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NMA E-Newsletter #327: Did You Know Your Car is Copyright Protected?

Posted on April 19th, 2015 in , , , , , , | Comments Off

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Time was when you could tune up your car with a few simple tools, a Chilton’s manual and some elbow grease. Not anymore. Today you almost need an IT degree just to pop the hood. And there’s a good reason for that. Modern vehicles incorporate complicated computers, electronic control units and multiple sensor arrays that constantly monitor and make adjustments to many of your vehicle’s operating systems.

Engine, drivetrain, suspension, brakes, safety systems now run on millions of lines of computer code—code that is protected by copyright law. That means you don’t own it and you’re not supposed to change it, even though it’s in your car. This comes courtesy of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the copyright law that governs what you can do with creative products like movies, music and software.

Under the DMCA, automobile owners who repair or modify their vehicle’s electronic control systems risk committing copyright infringement. Granted, most everyday drivers wouldn’t think of doing such things, but there is a dedicated class of tech-savvy tinkerers who can’t help but tweak and hack their way to better performance and more power. There’s also a thriving market for third-party suppliers of tuning services and tools. (Keep in mind that conducting performance modifications on your vehicle may void the factory warranty, especially if the modifications result in damage to your car.)

The ability to access and analyze vehicle software code also has value beyond the needs of the automotive hobbyist. It has serious research and probative value, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The EFF argues that allowing independent researchers access to the code without fear of legal consequences can identify vulnerabilities with important safety and security implications.

The EFF cites a case in which researchers identified a coding glitch that led to unintended acceleration resulting in a fatal accident. In another, researchers identified a security breach that would allow a remote attacker to assume control of a vehicle’s functions. Without such access, many potentially dangerous software issues would go undetected, the foundation argues.

The EFF lays out its case in a petition to the U.S. Copyright Office/Library of Congress. In it the foundation requests a DMCA exemption so owners, technicians and researchers can legally access vehicle computer code. You can find out more here and add your name to the petition if you’re interested.

This reminds us of the debate around event data recorders (black boxes) and the data they capture. The NMA’s position is that you, as the owner of the vehicle, own the black box and the data it captures, and you should have complete control over who has access to the information and how it is used. But, to date, only 15 states have enacted statutes related to black box privacy issues.

It’s important to realize that black box data and vehicle computer code may be regarded differently from a legal standpoint. Nonetheless, we’re glad to support any effort that gives motorists more freedom to choose the vehicle options and enhancements that make sense for them.

With the advent of advanced vehicle safety features and autonomous cars, our dependence on sophisticated computer programming will only increase. What impact will this have on our vehicle choices, and who will be held responsible if those vehicles fail because of a misplaced 1 or 0?

NMA E-Newsletter #326: We Must Stop National ALPR Push Now!

Posted on April 12th, 2015 in , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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We predicted it would happen. A year after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) scuttled plans to build its own nationwide database of vehicle license plate data, the agency is seeking bids from private contractors to provide the agency access to the same information.

DHS canceled last year’s plan in the wake of TSA domestic spying revelations and subsequent outrage over increasingly intrusive government surveillance. At the time, we predicted DHS would find another way to track every single car on the road, likely by relying on the services of private companies like Vigilant Solutions, one of the largest aggregators and purveyors of license-plate data.

Companies like Vigilant, as well as police agencies in all 50 states, use automated license plate readers (ALPRs) to capture an image of every license plate they encounter. Plate readers—essentially high-speed cameras mounted on patrol cars or at fixed locations—can scan up to 1,800 plates per minute.

The system marks the time and vehicle location and then checks the plate against a “hot list” of stolen vehicles, lapsed registrations, outstanding fines or warrants, etc. The system can also check for drivers with unpaid taxes or child support, lack of insurance or even to alert the repo man. Without legislative protections, private contractors will be free to sell license-plate data to the highest bidder.

With enough ALPRs, authorities can track the day-to-day movements of everyone who drives a car. By storing and mining that data, authorities can create a detailed profile of someone’s life: where they go and when, who they see, what they do. And this applies to everyone, whether they’re suspected of wrongdoing or not. This tracking of the public en masse raises serious privacy and constitutional concerns.

