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NMA Illinois Alert: NMA Fights against Speed Cams in IL

Posted on April 17th, 2014 in , , , | Comments Off

Illinois lawmakers are considering a bill (House Bill 4632) to allow cities outside of Chicago to implement speed camera programs. The NMA opposes this bill, and now you can read about our reasons why. The Illinois Business Journal invited us to contribute an article covering the “Con” side of the debate, which you can find here.

Take a look and then feel free to pass this on to others who may be interested in drivers’ rights. Or send a copy to your state legislators to let them know you don’t want any more ticket cameras in Illinois.


NMA Colorado Alert: Support Ban on Red-Light Cameras

Posted on April 17th, 2014 in , , , | Comments Off

Sen. Scott Renfroe has once again introduced legislation to ban red-light cameras throughout the Colorado.

Senate Bill 14-181 “repeals the authorization for municipalities to use automated vehicle identification systems to identify violators of traffic regulations and issue citations based on photographic evidence, and creates a prohibition on such activity.”

Colorado would join fifteen other states that have banned the use of automated enforcement if the current bill passes.

Photo enforcement programs throughout Colorado have come under increasing scrutiny. Denver’s program came under fire after revelations that cameras had been recalibrated to ticket motorists who stopped beyond the white line. Nonetheless, the Denver City Council renewed its contract with ACS. And Colorado Springs pulled the plug on its cameras in 2011 after concluding they were not improving safety.

Colorado Springs made the right decision. Photo enforcement programs put revenue generation before public safety, to the detriment of motorists. It’s time to take the profit motive out of traffic enforcement by banning ticket cameras in Colorado. (Learn more about the NMA’s objections to red-light cameras.)

SB 14-181 has successfully passed the Senate State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee and appears to have greater support than previous efforts. It may be up for a vote in the full Senate soon. We urge you to contact your Senate member to let him or her know you support a ban on red-light cameras in Colorado.


NMA PA Alert: Stop Speed Cam Bill NOW

Posted on April 16th, 2014 in , , , | Comments Off

Your legislators are up to their old tricks again.

The Pennsylvania Senate Transportation Committee plans to hold a hearing on a speed camera bill on Monday, April 21. Here’s the trick:

  • The hearing will be held at the Philadelphia Convention Center
  • Scheduled speakers include representatives from the insurance industry, the bicycling lobby, PennDOT, Philadelphia City Hall and the Philadelphia Police Department

Ostensibly, this hearing will discuss the merits, or lack thereof, of Senate Bill 1211, which would allow speed cameras along Highway 1 near Philadelphia. In reality, it sounds more like a pep rally staged by the camera companies and their accomplices.

Make no mistake, if enacted, SB 1211 will pave the way for widespread speed camera deployment throughout the commonwealth. (Learn why speed cameras represent bad public policy.)

Now is the time to shut this down. Plan to attend this hearing. Details follow:

  • Senate Transportation Committee Hearing on SB 1211
  • Monday, April 21, 2014, 2:00 PM
  • Philadelphia Convention Center, Room 103A
  • 1101 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107

If you can’t attend, contact members of the transportation committee and tell them you oppose the use of speed cameras in Pennsylvania.


NMA E-Newsletter #274: Some Observations on Driving Overseas

Posted on April 13th, 2014 in , , , , , | Comments Off

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Editor’s Note: The following comments come from a longtime NMA member who has lived and traveled extensively overseas. His insights should prove valuable for anyone planning to travel abroad this summer. If you’ve driven in another country, we’d like to hear from you. How do American drivers stack up against their international counterparts? What is traffic enforcement like in other countries? What’s the best country in the world to drive in? What’s the worst? We’ll publish reader comments in future newsletters.

Some countries have very aggressive and/or inattentive drivers. The Lonely Planet guidebook for Turkey says the average motorist drives with an attitude of kismet, or fate. If Allah decides you should live to the end of the day you will, and if not then you won’t, so why worry about it? The book warns of driving in rural areas at night where you can encounter a nearly invisible lady in a full, black, hooded chador riding a donkey that you will hit at high speed if you are not very alert.

Speaking of staying alert, I used to live in Moscow, and I can tell you drivers there were the most aggressive I ever encountered. You need to maintain 110 percent alertness every hour of the day or night. If you don’t believe me, just check out YouTube for some scary examples captured on dash cam.

