Good Enough for Government Work

When the traffic cameras in Redwood, California send back photos with obscured license plates, officials there dispose of them, lest they wrongly fine a motorist for an infraction he didn't commit.

Wait. That's what they should do.  Actually, in some cases they just guess what the obscured numbers might be until they find a match in the database, then stop guessing and send the their best guess a $385 ticket (plus points off his driving record).

TheNewspaper.com notes that Redwood isn't the first city to guestimate infractions. Redwood imposes no penalties on officers who issue false citations.

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  • Elemenope||

    When the traffic cameras in Redwood, California send back photos with obscured license plates, officials there dispose of them, lest they wrongly fine a motorist for an infraction he didn't commit.

    Wait. That's what they should do.


    You know, for all the times this setup is used at H&R, the nearly dead old liberal in me that is envigorated by the gossamer mirage of competent, ethical government falls for the setup line every fucking time.

    Thank you Balko. You are a fucking bastard, and your work is equally brilliant.

  • ||

    The city of Redwood City is named Redwood City ...another place they add information where none is warranted.

  • ||

    Balko is the master of the soft setup and the hard fall.

    Why, oh why, does this not surprise me? Perhaps I am too cynical these days but simple overreach like this fails to shock me anymore.

  • ||

    Can you buy plastic cover things that render a camera unable to read your license plate, but not a human? If so, how illegal are they?

  • Guy Montag||

    Can you buy plastic cover things that render a camera unable to read your license plate, but not a human?

    I have heard of some things that claim to work, but also read that when a "negative" imige of the image is displayed, the tag number shows up.

    If so, how illegal are they?

    Depends on where you are. Read a while back that some places made attempting to obscure the tag i9llegal, even if the stuff you are using does not work on their cameras.

    Deserves more research, but I can't do it right now.

  • ||

    Can you buy plastic cover things that render a camera unable to read your license plate, but not a human? If so, how illegal are they?

    Dunno the legality or the effectiveness but these guys sell a whole line of products:

    http://www.ontrackcorp.com/product-selector.cfm?id=01

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    It's government arrogance but it is also because in Californicate traffic tickets are not criminal. That way you can dispense with all the niceties we like to refer to as due process.

    I recently ran afoul of the arrogant bastards at the toll roads in OC. The letter just shows up. Fuck you car driver you owe us big money.

    Whaddya mean our equipment is defective and failed to read your transponder? Whaddya mean your transponder was read five minutes earlier on the same day in a different location? Whaddya mean we could have cross checked the license plate in the photo with our records and avoided all of this hassle?

    Well, alls well that ends well, no fine. But what a hassle.

  • ||

    I'm not sure what the problem is...our legal system is founded on the principle that it's better that ten innocent people receive undeserved tickets than one guilty person go free.

    Or something like that.

  • Guy Montag||

    Whaddya mean we could have cross checked the license plate in the photo with our records and avoided all of this hassle?

    Good thing they did not charge you for that research.

  • ||

    Redwood imposes no penalties on officers who issue false citations.

    There's no penalty for doing a raid on the wrong house, why would anyone think there'd be a penalty for sending a fine to the wrong person. You little people just don't understand. They are cops, unaccountable for their actions.

  • ||

    Well, alls well that ends well, no fine. But what a hassle.

    What type of hassle? I recently got a letter from EZ-Pass (the East Coast toll transponder system) saying I didn't pay. Well, their system is supposed to match the photo of the plate to the plate # on file. The photo was clear, so I saw no reason why the system didn't match. I mailed back and said essentially "check again", which they did and corrected their mistake.

    Minor inconvenience? Yes. But not a hassle. So I'm curious what type of crap they gave you out West.

  • ||

    We just need rotating plates so that when a button is pushed on the steering wheel when going through lights the plate that flips up reads UP YOURS. Release the button and the regular plate flips back around.

  • Guy Montag||

    Back here in America, I actually wish that the Arlington cops would patrol Crystal Drive around 1900 every evening for the wobbly drunk-off-his-A* hole who staggers down the street to his maroon Tahoe, with retired military Alabama plates and all sorts of BAMA and flag stuff all over the thing, then zooms off to Jeff Davis highway, southbound.

    That old fat fart is going to run into/over someone one of these days.

  • ||

    I think the guys at Myth Busters debunked all the license-plate obscuring devices.

  • Mike Laursen||

    The city of Redwood City is named Redwood City ...another place they add information where none is warranted.

    And the information part of Redwood City is giving misinformation. There ain't a whole hell of a lot of Redwoods there.

