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Speed Tickets Challenged Based On Timestamped Photos 566

SEWilco writes "A businessman has challenged automated tickets of his vehicles by calculating the vehicle speed based upon the tickets, which include timestamps of two photos." Maybe more word problems should be on the police academy curriculum.
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Speed Tickets Challenged Based On Timestamped Photos

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  • 50% of the budget (Score:5, Interesting)

    by suso ( 153703 ) * on Thursday April 21, 2011 @03:41PM (#35898464) Homepage Journal

    Mr. Foreman’s tickets were all issued in Forest Heights, a town of about 2,600 where officials expected $2.9 million in ticket revenue this fiscal year, about half the town’s $5.8 million budget.

    Couldn't get people to pay taxes for that new community pool there? Sheesh.

    • by suso ( 153703 ) *

      Actually, the wikipedia article on Forest Heights, Maryland [] tells a bit more of the story there:

      After decades of former governmental stability, in the 2000s the town made headlines repeatedly as two of its recent mayors were embroiled in clashes with the town council. One mayor, Joyce Beck was ousted from office after changes to the Town Charter. In June 2009 her successor, Myles Spires, has filed a $15 million dollar lawsuit against the town for malicious prosecution after being cleared of all charges initiated by the town for misuse of town's funds.

  • by Bobfrankly1 ( 1043848 ) on Thursday April 21, 2011 @03:43PM (#35898482)

    which include timestamps of two photos.

    The obvious response? They will start sending ONE timestamped photo.

    • by Svartalf ( 2997 )

      And, if they do, they'll be challenged as being re-touched. You HAVE to have the timestamps to make it legal in the slightest. :-D

    • by dougmc ( 70836 )


      And once somebody pulls up GPS tracks that show their speed at that one timestamp and uses that to get out of the ticket ... they'll remove the timestamp from the photo, or drop the seconds entirely.

    • I think you're right.
      The best way to fight that is to pass a law requiring two pictures AND those photos must include distance markers and time stamps (to 0.01 second) so that people charged can challenge incorrect reading.

      Speeding cameras are okay. But they need to be able to demonstrate their accuracy in each and every instance.

    • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

      which include timestamps of two photos.

      The obvious response? They will start sending ONE timestamped photo.

      Maybe this should be a new requirement for speed cameras -- they can use the radar/lidar to get an instantaneous speed if they want to, but they can only generate a ticket if the average speed as calculated from 2 photos is above the speed limit and the photo has to be reviewed and the ticket approved by a trained police officer (i.e. not by the private company that earns revenue from the ticket). Since the photos can be a fraction of a second apart and still give enough detail for accurate speed calculatio

      • by tibit ( 1762298 )

        Those speed cameras don't have to use any radar/lidar at all. Just take pictures of cars as they pass at regular intervals, use image recognition to locate some centroid of each car in two frames, and issue a ticket if the distance exceeds a preset limit. You have a clear doumentation of the transgression right there. Heck, the time can be displayed on a separate digital display visible in the camera's field of view. Ideally supplied by another vendor. That'd be quite incontrovertible.

        • by cdrguru ( 88047 )

          Yes, that would be possible. It is how the human-operated VASCAR system works.

          But the systems being used are using radar because it can be automated. You can today buy a module which does radar speed calculations across multiple lanes on a roadway and gives back digital speed information. Eliminates all that photo comparison stuff.

          Now the system in question here sounds like it is screwed up in some manner. As someone who has seen the little flashing things go off multiple times while driving I can certa

        • Radar is quite accurate, but it's more useful for a machine than a person.

          But that's not a problem. The Cameras in Britain are radar triggered, but snap two photos. If the ticket is challenged, the photos are used as evidence. Markings are painted on the road with known spacings and the maths is quite simple.
        • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

          The problem with speed calculations is that it depends on the assumption that your clock is precisely accurate, in much the same way that Radar depends on calibration. For a ticket to be issued, it should be necessary to have at least two corroborating pieces of evidence.

