The Truth About Cars » Crime and Punishment http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 16 Apr 2014 05:18:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Crime and Punishment http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/editorials/crime-and-punishment/ Japanese Tourists Spark Chase, Get Spiked http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/japanese-tourists-spark-chase-get-spiked/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/japanese-tourists-spark-chase-get-spiked/#comments Wed, 26 Feb 2014 18:12:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=755209 Click here to view the embedded video.

The Japan Times is reporting that a car driven by Japanese tourists had to be stopped with a spike strip after its driver failed to stop despite the fact she was being pursued by at least three patrol cars.

The car initially drew the attention of officers when it was spotted going less than 40mph on Interstate 15 near the Arizona-Utah border at around 1 a.m. last Saturday Morning. Suspecting a drunk driver, officers attempted to make a traffic stop but, instead of pulling over, the car accelerated to over 75 mph and began driving erratically. The chase lasted for approximately 7 miles ending only after police deployed a spike strip that destroyed three of the car’s tires.

With the car disabled at the side of the road, officers used their loudspeakers to order the occupant out and were surprised when a Japanese woman in her 40s emerged. Unable to speak English, she could not understand the officer’s instructions and proceeded to run back and forth in the street until officers physically grabbed the woman. While pulling the woman’s husband from the car, officers noticed the couple’s seven year old son in the back seat and realized the situation was not what it appeared to be. After realizing the family spoke almost no English, officers contacted a Japanese-speaking trooper elsewhere in the state who was able to defuse the situation.

The woman explained that she had no idea what to do when the police rolled in behind her and had initially accelerated in order to get out of their way. She also apologized for the crash, not realizing that her tires had actually been spiked in order to bring the chase to an end. The family, it turns out, had arrived in California on Friday and then rented a car in order to drive to Bryce Canyon. Once the situation was clear, officers took the family to a motel. There are no plans to press charges.

Generally, tourists are allowed to drive in foreign countries, although an International Driving Permit can be required. When I first went to Japan as a teacher back in 1999, I held one of these permits, obtained through AAA, that enabled me to drive overseas with the proviso that I held a valid US license. I used it without incident, including once during a traffic stop when I got popped hooning around on the motorcycle, for the entirety of the time I lived there. The rules of the road are not entirely the same, but there is enough similarity that people should be able to transition from one place to another without much difficulty.

Failing to understand that three police cars tailing you want you to pull over is ridiculous no matter what country you are from and this is a situation that could have ended badly for everyone involved. I think the officers of the Utah Highway Patrol deserve a great deal of praise for the way they ultimately handled the situation. They exhibited, I think, the highest level of professionalism. It’s nice when a story like this has a happy ending, good on them.

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Strict Enforcement of NY’s Parking Laws Affects Official Vehicles http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/strict-enforcement-of-nys-parking-laws-affects-official-vehicles/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/strict-enforcement-of-nys-parking-laws-affects-official-vehicles/#comments Mon, 24 Feb 2014 21:08:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=753065 Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org

Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org

The New York Times reported Sunday on how strict enforcement of parking violations in Manhattan is causing problems for government agencies as they are forced to reclaim official vehicles that have been towed. In most cities, official vehicles are kept immune from the effects of parking enforcement by dashboard placards that allow government officials to park in red zones or without feeding the meter while they are on the job.

 

In New York city, that policy ended in 2008 when then Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised to crack down on illegal parking by city employees and gave oversight of parking violations by official vehicles over to the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau. That agency’s policy is to tow cars, placard or not, no questions asked and, as a result, in 2013, New York City tow trucks removed 1855 vehicles displaying placards. Those vehicle included 242 registered to the Fire Department, 361 assigned to the Police Department itself and another 311 vehicles assigned to Federal agencies operating in the city. Most of the vehicles fall into the category of “safety hazard violations” and were towed for blocking bus stops, no standing zones and other places where parking is prohibited like fire lanes.

On the surface, this seems like a good policy that holds government employees to the same standard as the general public, but the article explains that towing and impound fees are not generally assessed against official vehicles and goes on to say that they are usually released to their agencies upon receipt of an official request. The net result is that the entire operation is one that actually costs the city money in unpaid fees while serving as little more than a nuisance to public employees who take time out of their work day to retrieve their vehicles. Senior officials have stated that the new police commissioner is currently reviewing the program.

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Testing The Limits Of Civil Obedience: An Experiment http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/testing-the-limits-of-civil-obedience-an-experiment/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/testing-the-limits-of-civil-obedience-an-experiment/#comments Thu, 13 Feb 2014 11:00:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=740529 2013 Taurus Police Interceptor -02- Picture courtesy David Hester

Yesterday, while folks in the Southeast were getting hammered with their second severe winter storm in two weeks, the skies over Buffalo were wonderfully bright and sunny. Of course, when you count the wind chill factor, the temperature barely climbed into the double digits but as a result of the sun and a whole lot of road salt, the highways here were mostly bare and dry. That means my evening commute was a breeze. I hit Route 33 and ran my little CUV up to just over the 55 mph limit and sailed right out of town. Things were going great, but then, unexpectedly, traffic began to slow.

I shifted left into a place I really don’t run that much these days and wicked the speed up to a smidge over 60 in order to keep up the pace. I found myself fourth or fifth back in a line of cars that was whizzing up the fast lane overtaking car after car and, as a student of the road, I began to wonder just what the hell was holding all these people up. I found the reason at the head of the line, a Buffalo City Police cruiser running right at the limit and, like all the good people of the Earth who don’t want a senseless speeding ticket, I found myself easing off the gas. But as I noted his lack of response to all of the cars ahead of me that were simply accelerating away into the wide open space the officer had created, I decided that for whatever reason he simply wasn’t interested in writing tickets and so I continued on, barely adjusting my pace.

Always on the lookout for something that will make a meatier TTAC article than my usual shtick of old time reminiscences, I came home and spent some time on the computer looking at traffic patterns and wondering just how these rolling roadblocks affect the flow of traffic. What, I asked myself, is the point of setting a speed limit that is so low that people simply disobey it as a matter of course? Virtually everyone, I found, pushes the limit and. unless an officer is looking for an excuse to stop a suspicious vehicle, the least of these transgressions are simply ignored and so we receive a sort of tacit approval to speed. Knowing how fast to go can be a problem, however, but most people are pretty good at judging the speeds of the cars around us and we usually just fall into line and run with the crowd. When that happens, people who follow the strict letter of the law become road hazards.

Click here to view the embedded video.

In 2006, a group of Georgia college students decided to point out the absurdity of the 55 mph speed limit by getting in their cars, lining up next to one another on the interstate and then actually following the rules as they drove around the city of Atlanta. Their Youtube video “A Meditation on the Speed Limit” explains the genesis of their plan and gives us the opportunity to observe first hand as we ride along during their daring act of “civil obedience.” It’s like most amateur videos, shaky, poorly framed and without enough shots of the girls, but its an interesting watch. If you are in a place where you can’t actually view the video now, just know that the beginning has several young people railing about the speed limit and talking about their plan, the middle cuts to the car where we see the kids annoying a whole lot of people and nearly causing an accident as they proceed to back up traffic for miles and miles and then ends with them talking about how great their plan was and how they proved the absurdity of the speed limit.

What grabbed my attention were the reactions of the other drivers around them. We all know the law, American roads generally have signs telling us the limit every few miles, but every driver also understands the unwritten rules of the road that tell us we can exceed that limit in a reasonable way so long as everyone else on the road is running somewhere around that same speed. It is a social norm and, when faced with the rolling road block, the social contract we have with other drivers broke down. People were outraged and they started doing anything they could to break through. They even got downright dangerous at times, a couple of people going so far as to use the breakdown lane to make high speed passes!

Writing this now, had I been driving one of the cars stuck behind them, I’m not sure how I would have responded . I would like to think that I would have enough sense not to make a dangerous and illegal pass, but I probably would have followed too closely, hit the headlights, blared the horn and eventually made some pretty threatening gestures after the blockade ended and the kids were busy patting themselves on the back. This kind of thing really makes me angry. We may be a nation of laws but we are a society of norms and whenever the two clash people can get seriously hurt. It is generally accepted that we get at least 5 to 10 mph over in most cases and we damn well better get it.

The strange thing is that I could find no proof that anyone involved in this stunt was ever punished. I found contradictory statements in the press from Georgia State Police officials who said that it was against the law to block the fast lanes, but that the kids did nothing wrong because they were running at the posted speed limit. I expect similar confusion when we hit the point where our in-car technology is used to report speeding violations or to assess us fines. It will be interesting to see if the government continues to allow us the traditional few over or whether they decide to turn this into a cash-cow and get people for every little infraction. The lure of easy money is there and if the whole traffic camera fight is any indication, some municipalities will take the bait. If people react to that intrusion into their daily lives the way they acted towards these kids’ silly experiment, you can expect a revolution. Let’s just hope it happens in the voting booth.

Obama angry.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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EU Secretly Planning To Add Police-Controlled Kill Switch To All Cars By 2020 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/eu-secretly-planning-to-add-police-controlled-kill-switch-to-all-cars-by-2020/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/eu-secretly-planning-to-add-police-controlled-kill-switch-to-all-cars-by-2020/#comments Mon, 03 Feb 2014 10:30:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=731658 2007: "The Managing Director of Ferrari in Great Britain, Massimo Fedeli, boasted “our 60th anniversary tour is the perfect opportunity to provide this special 612 Scaglietti HGTS for the police service of England, Ireland and Wales to drive. This reinforces Ferrari’s commitment to responsible driving and promoting road safety.” (courtesy motorauthority.com)

The British Newspaper The Telegraph is reporting that, if senior European law enforcement officials have their way, all cars entering the European market may soon be fitted with a remote shutdown device that would allow police officers to electronically deactivate any vehicle at the touch of a button.

