identifiers to generate the vehicle registration numbers. An example of a design based on the mathematical model is shown below on the left for a vehicle registered in the Greater Accra Region. In this example, the letter “B” is the code for, let’s say, the Tema West district. The design has less number of characters and fairly easy to remember, as opposed to an example of what is currently in use, shown here on the right. This method of vehicle registration has the following advantages. First, the registration numbers are easy to read, easy to memorize and thus help police to combat crime. People who witnessed a vehicular offence or crime need to remember a couple of numbers or letters to help the police. Second, the geographic district or location-based system of vehicle registration numbers is easy to computerize therefore can be easily integrated into motorists’ postal address databases that can be managed efficiently. Third, a standard license plate template can be sized to match the area designed by the vehicle manufacturer. Based on my research of automobile registration number systems worldwide, the license plate template that can fit all types of vehicles by major manufacturers is 300 x 150mm (i.e. 12” x 6”), which happens to be the North American standard. The “template” currently used in Ghana is 360 x 220mm. Adopting a smaller size template would save resources and money. Fourth, standardized automobile registration numbers that denote the “geographic home” of the vehicle and the owner will pave the way for the introduction of optional and/or personalized vehicle registration numbers. The sale of optional and/or personalized vehicle registration number plates to motorists in the United States, Canada and Britain has been practiced since the first car was registered. Through the sale of optional or personalized vehicle registration numbers, the DVLA can raise additional revenue for building new roads and highways and, also repair existing ones. Fifth, the numbering system was designed such that, the DVLA will never ever say this or that region has run out of vehicle registration numbers. If you don't believe me, I invite you to work out how many vehicle registration numbers you could generate from the example shown above. Hint: The serial number in the example is 279, the district identifier is A to Z (= 26), the serial number range is 000 - 999 (= 1000), as shown in the mathematical model. Now, do the math. When you've finished all the combinations and permutations in this range, change to 0000 - 9999. If you're a regular visitor to GhanaWeb news page, you've probably read the news and seen the "Photo of the Day" showing a mountain of DVLA documents. I don't think this is how it's supposed to be, even if Ghana is HIPC. The DVLA, having recently introduced electronic or “smart card” drivers’ license, the next logical step, I guess, is to standardize vehicle registration numbers to enable easy computerization of driver and vehicle information management. This task does not require sophisticated computer software to accomplish. A simple information management application such as the one shown below can be developed. In this example, drivers’ postal address is integrated with the vehicle identification number (VIN), drivers’ license number (DLN) and the vehicle registration number (VRN) in a relational database. A major strength of an integrated motorists’ information management system is that, it leaves no hiding place for rogue divers, eventually making the nation’s roads and highways safe. One quick check by the police motor traffic unit either on the VIN, DLN or VRN would reveal the history of the vehicle and other relevant information about the driver. The information management application requires a small amount of computer disk space, and can be easily installed on hand-held computers that police will carry in their pockets. The user interface is very simple and requires little or no training at all to master its use. An integrated motorists’ information management system would provide Ghana Highways Authority engineers with relevant information such as where motorists live and in what numbers. Planning and road design engineers at Ghana Highways Authority would then use the information obtained to develop mathematical models of roads and highways usage. A mathematical model of roads and highways usage is important when selecting road surfacing materials and scheduling routine maintenance projects. Here is why - vehicles exert vertical loads on roadbeds as they travel. Given a demographic database in addition to motorists' information, road design engineers can estimate and model the volume of traffic using roads and highways. Based on the models, design engineers can calculate the bearing capacity of the roadbed and surfacing materials in order to minimize the formation of those dreaded potholes. Working with geographic location-based data enables the design engineer to see patterns s/he couldn't see before, revealing hidden trends and the spatial distributions of motorists, and gaining new insights into planning roads and highways network development projects. Roger Sergeant Jr. Numetu Seattle WA USA Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Roger Sergeant Jr. Numetu
Roger Sergeant Jr. Numetu, © 2003

The author has 4 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: RogerSergeantJrNumetu

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