          Ideally, a speeding ticket should require an actual human witness as well. Why? Because if speeding in an area doesn't present a high enough risk to be worth putting an officer out there to patrol it, one could reasonably argue that th

        • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

          Yeah, but there's no need to do that (and how reliable will it be in cases like when a truck is overtaking a car - who's centroid is being measured?) - radar is cheap and it works in general for identifying speeders.

          The photograph requirement would be a sanity check by making sure that citations are reviewed by a live human being (and a police officer) before being issued.

          Making a real live police offer do the calculations to prove that the car was speeding should help reduce illegitimate tickets by addi

      • by Ruke ( 857276 )

        It becomes much more difficult for the officers to detect the speed of the vehicle if they do not have an accurate length of the vehicle. Mr. Foreman was able to go out and measure his vans in order to do the calculations - in order for the officers reviewing the traffic camera footage to visually determine the vehicles' speeds, they would have to have some other visual reference.

        Not that any of this should be necessary. The radar guns in the speed traps can be calibrated to within 5 or so MPH. They just we

        • by rhizome ( 115711 )

          It becomes much more difficult for the officers to detect the speed of the vehicle if they do not have an accurate length of the vehicle

          The length of production vehicles is easily obtained. It would be no big thing to compile a database for this purpose. Your "difficulty" is completely attributable to laziness.

        • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

          Actually, it's not hard at all. You just place two cameras fifty feet apart and measure the position of the leading edge in two photos taken a fraction of a second apart. You can then compute the speed fairly precisely, assuming you know the exact positions of the two cameras and the exact time delay.

  • by jcoy42 ( 412359 ) on Thursday April 21, 2011 @03:44PM (#35898492) Homepage Journal

    I got a ticket from one of those things 2 weeks ago; when it flashed, I looked down. I was doing 48. I've checked my speedometer using a GPS, and it's accurage. They aren't supposed to take a picture until 10 miles over the limit (the limit there is 40, so it shouldn't have taken a picture until 50). The ticket that came in the mail said I was doing 52.

    I talked to a lawyer, and was told to just pay the bill, less trouble and less expensive in the long run.. so, that was $218.

    The real kicker on the ticket was that each offense must be reviewed by a real cop with a badge number. The cop's name? Officer Dollar.


    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by i kan reed ( 749298 )
      I understand that speed limits are too low, but you're comlaining about getting a ticket for doing something illegal, because the exact extent to which you were violating the law was off by a fraction? "I'm sorry your honor, I only stole $320 from the victim, not the alleged $350 you're going to have to let me off."
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        well some states have "reckless endangerment" set at a certain speed so yes, calibration should be a part of the system so it is accurate; especially if you are going to make money off of it... 4mph/48 --> 12% error, pretty bad.

        • that depends on if they're assessing a standard speeding fine, or something more signifigant. I agree that if there's a number the law specifies, your equipment should have a margin of error at least as large as its actual error. Given that the parent said they only got a fine, I'm guessing they did something technically illegal, then were offended when it was deemed technically illegal.
        • "reckless" math...

      • by Svartalf ( 2997 )

        Heh... The thing is that there's law requirements for how the citations are issued. An LEO accurately measuring you being 8 over would be sufficient grounds for a ticket (if he so chose to issue one...). An automated system's typically got a threshold, specified in the laws, that they're not supposed to issue citations for- but the requirement is still for accurately measuring the speed (regardless if you're breaking the law...if they can't precisely prove you were doing it, it doesn't count as they do

      • by farnsworth ( 558449 ) on Thursday April 21, 2011 @03:58PM (#35898724)

        but you're comlaining about getting a ticket for doing something illegal, because the exact extent to which you were violating the law was off by a fraction?