According to the article, which appeared in the paper’s January 29 edition, the program came to light after confidential documents from the European Network of Law Enforcement Technologies listing the development of a remote shutdown device as a “key objective” were obtained by an organization that monitors police powers, state surveillance and civil liberties in the EU. The report goes on to say that the secret papers justify the program by citing the need to protect the public from dangerous high speed chases and that the technology would put an end to the practice of spiking a car’s tires in order to end a chase. The documents, The Telegraph says, spell out a six year development plan.

Similar car stopping technology is already available on some vehicles in the United States via systems like On Star but, unlike what is being proposed in Europe, as of this writing remote shut-down on this side of the Atlantic is offered only to a car’s owner and can only be activated at their request. Still, once the technology is fully developed and mandated in Europe, chances are good that it will find its way to the United States and, given the way that most cars currently bundle their technology, it will probable be impossible to remove.

The application of this technology could change the way law enforcement works. More than simply putting an end to high speed chases, the system could conceivably be used in situations similar to the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings and allow the police to shut down every car in the immediate vicinity of a fleeing suspect to prevent them from seizing control of other vehicles. Paired with systems like GPS, it could also be used to stop cars from entering disaster zones or other restricted areas and, taken to its extreme, the technology could even incorporate additional features like remote door locks that could be activated in order to contain suspects inside of a disabled vehicle until law enforcement arrives to make the arrest.

This then, is more than our cars being used to track our movements or using our on-board technology to report us when we exceed the speed limit, this is our cars being actively taken out of our control and possibly even used to imprison us against our wills should some law enforcement officer watching our actions via a camera from the safety of a computer console in a secure room believe that we are a threat to public safety. Like so many other innovations, I see the real public benefit of this system if it is used correctly, but I also fear the potential for mayhem if it is misapplied. It will be interesting to watch the debate now that the development of this system has gone public.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Taking A Ride With The Iowa State Patrol http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/taking-a-ride-with-the-iowa-state-patrol/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/taking-a-ride-with-the-iowa-state-patrol/#comments Mon, 20 Jan 2014 21:42:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=703978 img_8370

We sourced this article as a direct response to reader suggestions that we present another view of highway enforcement personnel — JB

Last year I watched as someone I loved went off-track – and came dangerously close to the wall – right in front of where I stood under an umbrella as the rain poured down. He was a passenger in the car, a volunteer instructor for the weekend. The wife of the car’s driver, standing next to me, said with a look of shock on her face, “I don’t know how you do this.”

“The same way I live every day with a brother as a state trooper,” I replied. “I don’t think about it. I can’t think about it.”

Any of us can, at any time, find ourselves in dangerous situations on the road. We deal with bad weather, bad drivers, and, based on my experience, entire populations of idiots who should not be allowed on the road. What most of us don’t have to think about is whether the driver or passenger in the car we just pulled over is wanted for murder, has drugs in the car, stopped taking his anti-psychotic meds, or just really hates cops. We don’t have to wonder whether the cars which are probably already exceeding the speed limit in a 65 or 70 mph zone will slow down or move over while we’re standing or sitting in our car on the side of the road. These are the kind of situations that law enforcement officers on patrol deal with each and every day. In the past few years I have had two opportunities to see what it is like firsthand, going on a half-day and a full-day ride-along with my brother.

There were a few things which struck me very strongly during these experiences, and they aren’t necessarily the kind of things you would expect. The first, and in my opinion most important, thing was how much of a professional he was. When he graduated from the academy, he was only 22. The passing of time has mellowed him. Within 15 minutes of leaving the house to start his shift, we responded to a call for a potential driving under the influence which had already been pulled over by another agency. I watched my brother administer the roadside tests, and after moving to the back of the car, had a “front row” seat as he interacted with the driver. At the end of the encounter, the man had over $1k in fines (open container, driving with a suspended license, and no insurance), but no driving under the influence as he didn’t meet the criteria. My brother was kind and compassionate, and did his job professionally. He did not relish in the tickets he had given. In fact, he very clearly explained to the man something of which he was unaware – that while his license was suspended, he had been eligible for reinstatement for some time. My brother also explained the existence of payment plans available to assist the man in paying his fines, the thought of which would certainly have been weighing on the man’s mind. As we drove away, I wondered, “who the hell are you, and what have you done with the bad ass cop brother I’ve always imagined you to be?” But truly, in that moment, I was proud of the law enforcement officer he had become.

I’ve never stayed in a job long enough to become a true expert in any kind of law. As time goes on, I have certainly broadened my knowledge and expertise, but I doubt I will ever become as proficient in any kind of career as my brother is in spotting violations. Have you ever tried to spot a seatbelt violation across a 4 lane with a fairly wide median? Maybe check to see if license plates bear valid registration stickers? Go ahead. Try it. Unless you have super-powers, you will fail. And maybe find yourself drifting across the lane marker, not that I’m admitting to such a thing.

Most of the time, my brother runs the license check himself. While dispatchers are still used, advancements in technology have led many on patrol to to simply look people up in the systems themselves. But there have been a few times when the dispatcher has come back over the radio with a “backup is on the way” response. Like the time when he pulled over the enforcer of a major motorcycle gang. He related another story to me about a guy from 10+ hours away that he had pulled over twice within a few weeks. The individual had the kind of merchandise in his car that could have meant he was just a shrewd businessman buying products in bulk at a good discount. Or he may have been involved in terrorism. This is the everyday world of the men and women who patrol our roads, never knowing who or what is in the car they’ve just pulled over.

MSNBC recently aired a new series called “Heist”. In the first episode they showed a bank robbery that happened a few years back in a small town with 500 residents, just 5 miles from my childhood home; the town where my brothers and I went to school. The robbery itself was captured on the bank’s security cam; the pursuit was captured by numerous dashboard cams. Something like fifteen law enforcement agencies – local, county, state, neighboring state, and federal – assisted during the manhunt. The robbers had AK-47s, and were firing at the officers who were in pursuit. A local police chief had to retire after 35 years of service following the chase; he was shot in the neck and hand. A state trooper was shot in the arm and continued pursuit. Other officers had their cars disabled by the gunfire. As I was watching, I texted my brother to ask if the Department of Transportation officer I was watching being interviewed was the brother of someone we knew. My instinct was right; he grew up 2 miles away from us. At the end of the day, the robbers were apprehended by the SWAT team of a department an hour away, and all the injured officers have recovered. The point to telling the story is that even patrolling rural roads in a world generally free of major crime, you never know what will happen as the day unfolds.

I know that not all state patrolmen or other law enforcement officers are like my brother. Much like in my own line of work, those who abuse their positions or treat people unprofessionally drag down the reputation of the majority. Different departments undergo different training, sometimes radically different training. But there are still a lot of good, upstanding, hardworking individuals patrolling our roads with integrity, dedication, and a true desire to serve and protect. I understand what they face day in and day out. I am proud to call one of them my brother.

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Little Car Lost: When Thieves Come Calling http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/little-car-lost-when-thieves-come-calling/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/little-car-lost-when-thieves-come-calling/#comments Tue, 07 Jan 2014 13:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=693545 Honda

The joke was that the little Honda was so old and undesirable that it would take a ten dollar bill on the dash and the key in the ignition to attract a thief. With 300K miles on the clock, the little car was old and tired, but my sister Lee and her husband Dave aren’t the kind of people who replace their cars very often. The Chevy Chevette they bought new in 1981 lasted ten long years under their care so the little Civic, purchased used in 1991 from one of my father’s workmates, was on target to last forever. Other cars came and went in the driveways of the other houses up and down the street, but in their driveway the Civic endured, a fixture of solidity and reliability in an ever changing world. And then one day, it was gone.

The little car had aged in the 21 years since it had left the assembly line. On the outside, its body was still in good shape but its rubber pieces had gone grey in places and its bright red paint had had faded from decades under the summer sun. Inside, daily use had made the car’s once plush velour seats worn and threadbare and the touch of human hands had removed the texture from the plastic shift knob, leaving it cue-ball smooth. Those same hands had worked on the steering wheel as well, leaving patches of shiny black plastic where they rested the most while other body parts, a resting elbow here a rubbing knee there, had worn other interior pieces. Below the line of sight, the edges of the pedals were worn smooth from use while the carpets, protected by at least three generations of thick rubber mats, still looked surprisingly good. It was not a luxurious place to sit, perhaps it never had been really, but time and familiarity had made it comfortable.

Photo courtesy of: imganuncios.mitula.net

Photo courtesy of: imganuncios.mitula.net

Mechanically, like almost all Hondas, the little Civic was solid. Thanks to regular oil changes and the kind of thorough maintenance routine that only an aerospace engineer like my brother-in-law could abide by, under the hood the car was as good as ever. Sure, things wore out once in a while, but they were supposed to, and when they did they were replaced. The efforts paid off and, despite the decades that had elapsed, the car remained a reliable daily commuter; a testament to its engineers and its owners.

The theft of the little Civic hit my sister’s family hard. Like anyone who is a victim of theft, they took the loss of the car personally. They may have joked that the old car was undesirable and toyed with the notion that not even a thief would want it, but that didn’t mean the vehicle was unloved. Losing it was like losing a member of the family and anger welled up inside. Within minutes of noting the car’s loss they were on the phone to the police.

Salt Lake City isn’t a hot bed of criminal activity. It’s a safe, clean city filled with upstanding, honest people who take pride in their community. Even so, the theft of the Honda wasn’t front page news and, although the police took the report and promised to get right on the case, the return of the car in useable condition wasn’t likely. Most “vintage” cars, my sister and her husband were told, end up in chop shops and even a simple joyride could end in a crash or vandalism. Chances were, the police informed them, if the car wasn’t already in pieces, it soon would be – one way or another. They steeled themselves for the worst.

