The world of towed-away cars can be a harsh one, as our very own Steven Lang often points out. Today I heard the latest in a long series of tales from the often-penumbral world of towing and repossessions, a Craigslist ad that purports to be selling a mistakenly-repoed Crown Vic. A phony ad meant to drag a clean business and its owner into a world of pain— an all-too-common occurrence in the maddening world of Craigslist cars-for-sale listings— or something that will soon have the constabulary asking a lot of pointed questions in a certain Maryland tow yard’s office? Read More >
Category: Crime and Punishment
In a move that will undoubtedly
create a flood of profitable tickets save uncounted lives, Virginia has made “distracted driving” a primary offense and raised the fines to the proverbial ceiling.
In November 2010, the officer was tailing a truck around midnight. He ran a registration check on the vehicle, which listed the truck as red. But this truck was blue… The officer then realized his mistake, but continued with the stop to provide an explanation. He noticed an odor of alcohol, conducted a field sobriety test, and arrested the driver.
In the state of Wisconsin, that’s now good enough.
Some claimed yesterday that David Hester’s views of a government-issued Panther are more desired than his discussion of D.I.Y. engine mods. You ask for it, you get it today. How’s that for service? Also, be judicious with your comments about his prose. David may be a rookie writer, but he’s a seasoned cop, and he knows where to find you. In any case, I’ve seen a few police reports in the past, and Dave’s way with words definitely beats them all.
My cellphone begins to bleat a mere three hours after my head hit the pillow. I shake the cobwebs from my head and listen to an excitable 3rd shift sergeant inform me of a criminal act requiring the immediate attention of the Special Victims Section detective, yes, pronto, never mind the pre-dawn hours. Quick shave. Quick shower. Quick peck on the cheek of my sleeping wife. Then out into the cold for the forty minute drive from my home into the sleeping city. Read More >
I love my beater 1992 Honda Civic, and living near downtown Denver is great, but the combination of fifth-gen Civic and urban living means that thieves are going to try to steal my street-parked car on a depressingly regular basis. Would-be thieves tore up my steering column less than a year ago, and they did it again a couple of weeks back. Both times, my homebrewed kill-switch system kept the bad guys from starting the car. Both times, I got the car back on the road with cheap junkyard parts. Read More >
The controversy over red light cameras, once relegated to websites like TTAC, thenewspaper.com, motorists.org and highwayrobbery.net, is hitting the mainstream media thanks to a new study by the IIHS [PDF here]. The study used the following methodology:
Telephone surveys were conducted with 3,111 drivers in 14 large cities (population greater than 200,000) with long-standing red light camera programs and 300 drivers in Houston, using random samples of landline and cellphone numbers. For analyses combining responses from the 14 cities, cases were weighted to reflect each city’s share of the total population for the 14 cities.
And what did they find?
Among drivers in the 14 cities with red light camera programs, two-thirds favor the use of cameras for red light enforcement, and 42 percent strongly favor it. The chief reasons for opposing cameras were the perceptions that cameras make mistakes and that the motivation for installing them is revenue, not safety. Forty-one percent of drivers favor using cameras to enforce right-turn-on-red violations. Nearly 9 in 10 drivers were aware of the camera enforcement programs in their cities, and 59 percent of these drivers believe the cameras have made intersections safer. Almost half know someone who received a red light camera citation and 17 percent had received at least one ticket themselves. When compared with drivers in the 14 cities with camera programs, the percentage of drivers in Houston who strongly favored enforcement was about the same (45 percent), but strong opposition was higher in Houston than in the other cities (28 percent versus 18 percent).
