By on October 4, 2018

Image: RU2 Systems

Modern society seems to be divided into two camps — those who say, “If you aren’t doing anything wrong, why would you have a problem with [expanded government power A]?” and those who drop their copy of Reason in horror as each new measure designed to make society “safer” erodes their perceived freedom just a little bit more.

The former group will cheer this news, though the latter camp will surely decry our steeper descent into a Surveillance State. Those annoying roadside signs that flash your current speed might soon record your plate number.

Between CCTV cameras in and around businesses, photo radar, red light cameras, and automated licence plate recognition (ALPR) cameras in police cars (and on certain highways, crossings, and checkpoints), we’ve grown used to the idea that we’re constantly on camera. Not happy with it, in many cases, but used to it nonetheless.

According to Quartz, U.S. federal contracting data shows that the Drug Enforcement Agency wants to go beyond its existing ALPR network and place cameras in radar speed signs. Usually, these trailer-mounted signs are placed on collector or residential roads where residents or police complain about a sustained speeding issue. Solar power keeps them running remotely.

ALPR cameras stash your plate data for a varying length of time, allowing law enforcement to look for vehicles involved — or suspected of being involved — in crime, though they can also be used to fine you for driving with expired plates, etc. Given its mandate, the DEA isn’t concerned with an otherwise law-abiding citizen’s slightly expired tags. They’re on the lookout for big fish. Still, that doesn’t mean the data can’t be passed on to local law enforcement.

The document shows the DEA intends to award a sole-source contract to Arizona’s RU2 Systems Inc. for the speed signs, then convert them into their intended dual-function role. “These platforms are in high demand by DEA division offices across the country, and will be utilized on a continuous basis for constant and targeted LPR acquisition efforts in rural and difficult to cover areas where LPR fixed or other mobile applications are not effective or available,” the document reads.

Covering more ground is what this initiative is all about, but civil libertarians will certainly have a problem with more ALPRs on America’s roads. It’s not just plates ALPRs take photos of, either — some record images of the drivers. With that data, anyone can track a vehicle’s movements, seeing where the owner was (or went) on a given day. In short, it is seen as a violation of privacy. Some states place limits on how long law enforcement can retain collected plate data; most do not.

The proliferation of DEA cameras along highways in the Southwestern U.S. has already prompted a backlash from the ACLU.

[Image: RU2 Systems]

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65 Comments on “Guilt-tripping Radar Speed Signs Could Soon Read Your Plate...”


  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Those radar speed signs are terribly inaccurate. They always pick up the speeding truck behind me, who is about to pass me.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Even so, you have to pay the speeding ticket they’ll send you in the mail, or go to court and pay those extra court costs (and many times also attend traffic school for even more money).

      It happened to my son who was driving us through the Saguaro National Forest and Old Tucson on a trip we took there.

      I don’t remember the exact cost but it was pretty steep and clearly an instance of mining the roads for money. And he chose not to attend traffic school which added to the fine.

      We didn’t even know where the camera was mounted on the road, didn’t even see it while driving past, but it sure had a nice clear waist-level picture of my son’s car with his rear-license plate prominently displayed.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        In Colorado, they have to warn you that photo radar is in use. Not sure about Arizona.

        In any case, my understanding is that unless someone serves you personally with one of these dumb-a** things, it’s not enforceable.

        • 0 avatar
          raph

          Italy is that way with permanent photo radar in well marked speed enforcement zones – the thinking I was told if your in an unfamiliar area then you shouldn’t be speeding in the first place and blowing through the photo-radar gets you what you deserve and on the other hand if you know about it and blow through photo-radar you either don’t give a damn or weren’t focused on driving so you deserve it.

          I did however see a mobile speed enforcement vehicle. It was a large van with a strobe light (really a mobile office it seems) and the radar was pointed in the direction of travel so I guess the sentiment was the same.

          While alot of people might disagree I didnt think it was a bad way to go.

          Another difference is the police dont need a reason to pull you over. If they flag you over and want to search your vehicle you have to comply.

          On balance the police really don’t care too much about speed enforcement or minor issues since they dont need a reason to pull people over.

          Outside of revenue generation one of the reasons we have so many laws that are vigorously enforced is that it provides a conveint excuse to pull people over and check them out.

          The “price” of freedom I guess?

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        “Even so, you have to pay the speeding ticket they’ll send you in the mail, or go to court and pay those extra court costs (and many times also attend traffic school for even more money).”