Photo Courtesy of Wikpedia.org.   Photo Credit: Brett Neilson

Photo Courtesy of Wikpedia.org.
Photo Credit: Brett Neilson

Sometimes, however, there are happy endings and just two days after the police were made aware of the car’s theft, the little Honda turned up abandoned downtown, the flotsam and jetsam of a night’s worth of petty criminal activity, and a bag of half-eaten gummy worms, left scattered around the interior. There was no real damage, no bashed in body panels and no sliced up seats. In fact, the worst thing the thief, or thieves, had done was to shake up a can of Red Bull and spray it all over the headliner. Overall, the damage was light and with a little elbow grease the cars was soon restored to its former glory.

Today, the little Honda is back where it belongs and everything is, once again, as it should be. Other cars come and go from the driveways of the other houses up and down the street, but in my sister’s driveway the Civic endures, a fixture of solidity and reliability in an ever changing world. There are no more jokes about leaving the keys in the car and a ten dollar bill on the dash. The car is old but it’s not undesirable. It’s family.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Cops Nab Electric Leaf Owner Before He Can Ride Free On Your Nickel http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/cops-nab-electric-leaf-owner-before-he-can-ride-free-on-your-nickel/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/cops-nab-electric-leaf-owner-before-he-can-ride-free-on-your-nickel/#comments Wed, 04 Dec 2013 15:56:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=671122 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The owner of a Nissan Leaf was arrested in Georgia last week for stealing 5 cents worth of electricity after he plugged his car into the exterior outlet at a local middle school while his son was playing tennis.

 

According to Atlanta’s NBC affiliate, 11 Alive, the car had only been plugged in for a few minutes when a police officer arrived and informed the man that he was committing theft and directed him to unplug the car. Later, after verifying the school had not given the man permission to use the outlet, the officer pursued an arrest warrant. The man was arrested by two deputies who appeared at his home 11 days later and spent more than 15 hours in the DeKalb County Jail before making bail.

Advocates of electric vehicles will decry this as police over reach and argue that amount of energy involved was negligible. The police, on the other hand, have taken a tough, no nonsense approach and, in their opinion, theft is theft no matter how little was stolen. I’m left asking is this what our society has come to? What kind of dumbass figures that he can charge his car for free wherever he stops? On the other hand, what kind of cop is petty enough to chase a guy down for a nickel? I wonder, would the cops have rolled in on this guy if he had “stolen” water from the drinking fountain at the side of the school to fill a leaky radiator? Clearly, the only ones who are going to win this battle will be the lawyers.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture? Police Parking Illegally http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-police-parking-illegally/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-police-parking-illegally/#comments Sat, 31 Aug 2013 14:07:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=501242 IMG_0006

Can you spot the reason for that “No Standing” sign?

This is a photograph taken recently at the Cadillac Place building, on West Grand Blvd just west of Woodward in Detroit. It used to be called the General Motors Building before GM decamped to the RenCen. To make sure that much office space (when it was built, the GM Bldg was the second largest in the world) wouldn’t go vacant in Detroit’s economically viable midtown area, the State of Michigan moved many of its Detroit area office workers into the renamed building. Some of those state employees work for the Michigan State Police, which has offices for their Detroit detachment on the Milwaukee Ave. side of the building. It’s not a full scale police post, there’s no public lobby, but it’s where state police hang out in Detroit when they aren’t busy protecting and serving the public, not to mention rescuing injured peregrine falcons.

IMG_0008

Would you want this car parked in front of the building’s fire pipes if you or your loved one worked there?

Notice the no-standing area? Notice the building’s fire pipes immediately behind that no-standing area? Notice the Michigan State Police cruiser #2044 parked directly in front of those fire pipes, blocking access in the event of a fire? Notice the many other Michigan State Police cars parked in the area marked no-standing right where fire trucks would need to park for firefighters to have access to those fire pipes? Notice, too, the many angled, off-street parking spaces that are reserved solely for police cars, parking spaces that sit empty only a few feet from the no-standing zone?

IMG_0003

Why should police park in angled off-street parking reserved just for them when they can park in a No Standing zone closer to the door?

I didn’t go to the Cadillac Place building just to rattle some entitled cops’ chains, I was working on a story about Detroit Electric’s offices in the nearby Fisher Building. However, I had my camera case with me and when I saw the wholesale dangerous violation of parking laws under cover of authority, I stopped to shoot a few pics. Offhand there were about 10 police cars illegally parked on both sides of Milwaukee. On the south side of the street a Michigan State Police Ford Explorer was not just illegally parked in a no-standing zone, it was also parked close to two different fire hydrants, at least one of them closer than the minimum 15 foot distance required by state law. Back over on the other side of the street, by the former GM Bldg, while I was taking the photos two motorcycle cops showed up for what must have been some kind of meeting but they had to park legally in those angled spots. All the best parking spaces, the ones in the no-standing zone, were apparently already taken.

IMG_0014

The motorcycle cops arrived later and since there was no more room near the door, they had to park legally.

A Ford Crown Vic in MSP blue that arrived even after the motorcyles also parked in the angled parking but for some reason he left his car running. I’m sure that someone will say something about seconds counting and if I don’t like cops I should try calling a hippy the next time my kid is dying, but in an age when cars have stop-start systems that seamlessly and instantly fire up an engine after a stop light do you really believe that excuse? My guess is the warm, humid weather Detroit experienced today and the car’s air conditioning had something to do with leaving it running.

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The only legally parked police car on that block. He did, however, leave his car running. Hasn’t he heard about global warming?

He wasn’t the only duly sworn officer of the law who left his steel steed running as he left it unattended. I might not have noticed the others because of all the urban noise, but I happened to see a pedestrian who was crouching down to bend an ear to the sounds coming from one of the police cars. I’m not the only person who notices these things. At least three of the cars were left running. I know the boys and girls in blue always have an excuse, and I’m sure they want to get into a cool car after their meeting is over, but according to the weatherman on my car radio, though it was warm it was a not unbearable 81 degrees in Detroit at the time. At ~$3.60 a gallon for gasoline, can the taxpayers afford to keep cop cars air conditioned even when there aren’t even cops in them? Another reason cops give for leaving their cars idling at the side of the road is all of the electronic cop toys they have in their cruisers. Apparently all that stuff needs to be powered up even when the cop isn’t there to use them.

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Cops say they have to leave their cruisers running because of all the electronic equipment in their mobile offices, apparently whether or not they are using that equipment or even when they are nowhere near the car. On a warm, muggy day, how many times do you leave your personal car running and unattended just to keep the A/C going and the radio on when gasoline is $3.60 a gallon?

But I digress. This is about police breaking the law, not just the taxpayers’ piggybanks.

Which question has a lower number for an answer, how many times do you see police casually breaking traffic and parking laws, or how many times do you see police bothering to obey traffic and parking laws?

Now if you ask police here in Michigan, and I have asked, just when the law allows them to break traffic or parking laws, you will get answers ranging from “It depends” to “I can do it whenever I want to”. I’ve never had one tell me what the law actually was. Asking them if you’d get a ticket for parking like they are parked, and I have asked, will get you, “Well, I won’t get one.” All of those quotation marks are there for a reason, those are verbatim responses I’ve gotten from cops. Citing the the relevant state law, and I have done so, will get you a, “Have a nice day,” in that oh-so-respectful tone police use when they want to express disdain towards the people for whom they ultimately work.

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The door in the middle at street level is the entrance to offices that the Michigan State Police use. Troopers have told me that it’s more “convenient” to park by the door than in the spaces taxpayers have reserved for their exclusive use just steps away.

No matter what their response is, it’s never to cite an actual law that exempts them. Funny how they always seem to know what law to cite, when it’s you getting the citation. Michigan State Police isn’t the only area police agency whose officers illegally park. If you can believe it, the suburban Huntington Woods police park in the middle of a five lane road, in the left turn lane, yep, right there in the middle of the street, because drivers making an illegal right turn on red at a nearby intersection can’t see them there until they’ve committed to making the turn. The cops could sit in a nearby parking lot, but that would put them in the line of sight of the drivers and the object of all of this is generating revenue by issuing tickets. Can’t have people not making that illegal right turn on red, can we?

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There must have been some kind of shift meeting. Yet more state troopers illegally parked across the street. The building is CCS’ Taubman Center. What’s a few art students possibly burning to death when weighed against the convenience and comfort of police officers?

Not long ago, in Lathrup Village I noticed a small traffic jam up ahead on a residential street that crosses a mile long stretch of 25 mph road that’s partly residential (hence the low speed limit). I saw a police car up ahead so I assumed the officer had someone pulled over. Which might have explained why said officer was forcing traffic to go around him, traveling in the wrong lane, against traffic. However, he didn’t have anyone pulled over. He was doing radar surveillance of drivers on the busy cross street, while parked about 18″ from the side of the road (generally, more than 12″ will get you a parking ticket around here), about 15 feet from a stop sign and crosswalk (Michigan law prohibits parking within 30 feet of a stop sign, or within 20 feet of a crosswalk).

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A twofer. State law requires all vehicles to park at least 15 feet from fire hydrants. I’m surprised that he didn’t move a few feet up and make it three for three. The people whom that cop is endangering are car design students at CCS and the folks assembling Shinola watches and bicycles on a floor rented from CCS’ Taubman Center building.

Now remember, all of these traffic and parking laws are there, supposedly, to make things safer for drivers. In the section of the law that says you can’t park in the middle of the roadway, like those Huntington Woods cops do, it doesn’t give the reason why you and I can’t do it as “not a cop”. Safety, though,  and apparently the law too, takes a back seat to revenue.

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If you park here, you’ll get a ticket. If you park where the state police vehicles park instead of here, you’ll get a ticket.