Sounds like those red light cameras are pretty great after all, doesn’t it? That’s certainly the IIHS’s takeaway…
Read More >
I saw some great right-hand-drive machinery on the streets of St. Ann’s Parish, Jamaica, during my visit last week, but sometimes it’s the little details that really let you know you’re rolling in a strange foreign land. Read More >
This week, NHTSA came out and said that after a recount of their complaints database, they found 89 dead bodies in their computers, allegedly killed by evil runaway Toyotas. The MSM ate it up. If it bleeds, it leads. Even if it smells. In this article, we will show you the secrets of the incredible killing machine at NHTSA. Read More >
“When I first started in this job thirty years ago, police work was never about revenue enhancement,” Utica Police Chief Michael Reaves told the Detroit News. “But if you’re a chief now, you have to look at whether your department produces revenues. That’s just the reality nowadays.” Nothing produces bizarre behavior quite as reliably as an inappropriate economic incentive, whether we’re talking about the infamous “Sec 179” SUV tax deduction or every Aerosmith album after, and including, “Permanent Vacation.” Is it any surprise, therefore, that most police departments have, over time, shifted their focus away from crimes that don’t pay them in favor of those that do? Murder, rape, theft, vandalism, assault—all offenses that require considerably more effort than apprehending a 44-in-a-35, and none of them containing the kind of guaranteed municipal vigorish that can be garnished from a hapless motorist.
There’s a fine associated with virtually every criminal activity in the United States, from oral sodomy to aggravated murder. But the fines are rarely levied and even more rarely collected. It’s fairly difficult to wring ten grand out of someone who just got done serving a decade in prison, and even tougher to collect from someone sitting on Death Row. The motorist, by contrast, is an easy mark who almost always pays his fine and who can be cited with a trivial amount of effort. With the advent of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) systems and red-light cameras, it’s no longer even necessary to have a cop present.
The fines generated by traffic citations, in addition to being vastly out of proportion to those generated from other avenues of law enforcement, are both regressive and punitive. It’s now common for a speeding ticket in Ohio to run in excess of two hundred dollars—utterly crippling for the working poor, particularly when the only “offense” involved is driving with the flow of traffic. Consider that the maximum fine for a fifth-degree felony in Ohio is $2,500. The ridiculousness of charging a tenth of that for driving “six over” becomes even more apparent.
The uneven incentive for enforcement associated with outrageous traffic fines has altered the behavior of even the most civic-minded police departments. It’s common to see shiny “freeway patrol” cruisers idling on the Midwest’s inner-city freeways while near-anarchy reigns in the under-patrolled streets beneath. Cops are following the money. It’s as simple as that.
There’s a simple solution to the problem. It’s one that has the potential to restore balance to law enforcement activities, restore the trust between police and citizens, and significantly affect the amount of non-traffic-related crime taking place in most communities. Moving violations should be punished with “points” or criminal penalties exclusively. There should be no fine whatsoever for any offense committed by a motorist outside of parking violations.
Taking the fiscal incentive out of traffic enforcement would force governments to accurately measure the true benefit to their communities of various enforcement priorities. It would get cops out of their air-conditioned glass palaces and into contact with the people they are hired to serve and protect. There would finally be a chance, and a reason, for an honest, analytical nationwide discussion about the actual benefits of traffic enforcement. The all-too-true stereotype of the “jackbooted thug” idling in his cruiser could be replaced by examples of real cops serving as a genuine deterrent in crime-ridden areas.
A nation without overzealous traffic enforcement would be a nation where children didn’t observe their parents lying to police officers. It would be a nation where people might be happy to see a cop walking around, not terrified of being “nicked” for a rolling stop. Last but not least, it would be a nation where citizens all bore a similar burden for supporting police services while having a greater say in how that support was put to use.
The alternative—a nation where the bulk of enforcement effort is seemingly determined by the available revenue from that enforcement—is already a reality in Britain. It isn’t working. Photo traffic enforcement is speeding the country towards Big Brother, while reducing respect for the rule of law.
Why bring that failed model to the United States? Why take cops off the streets and replace them with cameras? Why withdraw police from high crime areas at the same time that highway patrol departments are receiving shiny new laser guns?
Speeding may not be something that our society can ignore. But as a society, we are best served when it is treated as a crime like any other, not as a honeypot for governmental corruption, concupiscence, and stupidity.