        Except these won’t be used for that purpose, as was stated in the article. The only ticket you might receive would be for expired plates.

        • 0 avatar
          brn

          Expired plates would be OK, as that truly is the responsibility of the owner of the vehicle.

        • 0 avatar
          IBx1

          “Except these won’t be used for that purpose, as was stated in the article. The only ticket you might receive would be for expired plates.”

          You can’t possibly be that naive, can you?

          “Still, that doesn’t mean the data can’t be passed on to local law enforcement.”

          Did you learn NOTHING from the NSA? When the government has data, they use it.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            “When the government has data, they use it.”

            And most of the time we have no clue HOW they use it. But it is not just the gov’t.

            That’s why people who know…… keep a low profile, don’t draw attention to themselves, and use CASH for their purchases where they can.

            (My wife and I went to lunch with my brother and his wife at one of those Chinese restaurants in Scottsdale a couple of days ago, where you order your food at the cash register and prepay for what you ordered, and the cashier was mortified that I paid the $59.12 bill in CASH. They even offered me a free bowl of any food they served if I gave them my credit card and phone number for future use.)

          • 0 avatar
            brn

            “And most of the time we have no clue HOW they use it.”

            Everything the government can and can’t do is documented is statute, written by the legislature. It’s private industry that you need to worry about.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    When I see one of these, I take it as a personal challenge to see just how fast I can go.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      This is my wife’s attitude towards them as well. I just try to see if they report the same speed as my HUD. I’d love to watch them count up as I rush towards them, but I normally encounter such setups in residential areas and not open stretches of road.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Yup, two modes for me when I see those (especially in the middle of nowhere)

        HIGH SCORE!

        &

        Wait how in accurate is my Mustangs speedometer again?

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          These things are typically WAY inaccurate.

          • 0 avatar
            MBella

            I had a couple near where I used to live. Speed limit 35mph. Even if the speedometer stayed at 35, the indication on the sign would start somewhere around 30, and go up to about 40 as you approached it.

          • 0 avatar

            My experience has been that they match my speedo quite accurately. Perhaps others experience is due to a difference in calibration or poor maintenance of the device itself.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            All the ones around here are dead on accurate, they match the speed the car thinks it is going, but it does not match the speedo since they are purposely set to read faster than you are actually going as required by law. The law requires that a speedo can not indicate slower than you are actually going and thus speedos typically read 2mph faster than what you can read directly from the car’s computer at moderate speeds and will often read 3-5mph faster at slower speeds like 25 or 30.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            And I have verified with a GPS “speedometer app” how far off my 50 year old car’s speedometer is. The signs in my area are fairly accurate.

            (My car does not have the original rear gear ratio – long story. Previous owners never bothered to update the speedometer drive gear either.)

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          I had a sailor back years ago that was doing this on his motorcycle. Problem is on a bike, you tend to drive towards something if you are looking at it. As such he the sign at a very high rate of speed demolishing the bike, sign, and his body.

          • 0 avatar
            road_pizza

            Oops.

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            Coming towards one of these stupid things at 6 in the morning, no traffic, no constabulary presence, in a 25-zone which is underposted by 5mph anyway, I decided to floor it. It maxed-out at 55mph.

            Presumably the fellow who pancaked that sign lived to tell what he did, or was that listed as a possibility in the police and/or coroner’s report?

  • avatar
    MrGrieves

    I pass one of these every morning on the way in to work. It routines reads 15-20 mph faster than my speedometer is indicating. I’m pretty sure they somehow program an “offset” into the radar to scare you into slowing down.

    • 0 avatar
      road_pizza

      The ones around here (s.w. Cleveland burbs) flash your speed in red of you’re even one mph over the limit.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        I usually give the one-finger salute to these as I pass it with my ACC set to seven over. (Five over if the limit is 30mph or above. No, I don’t use cruise all the time, but on longer stretches of a mile or so, single lanes each direction, it keeps me honest.) Same thing as you stated—might as well be committing murder at one over!

  • avatar
    lon888

    I hope the ACLU stops these damn things in a hurry. Unnecessary surveillance and no way to face your accuser.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Don’t count on ACLU. But count that in your lifetime current gov system will be shaken to the foundation.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        I have to agree with that.

        In my area, the USBP stations on US70 and US54 each have banks of cameras in both directions that take pictures of the traffic coming and going as well as from both sides (for profile). The flash is blinding during the day and even brighter at night.