The relevant law here in Michigan is Michigan Compiled Laws 257.603. Chapter 257 of Act 300 of 1949 is Michigan’s overall motor vehicle code. I’m not a lawyer but I asked my state senator’s office about it and they asked Michigan’s Legislative Research Division to look into it. The folks whose job it is to accurately inform the state’s lawmakers say that’s the only law that exempts police concerning traffic and parking laws. Section 603 of that chapter regulates under what conditions government owned vehicles can violate sections of the motor vehicle code. You can read the relevant sections of the law below. Paragraph 1 identifies which government vehicles can break traffic laws, pretty much any government owned vehicle from the local dogcatcher to the presidential limousine. Paragraph 3 lists what laws they can break, pretty much any traffic or parking regulations. Paragraph 2, though, which says when they can do it, is much more specific, and restricts such exemptions to when the vehicle is going to an emergency or is involved in the pursuit or apprehension of an actual criminal or criminal suspect.

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Privately owned vehicles used for State Police business also illegally park at the Cadillac Place building. It’s nice to see that the Michigan Gaming Control Board pays its employees well enough to drive BMWs. Ya think the driver would get upset if I left a copy of MCL 257.603 under his or her windshield wiper?

Did you happen to notice anything in there about routine traffic surveillance or having a meeting with your boss and co-workers? Speaking of such meetings, my favorite part of MCL 257.603 is the part about being exempt from traffic laws when going to ”but not while returning from an emergency call” (emphasis added). That ‘but not from’ part tells us that the legislators in Lansing who wrote that passage had an inkling the law enforcement officers and other emergency workers just might cheat a little. Just because the chief calls you back to the shop for a talk doesn’t make it an emergency, so you can’t speed back, or park illegally when you get there. The fact that you’re a cop isn’t going to move your cruiser out of the way of a firetruck as your fellow state workers burn to death because of where you parked your car.

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

The story does have a bit of a bittersweet ending. Concerning those cops parking in the middle of the road, I sent emails to both city managers, both directors of public safety and even had a fruitless phone conversation with the mayor of my own city, which adjoins Huntington Woods, about why our police department won’t ticket cars that are dangerously and illegally parked in the middle of the road. Getting no satisfaction, I went to a city council meeting and simply read them the state law, asking them if it exempted routine traffic surveillance. Four days later the mayor called to tell me that a majority of the city council and city manager agree with my reading of the law. That was sweet, particularly since she thinks I’m crazy and knows that I’ll never vote for her, so I’m sure she didn’t want to make that call. I figure their decision had something to do with possible liability if someone plows into that cop car parked in the middle of the road and the fact that since some crazy guy read the law to them in public, on public access television and all that, and if the city gets sued they can’t say they didn’t know.

The bitter part was on my window when I got back from the Fisher Building. The same Detroit parking enforcement folks who have refused to ticket the cops and state attorneys endangering people in the Cadillac Place building, and yes, I’ve asked them to do so, demonstrate a bit more alacrity in enforcing parking laws when it comes to regular folks.

I have a call in to the Michigan State Police public affairs department asking them to comment about their troopers illegally parking in violation of MCL 257.603. I was contacted, asked if I was on deadline and was told that I would hear from them with a response. When I get that response, we’ll publish it.

MICHIGAN VEHICLE CODE (EXCERPT)
Act 300 of 1949
257.603 Applicability of chapter to government vehicles; exemption of authorized emergency vehicles; conditions; exemption of police vehicles not sounding audible signal; exemption of persons, vehicles, and equipment working on surface of highway.

Sec. 603.

(1) The provisions of this chapter applicable to the drivers of vehicles upon the highway apply to the drivers of all vehicles owned or operated by the United States, this state, or a county, city, township, village, district, or any other political subdivision of the state, subject to the specific exceptions set forth in this chapter with reference to authorized emergency vehicles.

(2) The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle when responding to an emergency call, but not while returning from an emergency call, or when pursuing or apprehending a person who has violated or is violating the law or is charged with or suspected of violating the law may exercise the privileges set forth in this section, subject to the conditions of this section.

(3) The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle may do any of the following:

(a) Park or stand, irrespective of this act.

(b) Proceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down as may be necessary for safe operation.

(c) Exceed the prima facie speed limits so long as he or she does not endanger life or property.

(d) Disregard regulations governing direction of movement or turning in a specified direction.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Balls Of Fire, Then And Now http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/balls-of-fire-then-and-now/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/balls-of-fire-then-and-now/#comments Fri, 07 Jun 2013 14:12:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=490598 Burned-Jeep-jpg

Chrysler’s recent decision to snub a recent NHTSA recall request is big news. I need not restate the facts of the story, if you are a “car guy” and haven’t heard the sordid details, or noticed the dramatic photos of burned out Jeep Grand Cherokees and Liberties posted all over the internet in the past few days, you must live under a rock. With 2.7 million vehicles involved the costs of conducting such a recall would be staggering but, ultimately, inaction may cost the company even more money if consumers lose confidence in the brand.

Because the root cause of the recall is said to involve rear-end collisions, ruptured fuel tanks, and the possibility of a death so gruesome that most of us shudder to even think about it, people are drawing a natural comparison between the current case and the Ford Pinto debacle of the 1970s. They appear the same on the surface but that’s only because, as much as I am loathe to admit it, the ‘70s were a long time ago and public awareness of the details of that earlier case has wasted away. In their rush to assert that history is repeating itself, people leap over a critical piece of the story that makes what happened almost 40 years ago much, much worse. Namely that Ford knew about the tendency of the Pinto to explode before the cars even left the factory, and, because it would cost an extra $11 per car to fix, they elected not to act.

The case against Ford was laid out in great detail by Mother Jones News in their October 1977 issue – view the original article – and it makes chilling reading. In a nutshell, that article states that the problems with the Pinto’s fuel tank became apparent during pre-production crash tests, but that Ford elected to go ahead with the car as designed because the tooling for the cars was already in place and because the overall cost to upgrade the car was deemed to be higher than the cost potential settlements to the families of those people unfortunate enough to be burned alive in an accident. Mother Jones backed up this assertion with a leaked Ford memo that revealed that an internal cost-benefit analysis had determined that the company’s average estimated payout in the event of a death caused by the defect would be $200,000. Crunching the numbers, then, was simple: $11 times X million cars over the car’s product cycle vs $200,000 times a projected 180 burn deaths per year. Chillingly logical, isn’t it?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Once Mother Jones blew the lid off this story, people got enraged and Pinto sales dropped precipitously. In 1977, seven full years after the car’s introduction, Ford finally made the required modifications and the car continued to appear on Ford lots where it sold in much smaller numbers until it finally went away in 1980. Today, the Ford Pinto has virtually vanished from the streets and, when they do appear, they seem more an oddity than a rolling death trap released upon the world through corporate duplicity.

I suppose that those whose lives have been effected by current “alleged” defect in Chrysler’s Jeeps will care little about the distinction I make between a vehicle that is determined after the fact to have a possibly deadly defect and one that left the factory with a similar defect with the full knowledge of the people running the program, but to me the difference is an important one. One is a mistake, the other is murder. One deserves to be prosecuted and the other made right. Both, however, need to be remembered in their correct context.

Even so, Chrysler should not ignore the lesson that Ford learned in the ensuing debacle. People don’t like to be burned alive in their cars. We don’t even like the thought of it. Over time we may forget the specific details, but we will remember the part about the burning. Don’t forget that. Make this right before its too late.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He writes for any car website that will have him and enjoys public speaking. According to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Vengeful Scam On Legit Repo Man or Crooked Repo Man Selling Stolen Car? You Decide! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/vengeful-scam-on-legit-repo-man-or-crooked-repo-man-selling-stolen-car-you-decide/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/vengeful-scam-on-legit-repo-man-or-crooked-repo-man-selling-stolen-car-you-decide/#comments Thu, 11 Apr 2013 16:30:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=484397 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?
24 Hours of LeMons Legend Speedycop, who happens to have a day job as a Washington DC police officer (and never looks for potential race cars while he’s on duty), found a too-good-to-be-true ad for a 1998 Ford Crown Victoria with free bonus ’99 Crown Victoria as part of the deal.
Hmmm… something about this doesn’t smell quite right. Let’s read the text of the ad (redacted in case this is a burn job by a vengeful ex-girlfriend and/or business rival):
“1 1998 crown Vic with title n runs great and. 1999 crown Vic with no title. The second was repossessed my my company ■■■■■, but was the wrong repoed and we never took back. Car runs great n in mint condition. Can get up a title by swapping vins easily. 100.00 for both. I own ■■■■■ REPOSSESSION COMPANY. IF WANT TO BUY ASAP CALL 410 ■■ ■■■■, my name is ■■■■■. Best time to reach me is at night or here’s my address to stop by n look at em. ■■■■■ ■■■■■ rd. fallston md. Both must go ASAP. Feel free to stop by anytime at my residence. TY. Ill be home all night at furnace rd or my business at ■■■■■ ■■■■■ rd. Nottingham md. Please rush”
So, Speedycop has informed his law-enforcement colleagues in the Baltimore area about this ad, and let’s just say that they’re verrrrrry interested. Mistakenly-repoed car being offered with the suggestion of a VIN swap, or reprehensible burning-bag-o-dog-poop-on-the-porch prank? The “I’ll be home all night” and ridiculously low selling price suggests the latter, but who can say? We’ll let you know what happened, once the dust settles.

PleadingNote1_1280 38 - Spirit of LeMons Racing Cessna - History Craigslist Sketchy Tow Ad- Picture courtesy of Craigslist Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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“Distracted Driving” Joins The Ranks Of Primary Offenses In Virginia http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/distracted-driving-joins-the-ranks-of-primary-offenses-in-virginia/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/distracted-driving-joins-the-ranks-of-primary-offenses-in-virginia/#comments Fri, 05 Apr 2013 16:17:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=483740

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.