Contrast those with my experiences in Western Europe where I believe the average driver is more attentive than North American drivers. Part of this is the need to be more alert. Traffic is dense and fast, and many roadways are less forgiving than ours. British motorways have no fast-lane shoulder, and rural roads in Britain rarely have any shoulder at all.

Lanes tend to be narrower in Europe in general, requiring more attention to stay fully in your own lane. Part of this is the age of the roadways, which often predate the automobile by centuries. When you encounter semi trucks coming the other way on a two-lane highway in Europe, they almost touch the center line in many places and go over it a bit on very sharp curves. But they don’t slow down much, and you don’t have to either—so long as you are careful how you place your car in the lane.

In most European countries, the initial licensing and driver training are far more rigorous than in North America. Unlike in our culture, you really have to learn to drive, or you don’t get a license at all.

There are some interesting contrasts. Italian drivers have a reputation, well deserved, for being aggressive. The difference is that most of them really love driving and perfect their skills. They may bluff you, but they don’t hit you. A serious breach of etiquette in Italy is to waste other drivers’ time. We were in Palermo in Sicily on a Sunday and virtually every traffic light was turned off. We encountered many main intersections of one four-lane road crossing another four-lane road—with no light. Drivers took turns, much like what happens at a four-way stop, and it worked remarkably well. But if you hesitated for a couple of nanoseconds when it was your turn, you got a dozen horns blaring at you to GO.

In Italy on good rural two-lane highways, you can have the occasional experience of two cars coming at you from the other direction, one pulled to the right edge of their lane and the other straddling a double yellow no passing stripe. You move to the right of your lane and the passing car goes between the two of you. It scares the @#$% out of you the first time, but then you realize the passing car will not do this unless there is enough room for the three cars to be abreast of each other.

German drivers are fast, but highly skilled. I drove a bit on an unrestricted Autobahn at 90-100 mph and was passed by several cars going much faster. But they did it with skill, and I never felt uneasy.

In general, I am more assured that the drivers around me in Europe know what they are doing and are less likely to make mistakes than those in North America.


NMA Florida Alert: Oppose HB 7005 as Amended

Posted on April 11th, 2014 in , , , | Comments Off

Florida House Bill 7005 started out as a good bill but recent amendments have turned it into a negative for Florida motorists who receive red-light camera tickets. While there are some good things in it such as court costs being reduced from $250 to $100, it also takes away the opportunity for a red-light camera case to be heard in county traffic court by removing the ticketing option.

This means that every person who wants to fight a camera ticket will have to do so through an administrative hearing process, which is nothing more than a kangaroo court. Simply stated, the cases are heard by people hired by the public officials who stand to benefit from the ticket revenue. These hearings are inherently unfair to motorists since they specifically prohibit using formal rules of evidence to safeguard our rights.

HB 7005 will be heard tomorrow in the House Economic Affairs Committee. We encourage you to contact committee members and tell them to vote against this bill as it currently stands.


NMA E-Newsletter #273: We Need ALPR Legislation Now

Posted on April 7th, 2014 in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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On the heels of the NSA domestic spying scandal, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced plans in February to build a national database of motor vehicle license plate data. Not only would the system have included data collected by DHS, but data from other law enforcement agencies and private companies as well.

The good news is that two days after the announcement, DHS shelved the program, saying that key decision-makers had been left out of the loop. The bad news is that DHS will likely find a less public way to achieve 24/7 surveillance of every car on the road. It’s been syphoning plate data from a private firm, Vigilant Solutions (which boasts a database of 1.8 billion license plate images), for years and will likely continue to. Private firms like Vigilant Solutions are among the largest collectors and purveyors of license-plate data. This raises concerns about the privatization of law enforcement and the abuses and corruption it engenders.

Such vehicle surveillance systems use automated license plate readers (ALPRs)—high-speed cameras, either stationary or mounted on patrol cars, that capture every license plate number they encounter. The system marks the time and vehicle location and then checks the plate against a variety of databases searching for things like stolen vehicles, lapsed registrations, outstanding fines or warrants. The systems can also check for drivers with unpaid taxes or child support, lack of insurance or even to alert the repo man.

One plate reader can scan up to 3,000 license plates per minute. With enough cameras, ALPR systems can blanket a city and track the day-to-day movements of thousands of vehicles at a time.