One way to fix this is to limit the amount of time authorities can retain license plate data. The shorter, the better. The NMA advocates that license plate information shouldn’t be stored at all and deleted immediately if it doesn’t result in a “hit.” Unfortunately, data retention polices vary widely by law enforcement agency, and some retain the information forever. DHS wants to access data going back five years (an outrageously long time), which raises the question of why keep data on a vehicle (and by extension a person) if they haven’t been implicated in wrongdoing? The answer should be obvious.

License plate readers should only be used for clearly defined purposes such as identifying vehicles of immediate interest or in missing persons cases. Using them for blanket, long-term surveillance violates a longstanding principle that government not monitor citizens unless it has individualized suspicion of wrongdoing.

The DHS scheme clearly goes too far and must not be implemented. We urge all NMA members to contact their U.S. senators and representatives to stop this flagrant intrusion on our privacy. Click here to get contact information for your legislators. 

Tell your elected officials we need robust, standardized privacy protections for license plate data at the federal level. Legislation must balance the legitimate needs of law enforcement with the need to protect individual privacy. A good model comes from North Carolina where lawmakers considered an ALPR privacy bill to accomplish the following:

  • Restrict the use of ALPRs to municipal, county or state law enforcement agencies
  • Prevent sharing of plate data for any reason
  • Require deletion of data after 10 days unless flagged
  • Limit the types of crimes and violations that data can be used to investigate
  • Restrict data matching to specific databases such the State Criminal Justice Information Network, National Crime Information Center and missing/kidnapped persons lists

ALPR technology is here to stay. The key to limiting its impact on privacy is to enact strict controls on how the data can be used, who has access to it, how long it can be retained and how widely it can be shared. This needs to happen at the federal level and soon.

NMA E-Newsletter #325: 2015 First Quarter Legislative Update

Posted on April 5th, 2015 in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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The NMA continues to advocate for motorists’ rights at the national, state and local level. Legislatures across the country took up a broad range of motorists’ issues in the first quarter of 2015. Here’s a brief summary of the driving-related issues we addressed.


Supported Senate Bill 1167 which would ban red-light and speed cameras statewide. The bill was voted down in the Senate.


Supported Assembly Bill 210 which would open High Occupancy Vehicle lanes to general traffic during off-peak hours on select Los Angeles County highways. The bill passed through one committee and is now under consideration in the Assembly Standing Committee on Appropriations.

Supported Senate Bill 34 which would increase privacy protections for data collected by automated license plate readers (ALPRs), including the imposition of security procedures and privacy policies, activity logs, and penalties for misuse of the data. The bill is scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee on April 7th.

Supported Assembly Bill 162 which would task the California Department of Transportation to conduct a study analyzing wrong-way driving on state highways and present recommendations to combat it. The bill is under consideration in the Assembly Standing Committee on Appropriations.


Supported House Bill 15-1098 which would repeal the authorization for the state, a county, a city or a municipality to use red-light cameras. It would also repeal the authorization for the Department of Public Safety to use speed cameras in work zones. The bill was amended in the House Transportation and Energy Committee and forwarded to the House Appropriations Committee.


Opposed House Bill 1404 which would allow speed cameras to issue tickets in work zones even when workers are not present as well as the use of school bus stop arm cameras. The bill’s author withdrew the bill after realizing it had no support and no chance of passing.


Opposed House Bill 60 which would make ignition interlock devices mandatory for all those convicted of DUI. The bill was recently assigned to the House Judiciary Committee.


Supported House Bill 410 which would end the practice of using red-light cameras to issue tickets for slow moving right turns. The bill would require that such citations be issued by a police officer at the time of the alleged violation. The bill was killed in the House Environment and Transportation Committee.


Supported House File 154 and House File 155 which would define requirements for retention and destruction of automated license plate reader (ALPR) information and create enhanced privacy protections for that data. Both bills are under review in the House Civil Laws and Data Practices Committee.


Supported House Bill 295 which would raise the speed limit on rural interstates from 70 to 75 mph. It would also give the Department of Public Safety the ability to request the Missouri Department of Transportation to raise speed limits on rural freeways to 75 mph. The House Transportation Committee held a public hearing on the bill in February.