If you’re confused as to what a “primary offense” might be, toss me some click love and check it out. Virginia’s governor is expected to sign legislation that will add so-called distracted driving to the list.

Sen. George Barker (D-Alexandria) says he has been trying to get a bill passed on this topic for a number of years, after students from Centreville High School brought the issue to his attention.

“I’m very pleased, because this is an extraordinarily dangerous activity,” Barker says. “The accident rate is 23 times the rate for people that are texting compared to people that aren’t, which is a phenomenal differential. It clearly will save lives.”

Look for the “23 times” factoid to be repeated again and again everywhere until people unquestioningly accept it. That number comes from a six-month survey of truck drivers and has been ruthlessly expanded to include everyone and everything humanly possible. Never mind the fact that operating a long-haul truck in urban environments is significantly more difficult and physically involved than driving a car. Never mind the fact that in modern traffic, commercial trucks are already unable to brake and maneuver well enough to avoid accidents. Never mind the fact that young people are far more adept at texting than your average career trucker. It’s a fact now and you might as well accept it.

Your humble author is of the opinion that legislation like this leads to surreptitious texting with one’s phone tucked beneath the line of sight in the car. That behavior significantly increases the danger of texting while driving and to encourage people to engage in it just so a few tickets can be written trades public safety for public revenue. Texting while driving is not going to go away. Not now and not for a very long time. It is the preferred communication method of everybody under the age of thirty and everybody’s going to keep doing it. Period. Point blank.

I would suggest that the texting-and-driving hysteria we’re seeing now as a society is as outsized as it is for one simple reason: people just love to be Puritans about something and we live in a world now where it’s no longer acceptable to have any public views about sexual behavior or common decency besides those once held by Ol’ Little Roman Boots. Since the Puritanical impulse is likely genetic in nature and it is one of the reasons your Cro-Magnon ancestor survived while his neighbor died in an ill-fated attempt to reproduce with a tribe of bonobos, it’s hard to completely suppress it. Instead, we swallow those feelings and let them fester until one day we are busy nonjudgmentally watching “Glee” and we see a public-service ad about texting and driving and it erupts from our stomachs in a bile-covered, steel-toothed xenomorphic presence OMG SOMETHING MUST BE DONE BLEEEEARRRRRRGH.

An exceptionally paranoid individual, which I am emphatically not or at least emphatically not really, might also wonder if the Illuminati think this: By removing all sorts of potential distractions from driving and forcing us to stare straight ahead at the stopped bumper of the Escalade in front of us, possibly with the aid of those hold-the-eyelids-open apparatus they used on Malcolm McDowell, the misery of operating a privately-owned vehicle might possibly be ratcheted up to the point where we will cheerfully accept being herded onto filthy cattle cars and shipped to our destinations in the most climate-friendly way possible. Just forget I said anything about it, though, because I’m not paranoid.

What I am, however, is someone who enjoys texting the finest-looking women available at all times. So if you see me rolling my Town Car down the street, chances are I’m texting somebody. But from now on, I’m going to wear sunglasses and hold my phone under the beltline, so you can’t tell for sure. If you have complaints about that, send them to your local legislator.

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Police Error Is A Primary Offense Now http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/police-error-is-a-primary-offense-now/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/police-error-is-a-primary-offense-now/#comments Thu, 04 Apr 2013 19:27:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=483608

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.

The State Bar Of Wisconsin website reports that the above traffic stop has been upheld. In other words, officer error is now a “primary offense”.

For those of you who don’t spend your lives on the run from the law, here’s a brief primer: “Primary Offenses” are traffic offenses for which you can be pulled over and interrogated/arrested by an officer. Speeding, obviously, is a primary offense. If you’re speeding, it doesn’t matter if you are sober, legally registered, and complying in all other aspects with the law. You can be pulled over. Once you are pulled over, if you’ve been drinking or if you have a sixteen-year-old cheerleader tied up in the back seat, the officer can take action and cite you for any or all of those offenses. Are you with me so far?

A “secondary offense” is one that does not justify pulling someone over but which is ticketable once it’s observed during a stop that was occasioned by a primary offense. Seatbelt laws were snuck through most states under the guise of being secondary. In other words, if you’re driving down the road with your seatbelt unbuckled but everything else is in order and legal, the cop shouldn’t be able to pull you over. If he does, and you have a cheerleader tied up in the back seat, that’s the fruit of an illegal search. Not that you’ll be let go, but there’s every chance you can get it disallowed in court.

Naturally, seatbelt violations have magically migrated from secondary to primary status in pretty much every state where the law applies, as has everything else from a missing front plate to an upside-down registration sticker to the smell of unburned hydrocarbons as you pass by a California Highway Patrol cop in your B18-swapped Civic. Rarely, if ever, does the State voluntarily return powers it has acquired through the acquiescence of a drowsy voter base that has become pitifully easy to distract with hot-button topics like equality signs on Facebook and the teaching of evolution in public schools. After all, in a country where the law truly protected the people from the State you couldn’t drive a guy like Aaron Swartz to suicide over the downloading of scholastic journals and whatnot, and we just cannot have a country like that lest people download scholastic journals willy-nilly.

Apologies for the previous rant. Let’s continue and refocus on the case in question. Some dumb cop misreads his computer system, which in and of itself is remarkable because most cop-friendly computers are designed to be operated by an 80-IQ individual who is also busy driving a Crown Victoria. He pulls over a man who is doing nothing wrong from exterior observation. Dude’s been getting his drank on. The court examines the case, considers the Fourth Amendment, has said amendment printed out on toilet paper, and proceeds to wipe its collective ass with the Fourth Amendment before pitching said Fourth Amendment into the trash can.

Don’t get me wrong here. Drunk driving is bad and the fact that most states have managed to turn drunk-driving enforcement into a zero-tolerance exercise in extremely profitable plea bargains and rehab programs shouldn’t blind us to the fact that people shouldn’t drink and drive. It’s a bad idea. I don’t want drunk drivers surrounding my child on the public roadway. But it bears repeating that this fellow was not in the middle of plowing through an elementary school with a bottle of Wild Turkey in each hand and two feet jammed on the accelerator pedal. He was behaving in a manner that didn’t attract the cop’s attention. Said cop was driving along behind him and didn’t believe that he was inebriated. It wasn’t until the cop decided to talk to the guy that he noticed a smell of liquor.

According to judge Lisa Neubaeuer,

[T]he objective facts related by the officer supported a reasonable, if mistaken, suspicion that Laufer was driving a vehicle displaying incorrect plates based on the registration check he ran on the misread plates… We therefore adopt the reasoning set forth in Reierson and uphold the stop based on a good-faith mistake of fact in this case… It turned out that the officer was mistaken in his observations as a matter of fact, but the facts related by the officer constituted a violation of the law.

The sound you hear is that of a monstrous can of worms being opened with a chainsaw. It takes a door which was already hanging pretty far open for harassment of motorists by police and kicks it the rest of the way off its hinges. It further enshrines police as supercitizens who are immune to the effects of their mistakes while members of the public are frequently sentenced to prison time for errors no less trivial. It erodes the already ephemeral protections of privacy and security afforded to the individual driver. In short, it’s a bad decision and it should be sent to the highest court in the land, as soon as said highest court in the land has time to look at it.

Don’t hold your breath.

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Night Flight Of The Silver Ghost. An On Request Future Writer Story http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/night-flight-of-the-silver-ghost-an-on-request-future-writer-story/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/night-flight-of-the-silver-ghost-an-on-request-future-writer-story/#comments Mon, 25 Feb 2013 06:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=478816

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.

My G-ride awaits, a 2007 Ford Crown Vic Police Interceptor in “Official Government Business” silver. My department assigns each officer a home-fleet vehicle and I’ve been driving this one for a little over 40,000 of its 89,000 miles. One of the last of the real Police Interceptors, it boasts the civilian interior upgrade, with mouse-fur covered cloth bench seats instead of vinyl, carpeting instead of vomit resistant rubber, and a CD player. However, in a surprise outbreak of fiscal prudence, whoever ordered the cars that year failed to check the box for the exterior upgrades, like chrome trim. It’s the best of both worlds: soft semi-luxury inside with the blacked out “move to the right” front grill.

It takes about 10 minutes to reach I-75 from my driveway. I accelerate down the entrance ramp onto the empty interstate and settle into the left lane at… a reasonable and prudent speed. The big Ford loafs, eating up the miles without drama, solid as the day it rolled off of the assembly line. The only other vehicles I pass are 18 wheelers, their drivers probably wired to the gills on coffee, No-Doz, maybe meth. All of them are on high alert, scanning the road ahead and behind for the Crown Vic’s distinctive headlight pattern in their mirrors. Tonight their vigilance is rewarded: there is a Bear out there and I spy more than a few quick flashes of brake lights, even though none of them are in my lane and I subsequently couldn’t care less about the lies in their log books.

As I approach the bridge that crosses the river separating my quiet, rural home county from the urban jungle I work in, traffic is picking up a little bit. Not much, but there’s four-wheeled traffic mixed in with the truck traffic, and as I cross the bridge I can see a few lingering in the leftmost lane. The police radio goes on as I enter my jurisdiction and I start the light show a few seconds later.

The disco lights do the job. The left lane bandits are shaken out of their trances and slide into the center or rightmost lane well before I arrive. There’s no need for the vulgarity of the siren, which would interrupt Sinatra’s request for one more for his baby and one more for the road. I reach my exit and the lights go off, rendering me all but invisible to the traffic rolling on beyond. The city is beginning to stir, with lights coming on as shop owners prepare for the first customers. Joggers are out, as are paper delivery… men. I don’t suppose there have actually been paper delivery boys for decades.