        It seems like he's complaining about a policy/protocol violation by the police. Similar in nature (but not in magnitude) to coming home and finding your house ransacked by the police and then getting arrested for having a joint on your coffee table. If the machines aren't supposed to be clocking him and taking his picture and mailing him a ticket, it seems perfectly legitimate to complain about that when they do.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Ruke ( 857276 )
          The machines aren't supposed to be taking his picture unless they measure a speed greater than 10 MPH over the limit; this is surely to ensure that they only catch people speeding, not to ensure that they only catch people going at least 10 MPH over the limit. The manufacturers (and police) know that those guns can be off by about +/- 5 MPH; that's why they set the camera threshold to double that. It seems to me that the system worked exactly as intended in this case.
      • No matter that there is probably not a person in existence who has ever driven a car for more than a few hours who has not broken a traffic law. I'd even go so far as to say that there is probably not a driver in existence who has not violated the speed limit somewhere at some time, even if only by accident. How is ticketing a random sample of drivers with fines that are in excess of two hundred dollars (after taxes, that is nearly an entire work week at minimum wage) fair enforcement?

        Hint: It's not, b
      • by Dan667 ( 564390 )
        you should be able to face your accuser, that is the actual problem.
      • While 50% is a fraction, it's a pretty big fraction.

        And actually he was 3 mph over the effective speed limit. Have every tried going exactly the speed limit on any moderately busy road?

      • by houghi ( 78078 )

        With a bit of a lawyer that would be indeed my ticket out.

      • by Myopic ( 18616 )

        Yes. He is complaining that a speed camera issued him a ticket, in violation of the law, which requires 12 MPH over the limit. Why would he not complain about being illegally ticketed?

    • The real kicker on the ticket was that each offense must be reviewed by a real cop with a badge number.

      Yeah, and those mortgages the banks are trying to foreclose on are supposed be reviewed by a bank loan officer.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 21, 2011 @04:11PM (#35898954)

      I got one a few years ago that was bogus. It was the definitely the truck right in front of me, not me but it didn't matter. I tried to fight it but the appeals process was a joke--basically amounting to someone looking at the video and saying you are guilty. They didn't care to hear anything you had to say.

      A lawyer advised me to simply ignore it. Don't pay it. It's a civil penalty not a criminal citation so they can't do anything more then send a debt collector after you. Eventually I did get a debt collection notice from an out of state law firm, and again following the original lawyers advice I replied with a letter stating that I believed the debt to be invalid and I asked them to send me proof of the debt in accordance with the Federal Debt Collection Procedure Act. As I understand it when you challenge the validity of a debt it is illegal for them to put a black mark on your credit record if you don't pay and they don't provide proof the debt is valid.

      I never heard anything more about it. It's apparently not worth their time to follow up and "prove" the debt.

    • Surely the reason for the buffer is because there's te chance of an error in the measurement? In which case it was off by 4mph by your measurement, which is less than the buffer amount and hence perfectly fine since it won't flag anyone who isn't actually speeding.

    • by mcmonkey ( 96054 )

      IOW, you have no idea how fast you were going.

      I don't know about your GPS, but mine often has me moving 5 mph while sitting in a parked car. So I don't know how you check your speedometer with your GPS. How did you verify your GPS is a reliable measure to check against?

      And I'd bet when you saw that flash your foot eased up on the accelerator. You could easily lose a mile or 2 per hour in the moment it takes to look down. And if the speedometer is a analogue, your reading could easily be off by a mile or

    • I know somebody who was successfully prosecuted (in the UK, ymmv) for doing 32mph in a 30 limit. The court took the view that the equipment was accurate enough to determine that they really were doing over 30, and over the limit is over the limit. I don't see you've got any grounds to complain about being caught at 48 in a 40 limit.
  • Cities and counties are responsible for automated ticketing. Not the police. Don't be an idiot next time.

    • Exactly. He didnt even RTFA that he posted.
    • by Svartalf ( 2997 )

      In order for it to be legal, an officer typically has to review the captured events before a citation is issued. The Police ARE involved and are partly responsible. Don't be calling people idiots next time if you don't have it right yourself, k? Diminishes the impact of what you have to say- and makes you look the part you're calling for someone else.

      • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

        Incorrect. Automated ticketing in nearly all jurisdictions can be done via proxy by crown or AG approval. He's still an idiot.

