An automatic vehicle surveillance system is conceived for capturing license plates consisting of three major functional components: image capture, image processing, and communications. Image capture is provided by a high-speed, high-resolution TV camera, an illuminator, and an image storage medium. Image processing is performed by an analog to digital conversion of the rear view image of a vehicle, a method of automatically finding the license plate in the image, and a method of identifying the alphanumerics and the state of issue of the license plate. The license plate characters are sent to a law enforcement computer data base through a communication link where a check is made of the registrant. This paper discusses the design requirements of a system with these three functional components. The results are presented of a study for establishing the image quality required for a license plate finder and character recognizer to perform reliably.