I remember when I was 16 years old, one of my friend’s dad had a near-new Toyota Celica All-Trac. It was gorgeous. The black paint was svelte and flawless. The leather pristine. It was a true work of art. Except it had one tiny little flaw on the vehicle. The VIN was not ‘authentic.’ It had been taken off another vehicle from ‘far far away.’ This was in the bad old days where odometer rollbacks (which still happen) and washed titles (ditto) were still common. Today? Well, I’ll put it to you this way, even a finance company with as many computers as NASA was screwed seven ways from Sunday by a bunch of Nigerians using an old lady’s information. The clunker auditors are going to have to keep their eyes REAL open in this ‘information age’ to catch these snakes . . . and it won’t be easy. Here’s just a small slither of stealth that can happen just on the trade-in side of the equation.
What can happen once a vehicle is traded in? An awful lot. For starters it can be sent abroad. Really. Really. Cheap. It got so bad that the Mexican government (one of many destinations) decided to allow only ten-year-old cars to be registered that came from Yankeeland. It didn’t matter in the end though what the government’s ‘official’ position was. The business of bribery continues to this day on both sides of the fence, and cars found their way into the system regardless of what the laws were. By the way, Mexico is just one place where a ‘clunker’ won’t be missed.
What does this mean for cash for clunkers? It means there isn’t much stopping a recycling center from stripping off the VIN’s. Giving the requisite pictures and evidence to whoever needs it, and making private arrangements to send the vehicle outside the US. The percentage profit would be somewhere between a title pawn and meth distribution, and the governments ability to track it down through paperwork alone would be zero. So long as the VINs match, the people are genuine buyers, and the people involved keep their yaps shut, it will just be a nice four figured profit per vehicle. No questions asked. But this is just really a very small slice of ‘trade-in’ paradise. A far bigger one?
Open up your local newspaper and look under the ‘auction’ or ‘impound’ section. You’ll see hundreds of vehicles with their VIN numbers displayed in all their glory. Most of these cars come from folks who don’t want or need their clunker anymore. They may be as poor as dirt, taking drugs, out of work, or in jail, but they still technically own it. The price to buy one of their clunkers at a public auction? If it’s fit for the crusher, the cost today is about $100 due to cheap commodity prices. The prior owner has to be notified before the sale and this information is often in turn given to the new owner of the vehicle.
Many of these vehicles are never put into a new name. If it’s got even a breath of light, it can be ‘flipped’ and sold with the paperwork intact. No questions asked and no profits traced. There is absolutely no auditing for the transfer of ownership in most states. Just the proceeds from the sale. With a very small level of computer knowledge (or bribery) you can also find out practically everything about the person.
Since ‘Cash for Clunkers’ doesn’t require that the person have insurance for the vehicle before trade-in, there’s no stoppage that can occur there. Big mistake. A lot of folks who get their vehicles sent to the impound/tow lots usually move, involuntarily, without a forwarding address. In turn a lot of apartment complexes will request the towing of a vehicle from their property if the vehicle has anything from an expired tag to an eviction.
You can get these car for almost nothing if you’re a professional, develop a Fake ID with a little help and monetary dispensation, buy the car using their identity, and simply have the government paperwork forwarded to a PO Box which can then secure the taxpayer largesse. It’s easy. Unless those who audit this operation can track the VIN’s status online, which is hard since a lot of the local papers aren’t given an online edition, everything will seem picture perfect to an auditor.
But there are ways to find this information out. One would be to target the audits based on income. If a person is only earning $15,000 a year and they’re buying a car for the same price, that would be a red flag. So would contacting the county government and finding out whether the vehicle was impounded at a certain point. Court orders and impounds require paper trails and most of them can be found in a minute’s time. There is also one very strong impediment to sending these cars out of the US. That would be to have the clunker sent ‘on-site’ to a salvage auction where it could be crushed in exchange for receiving the rebate.
If the auditors are positioned there and literally see the crushing of the car, it eliminates the possibility of the car being recycled somewhere else. The system would hardly be a fail-safe at this point. But it would be a start. In the next installment I’ll focus on the dealer.