Supported Senate Bill 196 which would prohibit all government entities in the state from using automated license plate readers as well as red-light and speed cameras. The bill is under review in the Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee.


Supported Senate Bill 2 which would allow the Nevada Department of Transportation to raise the speed limit on divided, largely rural highways to 80 mph, now heads to the full Senate for a vote. The bill has passed the Senate Transportation Committee.


Supported Senate Bill 1128 which would ban the use of all traffic enforcement cameras throughout the state. The bill was amended in the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee to replace an outright ban for longer yellow-light durations. The bill is now under review in the House Finance Ways and Means Subcommittee which has deferred action.


Supported Senate Bill 340 which would ban red-light cameras throughout the state. The bill is under consideration in the Senate Transportation Committee.


Supported House Bill 2079 which would repeal the commonwealth’s ban on using of radar detectors. The bill died in the House Transportation Committee.

Supported House Bill 1673 which would define requirements for retention and destruction of automated license plate reader information and create enhanced privacy protections for that data. The bill passed both the House and the Senate and was subsequently amended (some say gutted) by Gov. MCauliffe. The legislature now has until April 15th to vote on the revised measure.


Opposed House Bill 1951 which would lift all restrictions on the use of unmarked cars by county and city law enforcement officers. The bill has passed the House Public Safety Committee and is under review in the House Rules Committee.

Thanks to the many NMA members who volunteered their time to send emails, write letters, make phone calls, and work with policymakers and media outlets on these important issues. If you’re not signed up to receive legislative alerts but would like to, use the “Choose Your NMA E-Subscriptions” link in the sidebar of this email.

NMA E-Newsletter #324: Court Innovations Will Create More Fergusons

Posted on March 29th, 2015 in , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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Editor’s Note:
Last week’s newsletter described the Court Innovations system, an online interface that lets ticket recipients plea bargain remotely without having to show up in court. Sounds convenient, but it really amounts to a way for the courts to discourage appeals and to expedite the payment process. A member from Michigan, where this system was developed and is in use, weighed in with some insightful comments that we would like to share with you.

For a local government, the ideal outcome is one in which the motorist is automatically guilty as soon as the cop car’s red lights come on or the camera flashes. The government’s goal is to deny all access to a fair court and make conviction as cheap and certain as possible. This goal is behind every proposed change to court procedure.

A large number of ticket challenges and a large number of “deals” are a sure sign of a revenue-driven ticket machine. These corrupt institutions should be exterminated, not automated. Complaints of a clogged court docket always precede attempts to diminish access to the courts—or creation of kangaroo courts where citizens are always guilty. The solution is to keep the cases from being made at all, not to label them “trivial” and undeserving of justice. Penalties of many hundreds of dollars and loss of mobility and livelihood are not trivial.

The purveyors of Court Innovations are nothing more than profiteers feeding off of the traffic justice system, like the collection agencies that profit from the Driver Responsibility Act or the ticket camera operators that profit from deliberately mistimed traffic lights.

Many legal experts object to over-criminalization: too many laws making too many violators. That is a serious problem, but many experts are not sensitive enough to the downside of decriminalization. This is the well-established trend by which traffic violations became civil offenses in most states, having originally been criminal. Decriminalization sounds nice, but in practice it means the accused enjoys fewer rights. As a lawyer friend puts it, “You’ll get due process, but not much process is due.”

Michigan is a bit unusual in allowing court trials for all traffic offenses. This acts as a brake on policing for profit, and we’ll be in real trouble if it’s ever denied. The goal of the city governments will always be to find the road user guilty, compel speedy payment, and to discourage challenges and appeals. Automating plea deals is the first step toward loss of rights.

If the Court Innovations system catches on, many cities in Michigan, and around the country, will appear a lot closer to Ferguson, Missouri, than they look on the map.