  • by meerling ( 1487879 ) on Thursday April 21, 2011 @03:49PM (#35898570)
    There have been studies that show a huge increase in collision, especially rear-end collisions at intersection cameras.
    There have been many scandals with towns setting their yellow lights to have durations significantly below the correct, and often legally required minimum times.

    There is a huge trend for these to be cash cows for local governments by means of fraud. And they wonder why people hate them.

    Looks like this guy has identified a town where the cameras are 'miscalibrated' and are raking in tons of dough from everyone that isn't as smart as this guy.
    • I live in Maryland, and had one of these go off when I was doing 5 under the speed limit. Also, this one happened to be on a four lane divided highway, what is to say which car is the one that triggers the camera?

    • Re:camera con? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Carnildo ( 712617 ) on Thursday April 21, 2011 @04:01PM (#35898778) Homepage Journal

      There have been studies that show a huge increase in collision, especially rear-end collisions at intersection cameras.

      There's a tradeoff involved with red-light cameras: they increase rear-end collisions, which have a low injury rate, but decrease T-bone collisions, which often result in major injury or death. Total collision rate at the intersection goes up, but the injury and death rate goes down.

      • Yes, but T-bone collisions really only occur when someone runs the red light a few seconds after the light turned red. Red light cameras are often set up to catch anyone who is even in the intersection as the light turns red, which would not cause a T-bone collision provided you were the only one in violation (someone jumping the gun and running the opposing red light could cause it). As is par for the course, a huge number of people who would not have caused an accident and likely missed the light by a f
      • Re:camera con? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by alexo ( 9335 ) on Thursday April 21, 2011 @04:22PM (#35899130) Journal

        Lengthening the time of the amber light decreases accidents without the trade-off.

        • Lengthening the time of the amber light decreases accidents without the trade-off.

          Maybe where you live it does. Around here cars keep going into the intersection until the light has turned red and the last car routinely enters on red. I was down in Santa Fe, NM, not too long ago, where they have the longest yellow lights I've ever seen, on the highway between Santa Fe and Los Alamos, and I saw the same thing: four-second-long yellow lights, and cars careening through the intersection the whole time. Longer amber lights appear to do precisely nothing once people have gotten used to the

      • by houghi ( 78078 )

        Total collision rate at the intersection goes up, but the injury and death rate goes down.

        Do you have some official numbers to back this up?

    • by sl149q ( 1537343 )

      > There have been studies that show a huge increase in collision, especially rear-end collisions at intersection cameras.

      The studies mostly showed that there was a slight increase of rear-end collisions at some intersections and a slight decrease of other types of collisions. Overall it was pretty much a wash statistically. I.e. no overall benefit (except to the revenue stream.)

  • by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Thursday April 21, 2011 @03:53PM (#35898630)
    The real travesty here is that the judge let other tickets issued by the same devices stand after it was demonstrated to him that they are not reliable. If there is reason to believe that the device was wrong in one case, there is reason to believe that it was wrong in every case.
    • The judge knows how his paychecks are being funded.

    • It's entirely possible that the tickets that the judge let stand were for violators traveling considerably faster, or had evidence of braking in the photos (the photos were taken 50ft past the speed trap).
      • It doesn't matter. If the device that is used to measure the speed is questionable, then its speed determination for every vehicle is questionable. Once the device has been accepted as unreliable, you don't need further evidence of unreliability.
  • by manekineko2 ( 1052430 ) on Thursday April 21, 2011 @03:54PM (#35898670)

    "In Prince George’s County, cameras are operated entirely by municipalities, which can set them up within half-mile school zones. The devices are installed by vendors that typically receive about 40 percent of the payout on each ticket, with the rest going to local, county and state government."

    How could anyone have thought that this was a good idea? If the only thing the private corps are doing is the installation, why are they getting 40% of all future proceeds? If the private corps are doing the on-going process of operating and maintaining the cameras, then you just incentivized them to do whatever causes more tickets to be mailed out.