I’ll never forget my first ride in a BMW. I remember the excitement, anticipating a high speed run in an [echt] autobahn-tuned automobile. The driver never broke Nixon’s double nickel. In fact, he stayed in the right lane for the entire trip. Flash forward to two hours ago, G-forcing through the S-curves into Providence. In the middle of the second bend, a Nissan GT-R zipped by my minivan like it was standing still. Hakuna matata. What a wonderful phrase. Hakuna matata. Ain’t no passing craze. The GT-R driver was there. In the moment. In control. Safe?
I know: all things being equal, the higher the differential between vehicle speeds, the greater chance of a collision or loss of control leading to an accident. Well, yes, all things are NEVER equal. Driving safety depends on a huge number of variables: vehicle type and condition; road construction, condition, width, and camber; weather (as it affects grip and visibility); traffic; driver age, experience, sobriety, skill, general psychological makeup and specific mental state. And so on, including dumb luck.
To say that a speeding GT-R is inherently dangerous is both true and relative. Yes, the mustachioed enthusiast caning the über-Nissan would have been less of a danger to himself and those around him if he’d observed the speed limit. But the question must be asked: safer than what? A caffeine-deprived father in his minivan fighting over the radio with his 11-year-old step-daughter while his five-year-old demands that he retrieve her missing crayon? The kid stunting and flossing in a beat-up Buick Century in the Italian astronaut driving position? What?
I’m not trying to defend a Baruthian speeder with moral relativism. The GT-R driver was breaking a law designed by society for society; he has no moral foundation upon which to base his behavior. Besides, blind eye be damned; he was weaving through traffic at warp speed. Guilty as charged. In terms of the whole actions > consequences deal, I’m with Baretta: “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” And that’s from someone who’s done the time, and slowed right down.
Although not necessarily to avoid legal sanction (aging, testosterone levels, children . . . connect the dots). Be that as it is, here’s the bottom line: anti-speeding absolutism is feel-good nonsense. It does nothing to make our roads safer.
Anyone who reads this site knows (if not acknowledges) that there are speeders and there are speeders. There is speeding and there is speeding. Once upon a time, police officers made the distinction between “simple” speeding and dangerous driving. These days, radar technology and an ATM-based law enforcement philosophy has removed informed discretion and eliminated simple common sense.
The fact that we’re debating speeding—rather than road safety—shows how far we’ve strayed from cause and effect. Hyper-speeding is rare and therefore relatively unimportant. Inattention due to fatigue accounts for far more accidents than high-speed hooliganism.
Again, I’m not defending adrenalin junkies who use public roads as a private playground. Not cool. Not safe. Not legal. Call me a hypocrite, but I consider balls-out driving four-wheeled cocaine. I tried it. I liked it. I learned the drug’s downside the hard way. I would NEVER do it again. I would NEVER advocate its use. I would NEVER want ANY of my children to even THINK about trying it.
I’m not alone in my hypocrisy. To those who would string up fast drivers in fast cars without a moment’s hesitation, I say mote. Beam. Eye. Remove. Proceed. The vast majority of American drivers routinely break the speed limit. The same majority that considers themselves safe drivers. Well consider this . . .
If drowsy drivers cause or experience more accidents than speeders, who’s a larger menace: the guy blasting along at twenty or thirty or more miles per hour above the speed limit, focusing his mind on the illegal task at hand, or the driver who thinks he’s safe because he’s driving at the speed limit and so fails to engage mentally in his vehicular progress?
Of course, the safest driver is the one who’s driving at the speed limit who IS mentally engaged in the act of driving. I’m guessing that most of the commentators who excoriated Jack Baruth’s guide to street speeding answer to that description.
In an ideal world, everyone would be like you. You’d never share the road with our speed-crazed, morally lax editorialist/reviewer. In the same ideal world, there wouldn’t be any drunk drivers or soccer moms in SUVs yakking on their cell phones as they blow through suburban stop signs.