NMA E-Newsletter #323: Sacrificing Rights in the Name of Efficiency (and Money)

Posted on March 22nd, 2015 in , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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The NMA’s ever vigilant Michigan contingent sent us this article about a startup company that has made it even easier for the traffic justice system to hoover up your hard-earned money. The company, Court Innovations, has developed a web-based app that lets traffic ticket recipients negotiate court settlements remotely, instead of showing up in court to fight tickets. Here’s how the system works:

  1. You get a traffic ticket
  2. If you’re willing to plead guilty but want to bargain for a lesser charge, you write up an explanation of what happened and submit it through the court’s website.
  3. An adjudicator (likely a city employee) reviews your case and decides your fate; you receive the decision via email or text message.
  4. You can accept the deal and pay online or reject the deal and request a court hearing.

Three jurisdictions in Michigan are currently working the Court Innovations, and company officials say their system will help over-burdened courts process more cases and collect more fines. It also sounds like a way to give motorists the illusion of fighting their tickets when it’s really part of the scheme to separate motorists from their money as efficiently as possible.

Here’s how the scheme works in Michigan and other parts of the country: Speed limits are frequently set lower than engineering requirements dictate (or in Michigan’s case, lower than permitted by law), creating speed traps. Local governments exploit the speed traps by enforcing illegal ticket quotas. Officers then write tickets for a lower speed than what was measured to induce guilty pleas and prompt payments. Drivers who dare to request hearings are often penalized when their tickets are amended back to the higher recorded speed levels.

A variation on the scheme involves changing moving violations to non-moving violations to discourage drivers from challenging a dubious charge in court. The city gets an equal or greater fine (and does not have to share revenue with the state), and the driver’s record remains clean. The Court Innovations approach will only increase these money-making plea deals and allow cities to further leverage their revenue-generating speed traps. (Did we mention the company’s business model relies on getting a cut of the fines collected?)

Court Innovations is a spin-off of the University of Michigan Law School and is the brain child of University of Michigan Law School Professor J.J. Prescott. We have a hard time believing that the U of M Law School doesn’t understand how the traffic justice system works, so we question why such a respected institution would aid and abed a corrupt system. In fact, Executive Director of the NMA Foundation Jim Walker, who lives in Michigan, wrote a letter to the dean of the U of M Law School asking that very question. Here’s an excerpt:

I am writing about a Detroit Free Press article which associates a computer based program marketed by “Court Innovations” with the U of M Law School. I believe this association brings disrepute to one of America’s finest law schools, and should be condemned by it. I think the law school needs to immediately disassociate itself from this program and the for-profit company running it. 

The original idea to reduce court workloads and reduce their costs is admirable.  

The ways and purposes for which this system will usually be used will not be in the cause of justice or the fair application of the law to citizens. Most if not all of its users will have the goal and result of facilitating and streamlining the collection of revenue with predatory traffic laws and enforcement regimens aimed not at traffic safety but at revenue collection. Traffic laws and enforcement procedures such as speed traps that are aimed primarily at revenue instead of safety are wrong one hundred percent of the time.  I believe it is improper for the Law School to be associated in any way. 

The true goal for the users of the “Court Innovations” program will be to further erode our cherished legal principle of the citizen facing their accuser in open court. The true purpose will be to facilitate quick payment of fines and costs, by giving the citizens small breaks to discourage them from mounting challenges to predatory laws and enforcement procedures where they might win. And to prevent the courts from hearing serious challenges to the very validity of those laws and systems.

As another Michigan member points out, if the courts are overworked, it’s because local governments are issuing too many citations in a rush to take money from responsible motorists. He summed up the issue this way:

The first job of the court is justice, not efficiency. “Court efficiency” is another phrase for “losing our rights.” If this software gets into wide use, it will let Michigan cities (and others) take money from citizens with the same greed as in Ferguson, Missouri, but without the inefficient, in-person, court system that led to rioting and shootings. Do we want our courts to be that efficient at denying our rights?

NMA Nevada Alert: Speed Limit Bill Gains Support

Posted on March 18th, 2015 in , , , | Comments Off

Good news! The Nevada Senate Transportation Committee voted yesterday to raise the speed limit on certain rural roads.

Senate Bill 2, which would allow the Nevada Department of Transportation to raise the speed limit on divided, largely rural highways to 80 mph, now heads to the full Senate for a vote. NMA State Activist Chad Dornsife testified before the committee in favor of the bill.