I pull up at the emergency room and park in the ambulance bay. There will be at least an hour of waiting until the victim is cleared by the doctors, followed by another hour of interviews. Sometimes the case will be legitimate. Those are draining, especially if it involves a child. More often the case will be a case of regret, an attempt to cover up infidelity, or even a dispute over prostitution services rendered. Those cases will be unfounded, pended and forgotten in short order, sometimes with false report charges against the “victim,” but usually not. I suppose that’s for the best. A city in which every rape report was legitimate would be a horribly dangerous place to live.

The sun is up by the time I finish the interviews, and I roll on into the office to get an early jump on my shift. The day will drag by. Maybe there will be a suspect to find in regards to the new case, maybe not. By the time the day is over, the paperwork, at least, will be in order. I’ll mount back up and drive back across the river, feeling the weight of the case and the responsibility of the job disappear as the Crown Vic’s wheels thump across the last expansion joint. Dinner awaits, perhaps a beer or two, and then a good night’s sleep. It will be another twelve days until I have to cover the on-call schedule for the unit again.

Another twelve days before another night flight.

David Hester is a detective with the Lexington, KY Police Department by day and night. He drove a Crown Vic for work, but “does not suffer from an overabundance of Panther love.” David is a Editor’s Choice Future TTAC Writer, just in case we ever drive through Lexington, KY.

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Kill Switch Thwarts Denver Civic Thieves Once Again, Junkyard Parts To the Rescue http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/kill-switch-thwarts-denver-civic-thieves-once-again-junkyard-parts-to-the-rescue/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/kill-switch-thwarts-denver-civic-thieves-once-again-junkyard-parts-to-the-rescue/#comments Thu, 19 Jul 2012 14:30:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=453416 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.
The first indication I got that something was wrong was the sight of the open glovebox— itself the victim of many break-ins when the previous owner lived in San Francisco and Chicago and repaired with non-color-matching junkyard parts just recently— and the busted steering-column cover on the passenger-side floor. Not again!
After I had an ’87 Civic hatch ripped off in Oakland back in the 1990s, I’ve installed kill switches on every Honda I’ve owned since; this is the fourth time (that I know of) that such a switch has saved one of my cars from theft. The problem with Civics of the 1980s and 1990s is that any random Honda key has a pretty good chance of starting any Honda; most thieves just carry a bunch of keys with them and keep trying keys until one works. This thief went for the old-fashioned break-the-column-lock/pry-the-ignition-switch-off approach, which tears the hell out of everything on the steering column.
I’m not sure exactly what tools are used to do this, but some major leverage must have been used to crack the tough steel of the column-lock collar.
I’d like to share my kill-switch secrets with the world, but I don’t want to make things any easier for the Honda thieves prowling my neighborhood. What I’ve got is a device that doesn’t look like a switch and requires a certain amount of contortion to reach from the driver’s seat, and it’s a double-pole/single-throw switch that cuts power to both the starter solenoid and the fuel pump. Actually, that’s the setup I had, before this incident; now I’ve got the two circuits on separate camouflaged switches. It would take a very patient thief indeed to find both switches, and meth use doesn’t encourage such patience.
One of these days I’m going to master the art of Field Expedient Ignition Key Making, as seen at towed-car auctions: you jam a key blank in the lock, abuse it cruelly with a pliers, and then file away the areas where the lock pins made marks on the blank. For now, I buy a lock cylinder and ignition switch at the junkyard and get a locksmith to make a key; in this case, I found a great deal on eBay for a 5G Civic cylinder/switch assembly with keys already there, so I went that route.
Since the steering-column covers had been torn to bits by the amphetamine-crazed Civic thief, I headed to my favorite self-serve wrecking yard to do some plastic shopping. Someone had already pulled the ignition switch from this ’95 Civic sedan (nearly every 5th-gen Civic in self-service yards has had the ignition switch assembly removed, which tells you something about the prevalence of theft with these cars), and he or she had been kind enough to not destroy the steering column cover pieces. It’s nice to find that the parts you need are removed and conveniently located.
Success! I’m pretty sure my car had been stolen and recovered several times before I bought it, because every lock and latch in the car was already pretty well thrashed; the steering column cover was already beat to hell before the latest thief finished it off. I’ll have to give the car’s previous owner a call and ask him about the car’s theft history.
Removing the old switch is a medium-grade pain in the ass, mostly because the car is so small and it’s hard to get to anything. To get to the shear bolts that hold the switch assembly on the steering column, you need to drop the column down to seat level.
This is the sort of job for which the factory shop manual is a must-have, and Honda has always done a beautiful job with their manuals. I’m a technical writer by trade, and I’ll use Honda factory shop manuals as course materials if I ever teach a tech-writing class (if I ever teach a fiction-writing class it’s going to be Flannery O’Connor all the way).
Right. So, you center-punch and drill out the two shear bolts that hold the lock cylinder assembly on the steering column, and then you unplug the two connectors from the ignition switch harness to the fuse panel.
Here’s the old ignition switch and harness assembly.
You can install the ignition switch/cylinder assembly with regular bolts and it probably wouldn’t matter; any thief who is willing to remove the half-dozen fasteners required to get access to the switch mounting bracket is going to apply his talents to more valuable targets. My switch came with new shear bolts, courtesy of the eBay seller, so I used them.
It doesn’t take much torque to snap off the heads of the shear bolts; one hand on a short 1/4″-drive ratchet was sufficient.
At this point, punching and drilling of the bolt will be needed to remove the assembly.
In a job like this, there’s always some nickel/dime headache that slows things down. In this case, the replacement switch’s wiring harness didn’t have one of the two one-way hold-downs that keep the wires out of the way of nearby moving parts.
I could have drilled a second hole in the bracket and used a zip-tie, but instead I opted to free up one of the hold-downs on the old harness and install it on the new one.
A quick test showed that the new switch worked fine, so I buttoned everything up.
Ready to go!
I’m glad my kill switches have saved my Civic, which has been the best daily-driver/parts-hauling beater I’ve ever owned, but these constant theft attempts are getting old. To prevent such occurrences— which seem inevitable, given that I park a known-to-be-easy-to-steal car with high parts demand in a nice neighborhood adjacent to a sketchy/tweeker-centric ‘hood— in the future, I’m going to take additional steps:
1. I’ve been parking the Civic (which I don’t drive much since I bought a much more VIP daily driver) in a dark parking space where it can’t be seen from my house, mostly so my ’66 Dodge A100 van can be seen from the house. Since I remove the battery from my hot-wireable-in-10-seconds van when it’s parked, and demand for A100 parts isn’t particularly high, it’s probably safe to let the Civic live in the A100′s spot.
2. Car alarms are pointless and annoying, but the cost of a flashing LED and resistor is about 99 cents. There’s a small-but-real chance that the appearance of an alarm will deter potential thieves, so I’ve installed a blinky LED on the dash. I’ve also added a club-style steering wheel lock, because a thief might decide that the added 30 seconds to hacksaw through the steering wheel isn’t worth the risk of getting shot full of holes and/or bludgeoned with a lag-screw-studded 2×4 by an enraged car owner.
3. I’ve added a second kill switch, so now the fuel pump and starter are interrupted by separate switches. Good luck finding both switches, thieves!
4. Long-term (i.e., before I swap my Integra GS-R B18C1 engine in), I plan to install a racing-style quick-release steering wheel in the car and stash the wheel inside the house. Most thieves don’t carry a collection of steering wheels with all the popular quick-release hubs, and using a Vise-Grip as a steering wheel works poorly on a non-power-steering-equipped car.
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IIHS Study Loves Red Light Cameras, Says Americans Do Too http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/iihs-study-loves-red-light-cameras-says-americans-do-too/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/iihs-study-loves-red-light-cameras-says-americans-do-too/#comments Thu, 30 Jun 2011 21:02:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=401213

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…

The IIHS concludes:

Most drivers in cities with long-standing red light camera programs support cameras and recognize their safety benefits, but communities could do a better job of educating the public about the dangers of right-turn-on-red violations and the need for enforcement. Given that camera opponents frequently said cameras make mistakes, it appears communities also could do a better job of explaining the safeguards that ensure citations are issued only to drivers who clearly run red lights.

But that’s a fairly one-sided interpretation of the data, as you might expect from a body that derives its funding from the insurance industry, which in turn has a vested interest in anything that might reduce insurance payouts, regardless of other drawbacks or context. What do I mean by that? Let’s go line-by-line through the IIHS’s conclusions:

Most drivers in cities with long-standing red light camera programs support cameras and recognize their safety benefits

First of all, the data underlying this conclusion is skewed by only including respondents in cities with “long-running red light camera systems.” The only exception is one city that had red light cameras but voted them out: Houston. And despite finding stronger opposition there than in other cities with red light cameras, the IIHS is forced to concede another problematic finding: “In Houston, 53 percent of voters cast ballots against the cameras in November 2010. In the current study, however, 57 percent of the drivers interviewed said they favor camera enforcement, and 45 strongly favor cameras”).

So where are the respondents from cities that had cameras but voted them out? Where in this report can we hear the voices of the citizens of Anaheim? Or Cincinnati? Or San Bernadino? Or how about Baytown, Texas, where the fraudulent tendencies of the red light camera companies couldn’t have been more obvious? Sadly, the list goes on. The IIHS has made its point about “cities with long-standing red light camera programs,” but it’s not at all clear that this data reflects wider American sentiment.

Meanwhile, even among this selective data set, there are issues. When asked if drivers running red lights is a problem in the city, the most common answer, with 38%, was “not a problem.” The next-most popular choice, with 31.8%: “somewhat of a problem.” Furthermore, nearly 93% of respondents said they had not run a red light in the last 30 days, further indicating that the problem is rare and limited to a small percentage of the population. A more fair presentation of the data would simply state that drivers see red-light running as having high risk potential, but that they don’t see it as a common, or everyday problem. This doubtless helps fuel a major complaint about red light cameras, namely that they exist primarily for revenue generation rather than safety.