Here in the real world, there’s a sliding scale of dangerous “others.” Next time you get in your car, ignore the speedo (for a moment) and check your look in the mirror. Forget about “them” and say hello to the most dangerous driver of all.
[NB: This is not an article about TTAC's editorial stance or style. Click here for a post on that topic. All comments that raise meta-points about the site will be deleted.]
Let us begin with this: it is possible to go much faster on North American public roads than the law allows. Much faster. If you are interested in exploring the upper limits of this possibility, read on. If you find this idea morally, legally, ethically or spiritually repugnant; please return to your regularly scheduled bailout coverage. If you’re a member of law enforcement, please consider this a work of fiction.
In theory, I’ve been driving “too fast” on public roads for more than twenty years. In that time, I may have learned a lot about what works and what does not. I will share this hypothetical knowledge—bought and paid for in terror, twisted steel and sleepless nights—with you. Or not.
Before we begin, a caveat. The fast-road driver needs more than skill, more than training, more than a fast car. He (and it is almost always he) needs luck. Luck eventually runs out. When that happens, people get hurt. Sometimes innocent people get hurt—if any of us are truly “innocent” in this world. Sometimes the driver will go to jail or beyond that to the penitentiary. Sometimes people die. You have been warned.
To drive truly quickly, you will need a level of preparation and skill roughly equivalent to what is found in NASA’s Time Trial class. Your car needs to have its fluids at the appropriate levels, its tire pressures checked and its suspension components torqued. Your tires need full tread, no plugs, no camber wear.
You, as the driver, need to be alert, sober, rested, and ready to look all the way down the road. The trained fast-road driver scans the horizon and looks to the end of his available vision. That’s where the cops are, that’s where the accidents happen, that’s where you start to intuit the movement patterns of your fellow drivers. Practice identifying cars in the oncoming freeway lanes as soon as they are visible. At any time, you should be able to close your eyes and recite the makes and models of the cars around you.
We’ll use a limited set of the race driver’s toolkit in our pursuit of maximum street speed. Trail-braking is out, deliberate contact is out, drafting is out. Instead, we follow the old Bondurant curriculum. All braking is done in a straight line, every time. If you have ABS, don’t be afraid to engage it. We never steer and brake simultaneously, particularly on the freeway. We don’t accelerate out of turns with the steering wheel “pinched” and we use formula-car hand positioning on the wheel. No shuffle-steer. Ever. This isn’t autocross. Get the wheel straight and put your right foot all the way down.
Traction control is left on at all times, with the exception of when we need a Jarno Donut (to be covered later). Turn the radio down or off. Sit close enough to the wheel that your wrist falls naturally on the rim of the wheel. If you have a CG-Lock, you can left-foot brake. If you don’t, don’t, because when you panic-brake from high speeds you will have nothing to keep your body in the seat. Get your heel-and-toe together, pronto. And for God’s sake, put your seatbelt on because you’ll eventually need it.
We’ll start with freeways. Speeding on the freeway is easy. Anybody can do it. The trick is in maintaining a consistent pace of twice the pack speed or higher. To do this we extend our vision to the horizon as mentioned above and watch the cars ahead. Look for lane changes, look for shifts in traffic, look for drivers who are slow, distracted or wobbly. Most of our passing is done to the right. This offends wanna-be Autobahn drivers, but we don’t care.
Cops expect you to speed in the left lane and they tend to look down the left lane. Stay to the right. Truck convoys are the exception. They will punish you for right-lane passes.
Our passing method is simple. We come up on a car-to-be-passed from directly behind. We do this to attract the driver’s attention into his rear-view mirror. When we are two hundred feet behind, we change lanes (to the right, if possible) and pass as far away as possible. While we prepare the pass, we look at the adjacent lane and we have a backup plan in case the car we are passing wobbles.
If there is no lane, evaluate the shoulder for heavy marbles, dirt, obstacles. If we see those, we dial back the speed to 100mph or less. Get in the habit of driving on the shoulder. We learn to drive on the shoulder because we’ll have to do it many times in the future, both to avoid panic-swerves and to pass recalcitrant lane-blockers.