    My guess is that it's the later, and the local municipalities are more than happy to incentivize the private corps to break the law, since they're getting 60% cuts. Then, when scandals like this one break out, they wash their hands of the matter and say we didn't know what was happening, it was that corrupt private contractor.

    • by pz ( 113803 ) on Thursday April 21, 2011 @04:07PM (#35898880) Journal

      The devices are installed by vendors that typically receive about 40 percent of the payout on each ticket

      In this neck of the woods, that would be called a conflict of interest. If I were caught in such a situation in my professional work, it would be grounds for dismissal without recourse.

      • All tickets that pay into the agency issuing them are conflicts of interest. The idea that government agencies are above "revenue generation" has been decisively disproven by the real world.

        My city (San Diego) installed red light cameras and then set yellow-times to the minimum. Safety? Heh. Accidents went significantly up as people were suddenly running reds. It was entirely a revenue grab.

  • by frinkster ( 149158 ) on Thursday April 21, 2011 @03:57PM (#35898712)

    From the article:

    Optotraffic representatives said the photos are not intended to capture the actual act of speeding, and are taken nearly 50 feet down the road from sensors as a way to prove the vehicle was on the road.

    How does proving that a car was on the road prove that it was speeding?

    • Further, how do they prove it was you driving? The ticket goes to driver, not a vehicle. What if someone else was driving the car?

      I once got off a fairly major one because they couldn't prove I was driving (they chased, but did not catch me, it was quite a hot rod). Did that change?
      • The tickets from these cameras have no points (or you can fight to have the points dropped with this argument) the fine you should pass on to whoever was driving the car. You are ultimately responsible for any offenses that happen in your car, even if you aren't driving it.

    • That's a lame excuse from the company anyways. 50 feet is less than 1 second of distance traveled at even just 35mph so you'd have to be doing some unreasonable breaking to manage to trip the sensor AND get your picture taken without your break lights on. If someone actually is speeding enough to be ticketed, they should reasonably be expected to still be speeding less than second later.
    • by Ruke ( 857276 )
      It proves that your particular car was on the road at a given place and time. The radar sensor proves that there was a car-sized object on the road going faster than the speed limit. Together, the two prove that your car was going faster than the speed limit.
  • by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Thursday April 21, 2011 @03:59PM (#35898740) Homepage Journal

    A lawyer with some spare cash can rent an instrumented "bait car" with certified-instruments that will be admissible in court and prove once and for all that the cameras lie, then sue the city on behalf of all who were convicted or who plead guilty under what amounts to duress.

    The city can then sue the vendor for the 40% cut it paid back.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 21, 2011 @04:01PM (#35898772)

    I'm at work, so I can't look it up, but do a google/youtube search on "atlanta speed limit 55" or something like that.

    TL;DR: Some college kids decided to go the speed limit on Atlanta's 295 loop, which is posted at 55mph, but traffic travels around 70+ mph. They got five cars and blocked all lanes, and went 55 mph. The video editing is atrocious, but the point is very good.

    The government intentionally posts low speed limits so everyone is guilty. Once everyone is guilty, they are free to pull over anyone, at any time, for any reason, and cite "speeding" as the reason.

    • by NicknamesAreStupid ( 1040118 ) on Thursday April 21, 2011 @05:16PM (#35899898)
      Once laws were published so citizens could read them, governments learned three things --

      1) Make them vague, as specific laws are easiest to circumvent
      2) Make them plentiful, as you never know when you might need one
      3) Make them byzantine, as the government should be the only one who can decide what they really mean

      This may seem diabolical, but it is merely the consequence of having to manage a large population of humans. One last rule -- if a law is truly wrong to the point of threatening the stability of the nation, change it and admit culpability but only after everyone who was affected by it has died, including those who enforced it.

      Of course, this sounds silly, but then trying to get a third of a billion people to behave sounds silly, too.
    • You sure that wasn't in the DC area? I remember the story. They caused a HUGE traffic jam because the speed limits are impractically lowered. Another interesting point. Check out the Montana study on speed limits. It turns out that removing daytime speed limits actually *increases* safety.

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel