National database puts brakes on car racket

National database puts brakes on car racket

After many years delay and $20 million spent on integration, a national register of written-off vehicles (WOVR) is finally set to go live in April to tackle a burgeoning vehicle rebirthing racket, estimated to be worth some $7 million a month.

In vehicle rebirthing, professional thieves buy a wrecked ‘written off ‘ car at auction then steal the same make and model elsewhere. The vehicle identification number (VIN) is transferred from the wreck to the stolen car and that ‘rebirthed' vehicle is shipped interstate for sale. This lucrative cross-border trade is largely possible because, to date, state-based vehicle registration authorities had no interlinked IT systems.

Geoff Hughes, project manager with the National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council (NMVTRC), said work on the project had gone on for a "good while", in fact since the early 1990s, and had stalled because "each state has its own technology bases which developed at different rates".

Victoria has been running an Internet-based reporting system since 1999, Tasmania a Wrecks Register, while South Australia and New South Wales have both had a written-off vehicle register. Queensland, Western Australia, Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory have been recording basic written-off vehicle status information on their registration databases for some time.

In April 1999, state transport ministers met at the Australian Transport Council (ATC) and agreed to expedite a link between state and territory vehicle databases and the development of a national WOVR.

Underpinning the resulting register is Nevdis (National Exchange of Driver and Vehicle Information System), a nationally networked Oracle database (version 8.0.5) running on an IBM RISC system/6000 model R40 type 7015 with an AIX (version 4.2) operating system.

Terry Moore, manager of Nevdis, said it works as a "passing-through house", a "communications gateway" for the interstate systems. It stores driver and vehicle information and VINs.

Virginia Auyang, senior business analyst for Nevdis, said Nevdis operates in a tier-3 architecture; local system being the first layer, MQ Series (messaging software) in the middle and the bottom layer being the Nevdis database.

"The communication between each state's computer system and the national Nevdis database is via MQ messages. For an enquiry, the local system will construct the message in the specific format and send it to the Nevdis machine. MQ will pick up the message, decode it and send a request to the database to extract the data.

"The data is then encoded in the specific message format and returned to the sender. For an add/update/delete message, Nevdis will process accordingly and only send a return message if there is error with the data."

Conceding this solution had "taken years to get to", Hughes said the states have spent about $20 million on building the IT links.

Nevdis is transaction-based and takes a "toll road approach", which means each state is required to pay a subscription fee for access. Fees are based on vehicle population and also include a transaction fee calculated on the number of enquiries passing through the system. However, Hughes notes, this method of payment is currently under review.

The WOVR will be up and running in southern mainland states by April, and a little later in Queensland and Tasmania.

Police and registration authorities will have access to the system, but Hughes said it is also envisaged that the public will have access to the system.

"[Car] buyers will be able to ring a telephone number to find out whether [a car they are thinking of purchasing] has been stolen or not, much the same way as people can find out if there is any financial interest in a car."

Hughes said the first generation of the network will be accessible via the Nevdis national network with a "basic enquiry screen", but it is envisaged that future generations may be Web-based.

He said accessing the register via other means, such as a personal digital assistant in the field, would be at each state's discretion.

The NMVTRC, formed in 1998 as a joint initiative of all Australian states and the insurance industry under the National Anti-Crime Strategy, is working with Austroads (an association of Australian and New Zealand road transport and traffic authorities) to implement consistent arrangements for the management of written-off vehicles.

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