In Part II, we’ll discuss night freeway driving and basic evasion techniques.
According to a recent Fox News “Special Investigation,” the amount of illegal street racing is rising dramatically in Los Angeles. During the report, the segment highlighted a variety of small Japanese cars, ranging from ’98 Acura Integras to ’02 Honda Accords. (Small range, but there you go.) Some of these cars wore slicks, most had a turbo charger and all of their exhausts were in (or out of) tune. During the commercial break, viewers were treated to a trailer for “The Fast & Furious” (known internationally as “The Fast & Furious 4″). One moment Fox is lamenting the senseless loss of life caused by street racers’ pursuit of automotive adrenalin, the next it promotes a senseless movie about street racers’ pursuit of automotive adrenalin. Wait; it gets worse.
After the break, the talking head introduced a segment entitled, “How towns are helping to stop this dangerous culture.” (Street racing, not the Hollywood producers behind the Fast & Furious movie). The town featured (without even a raised eyebrow to indicate the irony): Victorville.
Victorville is a small town in what’s called Apple Valley. If we are to believe our eyes (OK, cue in the cow!), bovines and humans share Victorville’s streets. Which are now, as you’d imagine, plagued with street racers. That the local police are determined to eradicate like farmers facing bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
Yes, in this land that urbanization forgot, the police department is “cracking down” on all cars that have been “tuned” for racing. They’re handing out $300+ citations ofor automobiles with an exhaust that makes some noise, chromed air intakes, and, worst of all, a turbocharger.
What possible harm could come from a small turbo attached to a relatively underpowered car? Shiny air filters? An exhaust that likes to howl every time the accelerator gets stepped on? Lamborghini and Ferrari adhere to same basic philosophy on a much greater scale, and you don’t see them being given a ridiculous fine. OK, Lamborghini and Ferrari ownership is a kind of ridiculous fine. But the point remains: what is the point?
The modified vehicles preferred by “fans” of the street racing culture may encourage illegal behavior, but so do rap lyrics (some, still). Until Bill O’Reilly is elected dictator, Americans still have the right to pose like bad mo’ fo’s, whether its outside a club or in their car. Anyway, I’ve come up with a solution to the “growing problem” of illegal street racing (I’m still working on the Vin Diesel thing).
The police should seek out (and not sleep with) girls who look like Jordana Brewster and Megan Fox (different movie but who’s complaining). After the inductees sign over the movie rights to their lives, they should be commissioned as undercover operatives. The police should educate them about vehicle dynamics (e.g., torque steer and downforce), and then brainwash them into believing that anthropomorphic global warming is the greatest threat to mankind since that gigantic asteroid that took out most of North America. Oh wait, that was a movie too. Never mind. Just tell them it was based on a actual event.
The undercover officers should then seek out the illegal street racers. Arranging their clothing in a suitable manner (i.e., removing strategic parts of their ensemble), the babes should explain to the boy racers that really hot girls don’t like noisy cars with stupid things sticking out of them, or bright lights creating a hovercraft effect (that’s so ’60s). Hot girls prefer a factory-spec ride that’s comfortable, clean and bone stock (so to speak).
If the racer seems receptive (Paul Walker-a-likes may need apply), the officers should then say what really turns them on: hypermiling. “You’d be amazed at what you can do in a car when you go really, really slow.” On second thought, how about “How can you belch all that CO2 into our atmosphere? Think about our children!” Nope, same thing. I’ve got it! Anti-anti-establishment is the new anti-establishment. Tarianism. And while they’re mentally incapacitated with that, the officers could install a speed limiter.
I know: that would be the equivalent of fitting all private gun owners with ankle bracelets. Which destroys my whole argument while making perfect sense. Anyway, the anti-street racing hot babe unit would be far less intrusive (excepting the Paul Walker reference above) and a lot less expensive than impounding cars, sanctioning drivers, making documentaries or commissioning an army of policemen to stop a street race.