Given that camera opponents frequently said cameras make mistakes, it appears communities also could do a better job of explaining the safeguards that ensure citations are issued only to drivers who clearly run red lights.

For one thing, the fallibility of cameras was not overwhelmingly chosen as a reason for opposition. At 26.4%, it was the number one reason for opposing, but “focus is on money, not safety” was an extremely close second, at 26.1%. If anything, the need for education is not limited to “explaining safeguards,” but rather explaining the financial incentives that local governments and photo enforcement firms have to rack up as many tickets, accurate or not, as possible. After all, if 4.4 percent are saying “camera programs cost too much money,” clearly there’s a disconnect between how people view red light cameras and the reality (as red light cameras are almost always revenue positive for local governments, unless massive errors or fraud force them to return fines).

but communities could do a better job of educating the public about the dangers of right-turn-on-red violations and the need for enforcement… it appears communities also could do a better job of explaining the safeguards that ensure citations are issued only to drivers who clearly run red lights.

Too bad the IIHS hadn’t sounded the alarm on the need for pro-red light camera “education” a few months ago… Bill Kroske might still have a job. In all seriousness, the 90%+ awareness level among respondents seems to indicate that folks do know that the cameras exist… what the IIHS seems to be suggesting is that people should be indoctrinated to believe that more red lights are fundamentally good, and that these beneficent cameras never screw up. Both of these points of “education” are aimed more at propagating photo enforcement industry talking points than furthering the public good.

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Tyre Shredder! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/01/tyre-shredder/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/01/tyre-shredder/#comments Wed, 12 Jan 2011 06:00:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=380160
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.
I’m reminded of the SEVERE TIRE DAMAGE signs we had at the Island Auto Movie drive-in theater, where I worked as a ticket-taker during my senior year of high school; dudes would just throw a sheet of plywood over the spikes and drive right in the exit.

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89 Dead In The NHTSA Complaint Database? It’s A Sham http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/05/89-dead-in-the-nhtsa-complaint-database-it%e2%80%99s-a-sham/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/05/89-dead-in-the-nhtsa-complaint-database-it%e2%80%99s-a-sham/#comments Sun, 30 May 2010 18:45:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=357674

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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.

Of course it was one of those devilish coincidences that on the same day the House Energy And Commerce Committee convened and passed an amended version of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. The act, if approved, gives sweeping powers to NHTSA. Maximum fines to automakers rise from $16.4m to 200m. Black boxes become mandatory in all new cars. Funding for NHTSA is doubled to $280m over 3 years. Drivers will pay a “vehicle safety user fee.” As far as the NHTSA is concerned, the 89 people in their computer died for a good cause: The advancement of the NHTSA. But did they really die?

It is an open secret that the NHTSA database is an invitation to fraud. There is no fact checking. Anybody can file on-line complaints at NHTSA without a VIN number. Anybody can file any bogus report with any number of deaths. It will stay in the database and will be counted.

For a closer look, I downloaded the complete NHTSA complaint database to my computer, all 400 Megabytes of them. With the help of Microsoft Access, I pulled all records for incidents with Toyotas since the year 2000, and where the culprit was “VEHICLE SPEED CONTROL.” I counted the deaths: 5727 complaints yielded 100 deaths in 78 cases. Didn’t the NHTSA say 89? Oh well, maybe the NHTSA overlooked some. They had made mistakes before. One third of the alleged deaths occurred in a vehicle with no reported VIN number.

I started looking at the reports.

First report, 4 dead, no VIN. Description: “LEICESTER, MASS. — POLICE SAY IT APPEARS THE FOUR TEENAGERS WHO WERE KILLED IN A CAR CRASH IN LEICESTER WERE WEARING THEIR SEAT BELTS, AS WAS THE LONE SURVIVOR.  LEICESTER POLICE CHIEF JIM HURLEY SAYS NEITHER ALCOHOL NOR DRUGS WAS A FACTOR IN THE CRASH.” Unintended acceleration?

Next one, no VIN, 3 dead, allegedly: “THREE PEOPLE WERE KILLED WHEN A CAR LOST CONTROL IN WHITTIER AND SLAMMED INTO A TREE. … IT WAS NOT CLEAR WHAT CAUSED THE CRASH, BUT DRIVERS OFTEN COME DOWN THE HILL AT DANGEROUSLY HIGH SPEEDS, SALAZAR SAID.” Unintended acceleration?

Next one, no VIN. 2 dead, allegedly. Happened May 31,2003. Reported to NHTSA 7 years later on April 1, 2010: “1994 TOYOTA CAMRY. CONSUMER STATES DISCONTENT REGARDING A FATAL ACCIDENT WITH THIS VEHICLE AND WONDERS IF DEFECTS WERE THE CAUSE. THE CONSUMER LOST CONTROL OF THE VEHICLE AND IT RAN OFF THE ROADWAY AND STRUCK A REINFORCED WALL.” Unintended acceleration?

Next one, no VIN, 2 dead, allegedly. Happened July 14, 2007. Reported to NHTSA February 16, 2010: “ON JULY 14, 2007 MY PARENTS WERE INVOLVLED IN A SINGLE-CAR CRASH IN THE RESIDENTIAL AREA OF NEW BLOOMFIELD, MO. MY 84-YEAR-OLD FATHER WAS DRIVING A 2004 TOYOTA AVALON, SUDDENLY LEFT THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE ROADWAY, FLIPPED THE VEHICLE, AND LANDED UPSIDE DOWN, BACK ON THE PAVEMENT. MY 79-YEAR-OLD MOTHER WAS KILLED INSTANTLY FROM HEAD TRAUMA, AND MY FATHER PASSED AWAY FROM INJURIES SUSTAINED IN THE ACCIDENT 7 WEEKS LATER. THE AUTHORITIES COULD NOT DETERMINE THE CAUSE OF THE ACCIDENT, AND MY FATHER COULD NOT REMEMBER ANY DETAILS … WE HAVE BEEN VEXED BY THE WHOLE INCIDENT, AND IT NEVER OCCURRED TO ME TO REQUEST HAVING THE AVALON INSPECTED (HIGHLY RATED VEHICLE AND ALL…), UNTIL ALL THE RECENT MEDIA OF OTHER DEATHS INVOLVING TOYOTA VECHICLES. I DO NOT HAVE THE VIN # AVAILABLE PRESENTLY, BUT CAN OBTAIN IT.” Unintended acceleration?

Next one, no VIN, 2 dead, allegedly. Happened Nov. 29, 2007. Reported to NHTSA February 16, 2010: “THE CONSUMERS FRIEND AND AN ACQUAINTANCE WERE INVOLVED IN AN ACCIDENT. ACCORDING TO THE REPORT, THE CONSUMER’S FRIEND PULLED OUT IN FRONT OF A TRUCK. THE CONSUMER DISAGREED WITH THE THEORY THAT HER FRIEND WOULD HAVE JUST PULLED OUT IN FRONT OF A TRUCK. THE CONSUMER BELIEVED HER FRIEND MAY HAVE EXPERIENCED SOME TYPE OF MECHANICAL PROBLEM WITH THE VEHICLE. WHEN THE CONSUMER ASKED HAD THE VEHICLE BEEN INSPECTED, SHE WAS TOLD THAT WAS NOT AN ISSUE. “Unintended acceleration?

This database has everything, including admissions of drunk driving (1 dead) and manslaughter:

“ON 10/17/09 AT ABOUT 5:40 PM, AFTER DRINKING A VODKA WITH ICE, MY HUSBAND AND I WENT TO DINNER IN OUR 2005 LS430 LEXUS. WE INTENDED TO GO TO DINNER A RELATIVELY SHORT DISTANCE AWAY. I TURNED ON MILITARY TRAIL, PROCEEDED TO THE LEFT LANE TRAVELING SOUTHBOUND TOWARDS NORTHLAKE BLVD, PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLORIDA. AS I APPROACHED A TRAFFIC LIGHT MY LEXUS UNEXPECTEDLY SPED UP. I TRIED TO APPLY THE BRAKE. THERE WERE CARS STOPPED IN FRONT OF ME AT THE RED LIGHT. DESPITE MY EFFORTS MY CAR CONTINUED TO ACCELERATE. I TOOK EVASIVE MANEUVERS TO AVOID THE STOPPED VEHICLES IN FRONT OF ME. THE LEFT TIRES OF MY LEXUS WENT UP ON THE CENTER MEDIAN AND MY CAR CONTINUED TO ACCELERATE THROUGH THE INTERSECTION. I MISSED THE VEHICLES STOPPED AT THE TRAFFIC LIGHT AND TRAVELLING THROUGH THE INTERSECTION. MY CAR WOULD NOT STOP ACCELERATING. I STRUCK A CORVETTE STOPPED IN THE LEFT NORTHBOUND LANE OF MILITARY TRAIL. AFTER STRIKING THE CORVETTE, I CONTINUED THROUGH THE SOUTHBOUND LANES UNTIL I INTENTIONALLY DROVE MY CAR INTO A FIRE HYDRANT IN ORDER TO STOP AND AVOID STRIKING GAS PUMPS AT A SHELL STATION. MY HUSBAND AND I WERE INJURED IN THIS CRASH. THE DRIVER OF THE CORVETTE PASSED AWAY. MY LEXUS IS STILL IN POLICE CUSTODY. NO REPAIRS HAVE BEEN MADE AT THIS TIME. I WAS CHARGED WITH DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE (MANSLAUGHTER), AND 3 OTHER CHARGES. I AM VIGOROUSLY FIGHTING THOSE CHARGES AS I WAS NOT IMPAIRED AND, AS EVIDENCED BY MY EVASIVE MANEUVERS, HAD CONTROL OF MY CAR. BUT FOR THE SUDDEN ACCELERATION, THIS ACCIDENT AND DEATH WOULD HAVE NOT OCCURRED. IN NOV. 2008, MY HUSBAND WAS DRIVING THE SAME LEXUS AND AS HE PULLED INTO OUR GARAGE THE CAR WOULD NOT STOP AND HIT CABINETS IN OUR GARAGE. LOOKING BACK AND COMPARING WHAT HAPPENED IN MY ACCIDENT ON 10/17/09 IT IS CLEAR THAT MY HUSBANDS EARLIER ACCIDENT WAS THE RESULT OF SOME SORT OF MALFUNCTION OF OUR LEXUS ACCELERATOR SYSTEM. NO REPAIRS WERE MADE TO THE VEHICLE AT THAT TIME.”

