As we get closer to the fulfillment of Indiegogo units and the start of retail sales, I'd like to take advantage of this blog to start a dialogue on several issues - including the automated enforcement industry at large, specific instances of safety and privacy abuses that are directly tied to these cameras, and how the technology behind the noPhoto can play an important role in the current sociopolitical environment.
Specifically, there are three issues I will address over the next few weeks:
1. The automated enforcement industry knowingly prioritizes revenue over safety by lobbying for and implementing ideal ticket issuance conditions
2. The automated enforcement industry has experienced massive growth by providing government agencies a tremendous revenue stream directly out of your pockets
3. The automated enforcement industry, as it currently stands, is an incredible privacy risk that badly needs to be addressed
The automated enforcement industry has traditionally been a secretive one. Names like "Redflex" and "American Traffic Solutions" aren't exactly a topic of dinnertime conversation. The extent of most citizens' experience with this industry is a distant one, shielded by several layers of local law enforcement. Drivers commit (or are accused of committing) a "violation" and receive a ticket in the mail, often with the local law enforcement's shield printed on it - with no mention of how or where the violations actually originated from. Many people trust their law enforcement officers; they figure, "If they say I committed a violation and they have a picture of me, than I must have been in the wrong." In an ideal world, that would be the end of the conversation. The driver would pay the violation, alter their driving behavior, accidents would go down and safety statistics would rise.
Unfortunately, we don't live in an ideal world.
In the actual world that we live in, there are critical flaws at nearly every step of the system. Their are myriad examples of these cameras being simply wrong - calibrated incorrectly, incorrect images being sent to prosecution, physically impossible speeds being claimed (a Geo Metro can not go 162mph unless it has a jet engine on the back), etc. A simple Google search can find enough reading material for weeks. Even if the camera happens to read the correct speed, there is no guarantee that the photograph will be accurate. We obtained the results from a government camera trial-program in Seattle - a full 25.9% of mobile-camera and 18% of fixed-camera images were rejected as inconclusive.
These companies were in a bad situation - they had signed multi-million dollar contracts with local governments, but their technology failed a full 25% of the time. How did they fix the problem? They cheated. At the expense of safety, they manufactured conditions to increase violations. There are instances of this all over the country, but perhaps the most talked about recent example is that of Florida.
A fantastic investigative report by Noah Pransky of WTSP news revealed that intersections that had red light cameras had their yellow lights artificially shortened to increase the issuance of tickets.
According to WTLV Florida, research indicates that a yellow light just .5 seconds too short doubles the number of red light camera citations, as well as the revenue they create. Given that red light cameras in Florida collected over $100,000,000 last year, that is a significant increase.
Government guidelines indicate that the 85th percentile of driver's reaction ability should be used to calculate the yellow light timing. That number is 1.4 seconds. In Florida, specifically at intersections that contained red light cameras, the yellow light timing was set to an incredibly low 1.0 seconds. Take a minute to digest that - this is a concrete, bulletproof example of a government prioritizing revenue over driving safety.
WTLV continues to say, "WTSP also recently discovered FDOT engineers in other parts of the state reducing yellow light intervals as well. In Orlando, FDOT's District 1, several intersections were re-timed to write more tickets in 2012 and 2013. And in Clay County, FDOT's District 2, yellow lights at RLC intersections were improperly reduced in 2010, before the state rules were even changed to allow it."
How can something like this happen? It's a twofold problem. First, the automated enforcement industry spends millions and millions of dollars on lobbying in an effort to create more amenable violation conditions. Continuing our focus on Florida, WFTV reports that American Traffic Solutions alone spent $149,000 just in Florida hiring twelve lobbying firms in the 2013 legislative session. What's more, a good chunk of that $149,000 of lobbying money was spent introducing a bill that will raise the cost of red light camera tickets in Florida to $408 each. Talk about adding insult to (actual drivers') injury. Sadly, that wasn't the only money that American Traffic Solutions spent in Florida. They spent an additional $235,000 in outright campaign contributions in 2012. Interestingly enough, their campaign contributions were split evenly between both Democrats and Republicans. It appears that when the prospect of easy money is raised, the driver truly has no ally.
Unfortunately, the Florida incident is only the tip of the iceberg. Whether its Redflex bribing a Chicago official, Connecticut releasing your personal information collected from cameras to Amtrack for marketing purposes, or governments putting lives at risk to increase revenue, the entire industry is a hotbed for corruption. The current practices and track record of the automated enforcement industry make it a major risk to even allow them to store your personal information in their (sometimes foreign) databases.
That's exactly what we intend to stop.