        To make matters worse, The Great State of New Mexico has stationed NM State Police and NMSCC officers alongside the USBP agents at these checkpoints and these guys and gals often give chase at the drop of a hat. Kkkkaaaacccchhinggggg!

        A couple of days ago I watched a NMSP officer give chase after someone who passed through the traps at a high speed well over the legal 75mph. Caught the kid, too. Probably a student at NMSU, late for class.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      There’s a difference between the signs that just show you how fast you’re going, versus an actual photo radar machine. If it’s the former, then the ACLU wouldn’t have much to complain about.

      In my state (Colorado), motorists have to be warned that photo or red light cameras are in use.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      I also hate speed cameras, but I don’t want the ACLU on my side. A terrible organization.

      • 0 avatar
        CaddyDaddy

        The ACLU Used to stand up for constitutional rights. No it’s just another organ for the progressive left and all it’s ideologies of big government and cultural demise. Comparing Kavvy to Bill Cosby a known predator convicted in a court of law by a jury was unfactual and gross.

        As far as the speed readers and the said camera system, it’s just the camel’s nose in the tent. The .gov crowd is the best marketing organization for selling you perceived safety while growing the sphere of control and their budget.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    The yellow speed signs with the diamond signs like above are advisory signs, basically a suggested speed limit. It’s ridiculous that they’d put one of those contraptions in front of the curve. Big Brother is watching.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      In the town where I currently live the cops place these portable units in various locations, some on main thoroughfares, others less well traveled roads.

      But the kicker more often than not is that after the cops move that warning sign to a different locations, they post a cop car well out of view on a side street near the old location to clock the speeders and cite them.

      Huge business! If you’re more than 10mph OVER, you HAVE to go to court.

      Such a racket.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      On one of the roads I regularly travel they just added a 4th speed sign but this one at an advisory speed sign. The problem is they put in in the wrong direction. It is a straight section of road that has a road meeting it at a right angle near the top of a rise. The problem is they put it facing the north bound traffic which has a great view of the intersection and cars that are waiting at the stop sign. The other direction however the intersection is just over the rise and the heavily wooded area on that side of the road does block the view of cars that might be turning across or into your lane and the person waiting to turn also has a limited view of the vehicles approaching from the north. Of course the heavily wooded area also means that the solar panel wouldn’t be as effective on that side of the street. So I regularly drive past that sign flashing slow down and 25mph while I’m driving the 45mph speed limit, legally and safely.

      The others on that road are located where the speed drops.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    What do you mean, “might soon record your plate number”? They can already snap a photo, at least during the day. That little mobile unit pictured may not but I’ve seen numerous ones in my neck of the woods that include solar panels to keep them charged and not-so-obvious camera ports in front and/or back to snap a photo.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    Aside from privacy concerns, I have two issues with this kind of stuff:

    1) I have a problem with automated law enforcement, just on principle. If we’re going to say that we live in one society with laws, it ought to be other members of the society directly enforcing the laws. If that makes things a bit less efficient, I’m OK with that. Context and judgment are an essential part of law enforcement, and for the foreseeable future, automated systems won’t be able to provide that.

    2) I have a problem with handing law enforcement to private companies. I like private companies! I run a private company! But my private company should not be incentivized to determine that other citizens are breaking the law: That’s a recipe for terrible policy.

    • 0 avatar
      Erikstrawn

      1) Driving is a performance art, and sometimes you make mistakes. If you persistently make mistakes and don’t change your habits, sure, pay a fine. There should not be a system to automatically charge you every time you make a mistake. That’s not safety, that’s revenuing.

      2) Agreed, there is so much opportunity for abuse. We can’t even keep local law enforcement agencies from abusing their power for profit, and now we want to hand it off to private businesses that exist solely for profit?

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Hmmm… Considering DukeisDuke’s statement, that radar sign is mis-placed. It should be BEHIND the corner advisory sign (recommended safe speed 10mph) but before the corner. There is no reason to crawl up to that corner at 10mph. I would challenge any ticket as being irresponsible and potentially illegal.

  • avatar
    civicjohn

    I remember 6-8 years ago I was in London, when on previous trips I had a car service and basically stayed in the city, this particular visit was for meetings in various places in and out of town, so a business associate was happy to pick me up from Heathrow and drive me around for a few days. He had some sort of Mercedes AMG wagon if I recall correctly (it was a darn fast wagon!), and he had what looked like a radar detector mounted on the windshield, but he explained that it simply pointed out where the traffic cameras were. He said the government initially had them hidden from view, but later they were forced to paint them yellow or something and at least give a bloke a chance to avoid a ticket.