Even better, the U.S. Army’s PsyOps unit could train this cleavage of hotness to destroy the street racing driver’s ego (“you suck!”) so that he (or less likely she) would have to find some way to compensate for the resulting lack of self-esteem. Something like . . . illegal street racing. You know what? This idea needs a little work. Or at least a better screenplay.
Some cities are refusing to comply with a new Georgia law mandating a one-second increase in the duration of the yellow warning period at intersections equipped with red light cameras. At least seven cities that made the required timing increase in January experienced an immediate 80 percent decrease in the number of violations. Of these, Duluth, Lilburn, Norcross, Snellville and Suwanee put the brakes on their red light camera programs after the data made it clear that the programs would no longer make money. Rome is now leaning toward dropping its program as well.
Cities like Atlanta, however, insist on maintaining their photo enforcement system. A spokesman for the city Department of Public Works confirmed to TheNewspaper that yellow times were not increased at any of the eight intersections that use red light cameras. As a result, half of the city’s photo enforced intersections actually saw an increase, not a decrease, in violations in the space of a year.
The number of tickets issued at Spring Street and North Avenue jumped from 415 in January 2008 to 504 in January 2009. During the same period, tickets increased from 37 to 46 at Piedmont Road and Monroe Drive, from 72 to 84 at Buford Highway and Lenox Road. Tickets doubled from 100 to 206 at Cleveland and Metropolitan.
State Senator Jack Murphy (R-Cumming), sponsor of the amendment that created the yellow time provision, vowed to get to the bottom of Atlanta’s refusal.
“If they’re not doing it, I’m going to find out why,” Murphy told TheNewspaper. “Longer yellow was the intention of the bill. They set the yellow too low — especially for left turns.”
Other cities like Roswell admit to ignoring the longer yellow requirement because the enforcement mechanism built into the law will not take effect until next year. In January, the legislature gave the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) authority to deny a permit to operate red light cameras to any city that fails to adhere to a number of legal requirements, including signal timing.
Under the law, cities can operate without these permits until January 1, 2010. GDOT, moreover, plays no active role in monitoring the compliance of the twenty-three cities that use red light cameras. Instead, the agency relies on the public to uncover any problems.
“Complaints about signal timing related to yellow clearance intervals should come directly to the Georgia Department of Transportation,” State Traffic Engineer Keith Golden told TheNewspaper. “Our legislators… have tasked GDOT to be the agency responsible for monitoring the implementation of this countermeasure.”
Senator Murphy intends to follow up with Golden to see why he is not doing more to ensure cities comply the longer yellow law. Golden suggested cities have an alternative if they do not wish to change their signal timing.
“It was suggested that the engineering calculated minimum values are just that — a minimum and that we should not be designing for a minimum value if there is going to be a regulatory event tied to the value,” Golden explained. “If a local jurisdiction determines that for operational issues they need the lower values — there is no requirement that they install a red light running camera.”
The Impact of Longer Yellow
Exceeding the minimum value by a second has decreased the desirability of running red light cameras by about 80 percent in compliant cities. Suwanee was first to end ticketing on January 19 after issuing just 68 citations under lengthened yellow (the equivalent of 110 tickets per month). This compared unfavorably to the 2008 average of 580 tickets per month which helped the city land $414,540 in revenue. In Duluth, the program issued 652 tickets in October compared to 215 last month.
As a result, Duluth will let its contract for the program — which generated 10,386 tickets worth $727,020 last year — expire in May. In Dalton, 122 tickets were issued at the intersection of Highway 41 and Shugart Road after the light was increased in January. The previous year, the number of monthly tickets averaged 460.
“The additional time on the yellow light has significantly reduced the number of citations because motorists have adequate time to get through the intersection,” state Representative Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville), primary sponsor of the new legislation, wrote in his weekly column. “Since most of these cities have stated that safety was the primary reason they installed red light cameras, they should be thrilled that citations have been significantly reduced; however, many are pulling the cameras out because they are no longer making a profit.”