  • ||

    Citizen Nothing | June 2, 2008, 3:38pm | #

    I think the guys at Myth Busters debunked all the license-plate obscuring devices.


    Well shit, then I'll just have to get a GSX-R1000 and ride at 150 and up without a license plate, Ghost Rider style. It's the only way to be safe.

  • Guy Montag||

    Warty,

    You could rig up a HERF gun in the back of a Jeep Cherokee and zap any persuers.

  • ||

    Warty,
    I think you've hit on the only logical solution.

  • Geotpf||

    I dunno if this is THAT big deal. Lets remove the whole "photo tickets are bad" discussion and just concentrate on the specific policy at hand.

    That is, lets say they have six out of seven digits in a license plate, but the seventh is unreadable for some reason. You can tell from the photo the vehicle is a green Ford Taurus, and it has the license number of 123456X, with the X being unreadable. If there is only one green Ford Taurus that has 123456 as the first six digits of it's license plate, it's safe to say that's the vehicle that ran the red light, if the other vehicles with those first six digits were a red Camry, a blue F-150, a white Saab, etc.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Minor inconvenience? Yes. But not a hassle.

    IMO, anytime it takes an hour and a half of my time to figure out WTF these dog dicks want and how to best satisfy them and get them out of my face, it is a hassle.

    The way it works out here is you get a notice to pay. Period. They don't cross check anything.

    And irrespective of the degree of hassle it is the bureaucratic arrogance and assumption of guilt that is irritating.

    The Toll Roads Knows:

    1. Your license number
    2. The transponder linked to that license number
    3. That the transponder was read the same day, five minutes prior

    This is the computer age, there is simply no excuse for an arrogant and threatening letter to arrive in my mailbox at all.

    Particularly since the the letter arrived AFTER the date specified to pay the fine, thus adding penalties.

    I should not have to prove my innocence in the first place, which I did using the very same information that resides in the database the Toll Roads maintains.

    That's what pisses me off the most. The information is there, why does the software not automatically do the checking? And, assuming the software was written by idiots using 1930's technology, why doesn't an employee of the Toll Roads verify the ticket before sending a threatening letter?

  • Guy Montag||

    TWC,

    If Big Oil was not preventing us from having flying cars you would have never been in that situation.

    I suggest a new government program to investigate this problem.

  • ||

    why doesn't an employee of the Toll Roads verify the ticket before sending a threatening letter?

    Silly rabbit.

    Maryland, also known as Calfornia East, likes to send out letters randomly to people demanding that they prove they have auto insurance on their vehicle. If you don't comply, you paya fine. Comply!

    I'm not sure why they have such trouble verifying this, since they have my agent's information on the DMV record and someone answers every time *I* call.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Citizen, thanks, I was about to buy one of those license plate deally-bobs for the politically incorrect gas guzzling Japanese truck that's built in America.

    Guy, the old Sci Fi guys missed on flying cars and on air conditioning.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    JW, that sounds very much like Californicate, where a database of insured vehicles is maintained. The agent/company sends the info electronically to the state where any police officer has instant access to it by simply running the plate number. Yet, surprise here, drivers are still required to carry proof of insurance in the vehicle and to present it to any peace officer upon demand.

    That's not even getting into the whole mandatory insurance thing.....

  • ||

    A car with a coal-burning engine might be the solution. Photos of black smoke will do the government no good.

  • Colin||

    I knew this dude from WA who had one of these tickets mailed to him. The funny part was he had never even been to California with the car in question.

    I couldn't understand how it happened, but now I do.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Oh, and here's a forecast:

    Five bucks says that it won't be long before the equipment that checks your transponder and bills your account will also check the times between transponder reads, do the math, and calculate how much over the speed limit you were going based upon how long it took you to get to the next transponder read.

    Bam! Speeding ticket.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Geotpf,

    Sssshhhhh,

    You'll disturb the natives.

    I wonder what the false negative rate is.
    I wonder if it is more or less than that of radar guns/ human police officers, etc...

    TWC,
    Yes, there should have been a process to verify. Sounds like it worked for MP in his locale. It shouldn't be that hard to have the system automatically cross-check.

  • ||

    If only we could reduce government accountability to zero--then we would truly be free to give all of our money to the State.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Urhmmm...

    That should be "false positive rate"

  • ||

    Five bucks says that it won't be long before the equipment that checks your transponder and bills your account will also check the times between transponder reads, do the math, and calculate how much over the speed limit you were going based upon how long it took you to get to the next transponder read.