    He said if the camera “caught you”, no questions, no court, just points added to your driver’s license and an invoice for the amount of your ticket. Having an office over there has meant many more trips, and I’m simply amazed at how much the government can see and identify you. “Please mind the gap”, indeed.

    With another office in Times Square, I’m up there all the time, but NEVER driving. NYPD must be racing with London to figure out how many ways they can use surveillance to identify the bad guys, but, they can identify the good guys too. I’m conflicted over this intrusion but the trade-off probably means more terrorism. The ACLU is a limp noodle with respect to privacy issues these days IMO.

  • avatar
    56BelAire

    I guess I’m in the minority here as I’m all for red light camera’s and speed camera’s…….At 75, I’ve grown really tired of all the a__holes on the road INTENTIONALLY running red lights, speeding 15-25 mph over the posted limit and driving aggressively. No, when I was much younger, I didn’t drive like an a__hole and I’ve owned plenty of fast cars in my life. I currently have a Mustang GT in the garage.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      The problem with red light cameras is that the companies that set up the red light cameras get a cut of the revenue from violations. So they’re incentivized to maximize violations, by nailing you if you’re a millisecond too late (which encourages panic braking and has reportedly drastically increased the incidence of rear-end collisions at camera-controlled intersections) and by reducing yellow times to make it hard to avoid running lights in the first place, which is not only unfair and pointless but is even more dangerous.

      In the end, the problem is that while in theory these systems could be used only to catch egregious violators, in practice, both law enforcement agencies and private contractors are very very heavily incentivized to capture revenue not only from normal and marginal violators but also to alter enforcement to create more violations to capture in the first place.

      Think about it: What’s the absolute worst possible scenario for a municipality that sets up red light cameras and gets revenue directly from tickets? That’s right: The worst thing that can ever happen to a red light camera system is that people stop running red lights. Every incentive is precisely aligned to prevent the thing that’s the supposed goal of the system!

      Essentially, law enforcement’s goal becomes creating crime instead of preventing it. That’s lousy policy.

      • 0 avatar

        They become “right turn on red” cameras, where the RTOR is legal and safe, but if you don’t totally stop, clickit and mail a ticket.

        When you sit in Court in Nassau County, Long Island NY, they run a blooper reel from Intersection cameras…notable is that the players clearly cared zero about the cams so there was no deterrence.

        A technical violation and a safety violation aren’t the same thing. Once you monetize something like this, it has the Govt wanting to keep it and usually a vocal anti car group (if any size city) who support anything anti-motorist.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Since you started driving over 55 years ago, traffic has gotten much, much heavier. It’s bloomin’ scary out there!

      That said, the problem is not so much that such cameras exist but rather that they are being monitored and administrated by a non-governmental agency whose total purpose is profits, not justice. If the cameras work as intended, then I agree there’s no problem. But when those cameras tag multiple innocent drivers, then it’s not the camera at fault, it’s the operator.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      Be careful what you wish for. I’m as sick of aggressive drivers as you are. But the cameras you’re giving them the OK for aren’t about aggressive drivers. They’re about the loosest possible definition of illegal driving so as to cash in more tickets.

      The speed cameras go on underposted straightaways where there were no accidents to begin with, the red light cameras get people for rolling rights or quarter second misjudgements, truly antisocial driving gets the same $50 slap on the wrist as the 99% harmless stuff they’re catching, and your friendly government laughs all the way the bank.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        @Dan: In some locations that may be absolutely true; but not in ALL locations. I will note that such locations near where I live that seem “abusive” also have clearly posted, “Speed Limits Strictly Enforced” warnings as well–and you’d very well better believe them!

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    I’ve often thought about ramming these damned things.

    Not seriously considered, but if no one’s around and I’m in my truck, well, hey – things happen.

  • avatar
    stuart

    Here in the SF Bay Area, various cities have used photo-radar units in the past to enforce speed limits. Suspected violators would get a ticket in the mail. However, if the suspected violator ignored the mailed ticket, the city was obliged to get an arrest warrant to enforce the ticket. Alas, the local judges agreed 1) since there was no sworn officer that witnessed the violation, 2) no signature from the suspect agreeing to appear in court, then 3) they could not, in good conscience, issue an arrest warrant.