The NMA fully supports SB 2. Higher speed limits that better match the speed drivers already travel make the roads safer by smoothing out traffic flow and reducing vehicle conflicts. (Learn more about how speed limits should be set.)

We encourage you to contact your Senators and Assembly members to ask them to support SB 2.

NMA E-Newsletter #322: Vision Zero—An Unrealistic, Cynical Vision

Posted on March 15th, 2015 in , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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Vision Zero came to America last year with the election of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who campaigned on the promise to eliminate all traffic fatalities in the five boroughs within 10 years. His program for doing so, known as Vision Zero, relies on the usual complement of command-and-control traffic safety interventions, such as:

  • Road “improvements” including narrower streets, wider sidewalks and medians, and more bicycle lanes
  • Reducing the default speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph
  • Quadrupling the number of 20-mph slow zones throughout the city
  • Stepped-up traffic enforcement particularly for speeding and failure to yield
  • Huge expansion of the city’s speed-camera program

The Vision Zero movement started in Sweden as a partnership between the Swedish government and Swedish business interests. With its motto, “In every situation a person might fail. The road system should not,” Vision Zero Swedish edition conveys the belief that human fallibility can be overcome with enough intervention. Here’s more from the website:

Transport systems are traditionally designed for maximum capacity and mobility, not safety. This means road users are held responsible for their own safety. The Vision Zero Initiative takes the opposite approach. We place the main burden for safety on system design because we recognise human weaknesses and low tolerance to mechanical force. Ultimately, no one should die or suffer serious injury in traffic.

No one should die or suffer serious injury in traffic, but this goes beyond anything today’s central planners have envisioned. Shouldn’t drivers bear some responsibility for their own safety and by extension, for their actions on the road? And aren’t the highway safety systems that Vision Zero Swedish edition puts so much faith in designed and implemented by fallible humans?

Domestic traffic “safety” advocates tout Vision Zero as the means to eliminate all traffic fatalities, and a few more cities around the country, notably San Francisco, have begun to implement Vision Zero programs.

Mot ominously, however, Vision Zero has caught the attention of federal lawmakers. Two leaders of the Congressional Bike Caucus (yes, that’s a real thing) have introduced legislation to speed the adoption of Vision Zero nationwide. If enacted, The Vision Zero Act to End Transportation-Related Fatalities would provide $30 million of our taxpayer dollars annually to help cities plan and implement their Vision Zero programs. That’s a modest sum, but one can imagine such a program expanding quickly, complete with federal incentives to encourage compliance.

The goal of eliminating all traffic fatalities is of course completely unrealistic, and every stakeholder in the traffic safety community knows it. Why? Because people are people, and people make mistakes. Safety improvements are always possible, but not through the command-and-control, vehicle-hostile tactics the plan calls for.

Vision Zero is nothing more than a tool to escalate the assault on driving and to encourage heavy-handed, revenue-based enforcement. The federal push has gained support from the likes of AAA as well as several national bicycle rights organizations. In addition, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), has previously proposed a national vehicle-miles-traveled tax pilot program. Need we say more?

If we’re truly serious about eliminating all traffic fatalities, we need to establish a maximum speed limit of five miles per hour on any road. Better yet, we should ban people from driving, walking, biking or taking the bus. Oh heck, let’s just keep people locked up in their homes 24/7. That would do it.


Editor’s Note: We will continue to monitor Vision Zero programs around the country and alert you as to what you can do to make your voice heard.

NMA E-Newsletter #321: Radar Fails Under Scientific Scrutiny … Again

Posted on March 8th, 2015 in , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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Most longtime NMA members understand the weaknesses of using radar to measure vehicle speeds. However, less experienced drivers and even the courts regard radar as foolproof. Nothing could be further from the truth, and we have fresh evidence that further erodes radar’s patina of infallibility.

A member of the NMA Board recently attended a meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and was kind enough to forward us this description of one of the research presentations titled “Testing of Police Radar”. The research was conducted by two professional engineers, one of whom previously worked for one of the radar manufacturers.