    Bam! Speeding ticket.


    Or talking on your cell phone, or smoking with a child in the car, or eating high-fat foods, or emiting too much greenhouse gas....

  • ||

    From the picture at the toll booth that is...

  • ||

    Speaking of transportation, when do we get a story about public transit ridership setting records?

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    JW, my ma lives in Md as does the Kosmik Kid, whom you may know, if you are anywhere near Mt Airy and were involved in the Ron Paul movement.

  • Taktix&#174||

    I recently saw a license plate here in Florida that read:

    0O0-Q0O

    ...or something. Point being, they had a mix of Q's, Zeros, and the letter "O" in some fashion. I wondered why, and I think I now know...

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    when do we get a story about public transit ridership setting records

    Plenty of those stories around, but record setting public transportation deficits fall into the category of dog bites man.

  • Zeb||

    If I lend my car to someone and he gets a speeding ticket, I am not liable to pay the ticket. How can they use the cameras like this to issue tickets to the person the car is registered to? Aren't tickets issued to the driver who committed the offense?

  • Gilbert Martin||

    I'll bet when Redwood installed those traffic cameras they also shortened up the duration of the yellow lights to improve the odds of getting more paying "customers" for their little photography business.

  • ||

    TWC--Mt. Airy is a ways out from me, but I'll wave at Ma and the Kid if I'm ever by there. An old friend of mine lives up in Fredneck, not too far away.

  • Trolly McTrollerson||

    And you folks want to privatise all the roads!

  • Guy Montag||

    PL,

    A car with a coal-burning engine might be the solution. Photos of black smoke will do the government no good.

    Excuse me, those are steam powered vehicles. Just don't tell the flaiming Lefties about all the DHMO they use and we can remain free to use them.

    Taktix®,

    My new tag for the Hydrogen Powered Charger® is C8H18. I could see someone who does not know anything about chemistry not recognizing it as organic hydrogen.

    Maybe the QOQ combination is along those lines, but not chemistry, of course.

  • Guy Montag||

    There must be a Neil Young song in this story someplace . . .

  • ||

    I live in that area. Every intersection there are new cameras looking at me. Makes me feel like I'm living in England (with Edward Woodward watching me). Only in Redwood City though, did I see the traffic camera that was taking pictures of EVERY vehicle that went through, not just those running a light. You could tell because it used a flash (which was annoying in and of itself).

    I think we should pay the gangbangers to paint all the camera lenses. Give them a useful occupation for once.

  • Guy Montag||

    I think we should pay the gangbangers to paint all the camera lenses. Give them a useful occupation for once.

    Rent The Manhattan Project with John Lithgow and Cynthia Nixon to see how to defeat a CCD camera.

  • ||

    TWC-


    Five bucks says that it won't be long before the equipment that checks your transponder and bills your account will also check the times between transponder reads, do the math, and calculate how much over the speed limit you were going based upon how long it took you to get to the next transponder read.

    Bam! Speeding ticket.


    My friend got just such a ticket -- for travelling between two EZPass tolls in too short a period of time -- on the Northway (I-87 between Albany and Montreal).

  • Ben||

    How long have cars had transponders in them? Can't you just remove or disable them?

  • Nephilium||

    The Wine Commonsewer:

    They've got speeding cameras here in the Cleveland area. Big vans that set up and take two pictures of you to see how fast you were going. They caused a huge uproar and people just stopped paying the tickets from them. I haven't kept up on the news on that one that much however.

    Nephilium

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    How long have cars had transponders in them? Can't you just remove or disable them?

    Ben, the transponders have been around for a while. The idea itself was pioneered by none other than the Beloved Founder of Reason Foundation, Mr Poole, in his quest for private, congestion priced, tollways.

    Essentially, the transponders are used as a way to pay the toll and keep on rolling. When originally implemented on the 91 Express Lanes, there was no toll booth and no traffic tie ups.

    Now that the government owns the toll lanes and has also built some of its own, the newer lanes have both systems. The old cash system and the new transponder system.

    As for removing them, well, that's okay but then you cannot use the toll roads. In Ca that isn't a problem because most roads aren't toll roads. But the toll roads tend to be less congested.

    It is a vicious irony that we pay big gas taxes and yet the only way we get new freeways is if they are toll roads. So you pay the gas tax and then pay again for the toll roads.

  • Episiarch||

    My friend got just such a ticket -- for travelling between two EZPass tolls in too short a period of time -- on the Northway (I-87 between Albany and Montreal).