    The local suspected speed violators eventually figured out that these tickets could (and must) be ignored, and the local cities eventually gave up on photo radar.

    This happened years ago; I can’t find anything online about it. I did find a related article about red-light cameras in Los Angeles:

    https://www.laweekly.com/news/yes-you-can-still-ignore-that-red-light-camera-ticket-4376619

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      Good for those judges.

      My city tested red light cameras (no actual tickets were issued, only warnings). The response was poor. The city decided it wasn’t making anyone safer, just upsetting their citizens, so they killed the program.

      Sometimes things work out.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    one advantage to living in a “no front plate required” state.

  • avatar
    riggodeezil

    Love ’em, Especially since the speedometer in the ’93 Roadmaster quit working. Now I can see how fast I’m going sometimes. So, thanks Big Brother…I’ll send you a nice fruit basket or something. Maybe I’ll even include the catalytic convertor that I had hacked off the nanosecond I turned 70. (Natch, with illustrated instructions on what to do with it).

    “…it is seen as a violation of privacy”. Yeah, well, No Schitt. This and a billion other things that are ostensibly done nowadays “for the greater good”. The white flag was waved on this kinda stuff decades ago. It’s now just part of it all. Take it or leave it…and if you leave it, where you gonna go Cowboy?

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      You do realize that you could be cited for improper equipment for an inoperable speedometer, right? I certainly wouldn’t use it as an excuse if I got pulled over.

      • 0 avatar
        riggodeezil

        Yeah, sure they could cite me. When I do get pulled over for doing 47 in a 40mph zone I never use it as an excuse and they never check the speedo. I’ll get it (and the busted fuel gauge) fixed one of these days. I’ve found that I don’t really need the speedo and the fuel is easy enough to guess at with miles driven.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      A friend tried this in Georgia back in the 90’s. He was informed by the judge that state law did not require his vehicle actually have a working speedometer only that he abide by the posted speed limits. I had a busted speedo for years myself but the tach worked so I just calculated speed based on gear (was a stick) and RPM NASCAR style.

  • avatar
    Urlik

    This is a nothing burger compared to the thousands of private cameras that the Feds can already access to look for license plates. Not to mention local and state cameras they access.

  • avatar

    You all know you are being routinely read in toll booths, by private repo contractors, by HOA, and by the police too, right ? Reading a plate is the least of it.

    Enforcement is a different issue. In the US we have limited enforcement, and they hide and zap. In Germany, big signs indicate speed changes (and most limits are actually realistic) and radar is occasional. In the UK, there were lots of cams, although not as many as signed. I saw average speed cams, but they were extremely well marked…there was no “gotcha”.

    Most states in the US require personal service of summons for points to attach. I understand UK/AU to put points on the car owner’s license unless they rat the driver. We are fortunate that in many places cams are also rejected if there is any direct democracy. Places where they don’t need to worry about unhappy folks at City Council meetings will have more cams……but a top>down system would easily adopt them.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    They can record a nice baseball bat. Think you can get the end of the bat going at least 60mph for the lens?

  • avatar
    notapreppie

    Honestly, I’m surprised this isn’t already a thing.

  • avatar
    Garrett

    Remove plates, put on those temporary cardboard advertisement plates – problem solved, although other potential problems created.

  • avatar
    stuki

    The elephant in the room, are license plates themselves. No different than the “papers” the indoctrinati are told were somehow diiiiferent in the Soviet Union. Of course the rancher is going to use the tag on his livestock for whatever he darned well pleases. As that is why he branded them in the first place.

    Indocrinati being indoctrinati, the pagan god of “demooocraciii” will be just as effective dealing with this as they were closing Gitmo.

    Over time, cameras will be cheap and prevalent enough that anyone can be recorded anywhere. Hence will be. But thankfully not just by taxfeeders and ambulance chasers on the make. But also by civic minded individuals, who will put every car and driver’s whereabouts every second up for anyone in the public to access. Searchable by easily read license plates.

    Maybe then, the drones will catch on. If not, at least some in the enforcement apparatus, who tend to make enemies, will start lobbying for “exceptions.” As the privileged always do wrt the progressive idiocy they champion for “those other people.” Which, with any luck, can get the ball rolling on hollowing out the nonsense.

  • avatar
    Mike-NB2

    Turning law enforcement into a profit centre for government is never a good idea. I recall years ago a judge commented that law enforcement needed some inefficiencies built into it.

    Now back to my copy of Reason that I dropped on the floor…

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