North Carolina saw a similar reaction in 2007 when the state supreme court upheld a decision directing all of the profit in red light camera programs out of city general funds and into the state school system (read final opinion). Charlotte, Fayetteville, Greenville, Greensboro, High Point, Raleigh and Rocky Mount shut down their red light camera programs in the wake of the court’s action.
For the last 20 years or so, I’ve been fighting traffic tickets in the New York area. My business is not “normal.” No matter how easy I make the process, no matter what the outcome, half of my final client conversations contain the words “I hope I never see you again.” (It’s OK, I understand. You came in with a “gun to your head.”) While the client kiss-off never changes, my ticket defense work fluctuates with the level of traffic enforcement. Weather, gas prices and terrorism alerts (post-9/11) all impact the number of tickets issued. I’ve survived a few up and down cycles. And with a steady client base and wide professional contacts I can draw a few conclusions. The recession is here. Government budgets are under threat. The word has gone out: write tickets!
Most people know that highway speed limits are set 10 to 15 mph below design speed (i.e., limits that would be set by traffic engineering surveys). That means pretty much everyone is speeding—in a strictly legal sense. But not from a safety perspective. Going with the flow or five mph faster is the safest way to drive; and yet the flow is usually “illegal.”
Debate that as you will, but the police allow some leeway. Most 55 mph roads are “stay under 70.” Most 65 mph roads are “stay under 80.” In New York City, rare is the speeding ticket under 70 mph in a 50 mph zone (rare, not nonexistent, so don’t go 70 and blame me later). It’s also worth noting that most ticket writing involves random selection from a pack of traffic. (This is where the silver Accord beats the red Corvette.)
The “system” is set up with a level of enforcement such that a normal, sane and flow-following driver will still catch a ticket every two to five years. From the government’s point of view, this is the ideal “threshold of pain.” The speed limit remains “the law.” Police can give “courtesy” or “use discretion,” which garners significant goodwill. The normal driver gets a ticket often enough to remind him or her to pay attention, but not so much as to take them off the road. Cash is extracted. Insurance company surcharges. Next customer please.
In New York, a very typical 77/55 is a six point ticket. The motorist pays approximately $250 to the Court. They’re taxed a second time by our “Driver Responsibility Assessment.” That’ll be $300. Each ticket is a $500 + nut. An industrious cop can write 20 per shift. Surcharges and other “fees” are attached, limited only by the inventiveness of the State Legislature at midnight. The public never notices till THEY are caught in the net.
Cops know how much traffic tickets make. So when police have a contract issue, or when overtime is cut, the radar guns are quietly turned off. Most police have a variety of tasks they can do on duty, so this is hard to trace. The power of the “off switch” has been a quiet factor in many police contract actions. When tickets (revenues) drop, the money requested by the police union suddenly becomes more reasonable. We saw this recently in New York State.
Those most likely to make an effective political stink to change the low speed limits are the same sort of person who’d go to Court (or retain Counsel) and fight the ticket. Once their ticket is taken care of, they stop caring and the whole incident falls in the Hole of Denial, never to be thought of again.
Letters to Congressmen and the Editor of the local paper are forgotten about in the wash of the reduction from six to three points—and that is the REAL reason you get a break if you fight the Ticket. The “deal” is essential to defusing organized resistance to the “system.” Arizona is learning this with the speed cameras. No deal = political resistance.
The recession has made a few changes, even with the uptick in volume. Tickets are coming to my office later, or only after the Court Clerk has refused the client’s third postponement attempt. They forget somehow to tell me this. More clients are price shopping.
Often, after doing one ticket, the client admits they have . . . two others. One of which is late. Denial again! Ticket fighting is a recession-resistant business, but not recession-proof. Lack of money, real or felt, is hitting all levels of society. Never mind the fact that a client was ticketed while driving the Range Rover up to the ski house. My pre-contractual client conversations are more strained than they were a year ago.
Courthouses are more full than last year, reflecting the overall increase in tickets issued. The word is out. Watch the medians, and watch your wallet. A hungry Government is very, very dangerous.
[Casey Raskob can contacted via Speedlaw.net]