In that case, the driver was found with a blood alcohol level of .103. A search warrant was issued for the Sensing and Diagnostic Module of the Lexus. The data recorder found the vehicle “accelerating with no braking prior to crash and a speed of 49 mph at crash.” Unintended acceleration? Not according to court and police, but it counts for the NHTSA as one dead.

My head started to shake so hard, it did hurt. I gave up further analysis of this database. It is a sham. In many of the cases in that database unintended acceleration isn’t even alleged. Nevertheless, the cases are filed under “VEHICLE SPEED CONTROL” and bodies are counted. The ones that allege unintended acceleration are not investigated, but counted. There are many duplicates, upping the count, even triplicates: One ES350 crashes three times on the same day, killing 2 people each, bringing the carnage to six dead.  People are charged with DUI and manslaughter, but their victim counts. Police reports give causes for accidents such as “improper lane change” and say that there were no car defects. But the bodies count against Toyota.

Even without outright fraud, which this database invites, it is a collection of “the car made me do it” after people ran red lights, lost control when speeding, or were drunk. The real cases have documents, police reports etc. with them. As in the case of the drunk Lexus driver, the case could be quickly closed. But it is not. The ones without documents (such as the one with 4 deaths) should be thrown out immediately for lack of evidence. But they are not.

The people who run this database don’t need a $280m budget. They need a new job. Like counting the muskox population of Nome, Alaska. If they mess that up, there will be a career-limiting outcry from PETA to the Sierra Club. But their work on that collection of crooks and liars will remain unpunished.

What I don’t understand is that the MSM didn’t dig deeper into that morass. Never was investigative journalism easier. 100 people dead. Hundreds of millions of dollars involved. And the research can be done without getting one’s behind out of the chair in front of the computer. With that, I hand you over to our frequent commentator Carquestions who looked a bit deeper into that database.

PS: If you have nothing better to do, a file with the alleged dead since 2000 can be downloaded here in easy Excel format. For further investigation, go to the NHTSA complaint database and input the ODINO for the record you want to research. Do not shake your head violently, serious trauma may occur.

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Editorial: Speeding Wants to Be Free http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/08/editorial-speeding-wants-to-be-free/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/08/editorial-speeding-wants-to-be-free/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2009 14:18:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=325139

"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.]]>

“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.

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Hammer Time: How to Cheat on the Cash-for Clunkers Program, Part One http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/07/hammer-time-how-to-cheat-on-the-cash-for-clunkers-program-pt-1/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/07/hammer-time-how-to-cheat-on-the-cash-for-clunkers-program-pt-1/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2009 17:57:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=322366

I remember when I was 16 years old, one of my friend's dads 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.]]>

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.

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Editorial: Unsafe at Any Speed? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/05/editorial-unsafe-at-any-speed/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/05/editorial-unsafe-at-any-speed/#comments Tue, 26 May 2009 01:58:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=316352

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’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.]

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Editorial: Maximum Street Speed Explained http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/05/editorial-maximum-street-speed-explained/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/05/editorial-maximum-street-speed-explained/#comments Wed, 20 May 2009 15:53:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=315637

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. ]]>

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.

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Editorial: How to Stop Illegal Street Racing Without Really Trying http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/04/how-to-stop-illegal-street-racing-without-really-trying/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/04/how-to-stop-illegal-street-racing-without-really-trying/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2009 19:38:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=311242

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.]]>

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.

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Editorial: Georgia Cities Ignoring Extended Yellow Law http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/03/editorial-georgia-cities-ignoring-extended-yellow-law/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/03/editorial-georgia-cities-ignoring-extended-yellow-law/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2009 14:09:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=286281

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.]]>

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.

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Editorial: The Truth About Speeding Tickets and the Recession http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/03/the-truth-about-speeding-tickets-and-the-recession/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/03/the-truth-about-speeding-tickets-and-the-recession/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2009 12:45:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=272461

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!]]>

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]

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Busted! Redflex’s Redlight Camera Semi-Snuff Film http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/02/busted-redflex-redlight-camera-semi-snuff-film/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/02/busted-redflex-redlight-camera-semi-snuff-film/#comments Fri, 06 Feb 2009 19:18:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=241731 Redflex is the Australian company that runs many if not most of America's redlight camera programs. Although I'm not a city resident, I attended two Redflex Q&A sessions in Canton, OH over the past two nights. About 20 people attended the first meeting. Around sixty showed-up at the second-- once people caught wind of what was at stake. Both meetings included city council members, city safety director Thomas Nesbitt and Hizzoner the Mayor, William Healy. Redflex Executive Vice President Aaron Rosenberg began the meeting with the video above. The clip was shown without warning. Hello and boom: a graphic and violent accident of the type Reflex's cameras are supposed to prevent. No emotional blackmail there, then.

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Redflex is the Australian company that runs many if not most of America’s red-light camera programs. Although I’m not a city resident, I attended two Redflex Q&A sessions in Canton, OH over the past two nights. About twenty people attended the first meeting. Around sixty showed up at the final of four meetings—once people caught wind of what was at stake. All of the meetings included city council members, city safety director Thomas Nesbitt and Hizzoner the Mayor, William Healy. Redflex’s Executive Vice President Aaron Rosenberg began the first meeting with the video above. The clip was shown without warning. Hello and boom: a graphic and violent accident of the type Redflex’s cameras are supposed to prevent. No emotional blackmail there, then.

Rosenberg claimed the accident happened in Dayton, OH (it’s also featured on the company’s website). According to Rosenberg, the Chrysler PT Cruiser blows through the red in the curb lane doing 33 in a 35. This after the light had been red for 28.4 seconds.

As I slowly overcame the high-school-drivers’-ed-style shock of seeing a quick clip of carnage, I became increasingly angry and appalled. Why is it OK for a company selling safety equipment to use such blatant shock tactics to rally taxpayers to their for-profit cause? With aspiring teen drivers, you can understand the value of “tough love.” But while good profits may come from scare tactics, good governance does not.

Whose meeting is this anyway? By allowing Redflex to start the evening in this cynical, manipulative manner, Canton was revealing the truth: the fix was in. And then I started to dissect the accident. . . .

We were shown the brief clip of footage. Nothing more. No information on the cross-street speed limit. The Subaru was going plenty fast, but who knows if he was speeding?

The hapless pedestrian was strolling along across the street AFTER the cross-street light had changed to green. Doesn’t at least a small part of the blame rest on his decision to cross that street against signage? Cities and towns put up those Walk/Don’t Walk signals for a reason.

Also, did the pedestrian have a reasonable amount of time to cross?

I remember an article about an elderly woman getting ticketed for blocking traffic in a crosswalk. A TV crew investigated and found that a group of high school students couldn’t make it across the intersection before the light turned green at a dead run.

Furthermore, what exactly did Redflex’s camera do to prevent this accident? Ipso facto, nothing. Supposedly, Redflex’s systems reduce this kind of T-bone crash rate. But there’s no independent data on this for one simple reason: it’s not true.

In fact, red-light cameras are notorious for causing rear end collisions. While a spectacular crash like the one shown is particularly horrific, a large[r] number of rear-end collisions would lead to a large[r] numbers of whiplash cases. It’s a chronic injury that can literally ruin lives.

Last but not least, even if no T-boning accident had occurred, it looks like the SUV could have struck and maybe even killed the pedestrian.

To know the truth about this “instructive” incident, I would like to see the actual accident report and hear an analysis from a safety expert whose salary doesn’t depend on a red-light camera contract.

As those of you familiar with my screen name (SexCpotatoes) might imagine, I gave the city’s suits and the Redflex EVP a hard time, asking plenty of pointed questions. When pressed about Houston and Denver’s increased accident rate after red-light camera installation, Rosenberg responded “That was not our company.”

I asked city traffic engineer Dan Moeglin why his department hadn’t implemented any other safety measures: number boards that count down to red, synchronizing more traffic lights through town, or extending the yellow times. “I have all the traffic info about yellow light timing and such right here, I can go over them with you if you want, but these numbers give even me a headache.”

He also said that “yellow light duration is set by a formula taking into account speed limit, and width of the roadway.”

I briefly touched on the lawsuit against Redflex regarding the radar equipment they’d imported and distributed in violation of federal law. “That was an issue with a sticker not being properly placed or affixed,” Rosenberg demurred.

So a company devoted to catching motorists who must follow the letter of the law down to the last tenth of a second justifies breaking the law, perjuring themselves and falsifying certification documents as a clerical error. Nice.

I’m starting a petition to get the red-light camera issue placed on the ballot for the next general election. I leave it up to you, TTAC’s Best and Brightest, to decide whether using this crash footage to sell camera systems to greedy cities is morally reprehensible. Meanwhile, if you want to know why Canton is even entertaining this idea, I suggest you ignore the video and, as always, follow the money.

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