    One of many reasons I won't get an EZ-Pass.

    Also, toll booths used to do this sometimes too, even before sensors, but after they started timestamping the tickets. I was driving with a friend (he was the one driving), ironically I think on 87 towards Albany in a U-haul with a trailer to pick up a fire-damaged Mustang. We stopped at a toll booth, and then did about 75 between that and the next toll booth. About one minute after leaving the second toll booth, a cop appears out of nowhere and pulls us over. He hadn't been sitting on the side of the road.

    I'm pretty positive the toll booth people would check times for the travel between plazas and then tip off cops who waited there as to who was going fast, and the cops would just zip out after you, wait until you got up to speed, and throw on the lights.

    Bonus about the cop: he threated my friend (we were about 19 or 20) that he could arrest him for going so fast and asked how much money he had on him. It would have been bribe time had my friend had much cash on him.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Neph, thanks to a long dead Democrat, speed traps are illegal in Ca (or at least I think they still are). Up until recently radar was illegal on the freeways.

    TWC

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    But, a measurement of time from transponder read to the next read might be legal because it eliminates human error and substitutes mechanical precision.

  • ||

    TWC,

    I'm not going to look it up in the CVC because that ruins the fun, but as I recall a speed trap is defined as timing a car between two points. That is what is illegal. I was kind of stunned by that because it seemed like the most reliable way possible to determine speed. There must have been some serious abuses going on.

    And the rule on using radar on freeways is that it must be requested by the cities and towns that the freeways traverse. Pretty much all the freeways in and around Redwood City are now radar enforced.

  • ||

    a speed trap is defined as timing a car between two points. That is what is illegal.

    Also see definition (2) which deals with underposted sections of highway where "the speed limit is not justified by an engineering and traffic survey."

    Apparently they tried to amend that last year (not sure if that passed and is the change TWC was referring to) but as of last year it was illegal to use radar to enforce an underposted limit:

    Current law allows underposted speed limits but prohibits the use of radar for ticketing on such roads.


  • just lurking by||

    For Joe
    A story about record setting ridership for public transit:


    http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/opinion/365231_transited.html

    Personally, I love those transit riders.
    Too bad they will pay more just like the rest of us.

  • ||

    Well shit, then I'll just have to get a GSX-R1000 and ride at 150

    Speaking of that, here's a video a guy shot of himself (before he was arrested) hitting 164 on I-5 here in Oregon.

  • ||

    My friend got just such a ticket -- for travelling between two EZPass tolls in too short a period of time -- on the Northway (I-87 between Albany and Montreal).

    The Illinois Tollway has done this for years now. As an added bonus, they also charge you double tolls if you choose to pay in cash instead of using the I-PASS (which you have to put down $50 deposit to get if you wanted it). So if you don't want your movements tracked by the State of Illinois, you have to pay for the privelege.

  • ||

    Oh, and the anti-camera license plate covers were supposed to work by making the plate unreadable from an elevated position (where cameras tend to be placed) while leaving it readable from ground level (where cops would pull you over if they couldn't read it).

    There were also several different purported ways of doing this -- there was one spray-on treatment that was supposed to have this effect, as well as the actual transparent plastic shields. From what I've heard the spray definitely doesn't work, but some of the shields do.

  • ||

    It is a vicious irony that we pay big gas taxes and yet the only way we get new freeways is if they are toll roads. So you pay the gas tax and then pay again for the toll roads.


    Most or all of your gas taxes are diverted to pay for mass transit. Mass transit has a number of desirable qualities: it's slow, inflexible, low capacity, and enormously expensive.

  • ||

    I'm actually a fan of mass transit although some mass transit systems are deeply, deeply flawed (like can we get late service to the 'burbs?).

  • Guy Montag||

    Private industry keeps coming up with great ideas, like mass transit, and government keeps showing up and messing them up.

    Surface Mass transit
    Toll roads
    Miniature Golf

    Are airlines next?

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Brian, cool video. How'd he get caught?

    I see some comments that the rider set the speedo to kph and was really only going 100 or so. Not sure, hard to tell, but I can say that I've gone an indicated 126 (which likely wasn't that fast) and telephone poles do truly look like a picket fence.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Most or all of your gas taxes are diverted to pay for mass transit. Mass transit has a number of desirable qualities: it's slow, inflexible, low capacity, and enormously expensive.

    And Joe likes it.

  • ||

    telephone poles do truly look like a picket fence.

    And the lines on the road- do they look like dots?

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