The gist of the presentation is that, despite 30 years of technological innovations, radar still suffers from the same reliability and performance issues that have made it unacceptable as evidence in a court of law. The researchers state that radar cannot meet the requirements of the Daubert test, which is a set of standards trial judges use to determine whether or not expert testimony is based on valid scientific reasoning and methodology:

The reality of police radar is that it fails when subjected to the Daubert test. In this regard, police radar operation should be repeatable—this research demonstrates that it is not a repeatable technique and is, in fact, subject to operator interpretation when multiple targets are present.

The researchers tested several radar unit brands and units. With only one target, the units were pretty consistent in their speed measurements. However with multiple targets, there was no guarantee as to which vehicle’s speed was displayed. They observe that “the radar units can well read different speeds … the decision to issue a citation is highly dependent upon the operator, relative to the instrument.” This refers to one of radar’s biggest downfalls: it can’t distinguish one vehicle from another.

The researchers further explain that radar can pick out either the strongest signal or the fastest signal, depending on road conditions and the mix of vehicles on the road. It cannot, however, pick out the speed of the nearest vehicle. They point out that radar “gun sights” intended to aid target acquisition are useless. They also note that one radar manufacturer allows the officer to black out the displayed speed of the police vehicle in moving mode to conceal from the motorist that the officer was exceeding the speed limit.

Even though the researchers come from a technical/scientific background, they have the presence of mind to point out that radar speed enforcement encourages policing for profit. The NMA has been making this argument for years, but we have seen few other observers make the same connection between shoddy speed enforcement and revenue generation. The researchers further warn that using unreliable radar readings as an excuse to conduct a traffic stop and execute a questionable vehicle search raises Fourth Amendment questions:

But some jurisdictions use strict traffic enforcement as the basis of presumptive traffic stops—they will issue a warning for the traffic violation and instead are looking for a reason to search a vehicle for contraband.

Can anyone say civil forfeiture?

Overall, the study further supports the conclusion that radar speed measurement is unreliable, easily misused and often abused for revenue purposes. In the NMA’s “Fight That Ticket!” e-book, we show you how to use the many kinds of radar error to undermine the officer’s scripted testimony. When you prove to the court that what the officer has testified to is physically impossible or technically violates proper radar procedures, the prosecution’s case will be seriously compromised.

Supporting members can download “Fight That Ticket!” at no charge from the members’ area at Non-members can download it here for only $9.95.

NMA Colorado Alert: Support Ban on Red-Light and Speed Cameras

Posted on March 6th, 2015 in , , , | Comments Off

Colorado lawmakers are once again trying to ban red-light and speed cameras throughout the state.

House Bill 15-1098 repeals the authorization for the state, a county, a city or a municipality to use red-light cameras. It also repeals the authorization for the department of public safety to use speed cameras in work zones.

Colorado would join fifteen other states that have banned the use of automated enforcement if the current bill passes. Photo enforcement is beginning to lose ground in Colorado. Colorado Springs pulled the plug on its cameras in 2011 after concluding they did not improve safety. Littleton just announced the end of its program for the same reason.

Now is the time to end photo enforcement in Colorado once and for all. HB 15-1098 has already cleared one committee and is moving on to the House Appropriations Committee. We encourage you to contact the committee members as well as your House member to tell them to vote for HB 15-1098.

NMA Tennessee Alert: Support Bills to Ban Ticket Cameras Statewide

Posted on March 3rd, 2015 in , , , | Comments Off

Dear Tennessee Member,

Great news! The Tennessee General Assembly is set to take up the Tennessee Freedom From Traffic Cameras Act, which would ban the use of all traffic enforcement cameras throughout the state.

The House version is contained in House Bill 1372, and the Senate version is contained in Senate Bill 1128. The bills’ authors appear to have taken a page from the NMA as they enumerate a long list of objections to ticket cameras including lack of due-process, profit over safety, no positive identification of the driver, reliability issues and more.

The NMA wholeheartedly supports these bills and encourages you to do the same.

Each bill will be heard by its respective transportation committee. Please contact the committee members to ask them to vote for the Tennessee Freedom From Traffic Cameras Act. You can find a list of Senate committee members here and a list of House committee members here.

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