Law enforcement agencies in all 50 states have implemented ALPR systems, thanks mostly to grants from the federal government. In 2013 the ACLU released a report analyzing the impact of such pervasive surveillance on personal privacy. Here’s an excerpt:

The implementation of automatic license plate readers poses serious privacy and other civil liberties threats. More and more cameras, longer retention periods, and widespread sharing allow law enforcement agents to assemble the individual puzzle pieces of where we have been over time into a single, high-resolution image of our lives. The knowledge that one is subject to constant monitoring can chill the exercise of our cherished rights to free speech and association.

The ACLU statement identifies several key ALPR privacy concerns:

  • How long will the information be retained?
  • How widely will it be shared?
  • Who will have access to it?
  • How will it be used?

Further concerns come from the fact that policies regarding use of ALPR data vary widely. The Minnesota State Patrol requires deletion after 48 hours. Some agencies hold data for 30 days, while others keep it indefinitely. But timely deletion matters little if the data have already been shared with other agencies or uploaded to a federal fusion center.

NMA President Gary Biller, in a recent presentation on ALPRs, observed that “the horse has left the barn,” meaning that widespread use of ALPRs is here to stay. So the question is what can we do to protect the privacy of the driving public?

Biller stressed the need for legislation at the state and federal level to address the privacy concerns listed above. Only five states (Arkansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Utah and Vermont) have enacted plate reader laws. But, again, the scope of provisions varies widely.

We need more ALPR legislation that balances the needs of legitimate law enforcement with the need for robust privacy protections. A good model comes from a North Carolina bill under consideration in that state’s Senate Transportation Committee. Senate Bill 623 would do 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

We encourage lawmakers across the country to follow North Carolina’s lead and establish meaningful ALPR restrictions before it’s too late.


NMA E-Newsletter #272: Of Pretzel Logic and E-Cigarettes

Posted on March 31st, 2014 in , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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Jason Dewing’s story has a surreal quality to it. Well, it did take place in traffic court so anything is possible.

Dewing was stopped by an Upstate New York police officer for driving while using his cell phone. Only he wasn’t using his cell phone, he was smoking an electronic cigarette. The officer didn’t believe him and wrote him a ticket. Dewing showed up in court and used phone records to show he was not using his phone at the time of traffic stop.

The judge acknowledged as much, but that wasn’t the end of it. The judge claimed that Dewing’s e-cigarette qualified as a portable electronic device under New York law (after all, it’s got batteries, it’s portable and it’s a device) so Dewing was still guilty.

Dewing countered by reciting the New York statute (1225-d) that covers driving while using portable electronic devices:

“Portable electronic device” shall mean any hand-held mobile telephone, as defined by subdivision one of section twelve hundred twenty-five-c of this article, personal digital assistant (PDA), handheld device with mobile data access, laptop computer, pager, broadband personal communication device, two-way messaging device, electronic game, or portable computing device, or any other electronic device when used to input, write, send, receive, or read text for present or future communication.

Clearly an e-cigarette doesn’t meet that definition. Neither does a flashlight, an mp3 player, a camera, a hearing aid, a wristwatch or any number of medical devices. But by the judge’s logic it’s not inconceivable that a driver could land in hot water for using any one of them while driving in Upstate New York.

The judge and the DA were nonplused by Dewing’s knowledge of the law; neither was familiar with these requirements, and the DA actually had to look up the statute to confirm the language. But it was too late, the judge had already found Dewing guilty. Case closed, though Dewing is considering an appeal based on judicial ignorance and stubbornness.

This case shows how important it is to know exactly what you’ve been charged with—you may be the only person in the courtroom who actually does. Cell phone/texting laws vary widely from state to state. (Check this excellent source to view each state’s statute.) They define “portable electronic device” or “handheld electronic device” in different ways. Some focus more on how such devices are used than on their physical characteristics or technical capabilities. Let’s look at some examples.

Maine’s statute defines portable electronic device as “any portable electronic device that is not part of the operating equipment of a motor vehicle, including but not limited to an electronic game, device for sending or receiving e-mail, text messaging device, cellular telephone and computer.”

Note that the “but not limited to” loophole shows up in numerous state statutes and could conceivably lead to the kind of nonsensical, arbitrary judgment Dewing received.

Minnesota’s law focuses on the use of a “wireless communications device” while driving without defining what that device actually is. However the requirements regarding use are fairly specific: “No person may operate a motor vehicle while using a wireless communications device to compose, read, or send an electronic message, when the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic.” The law also carefully defines what an “electronic message” is and isn’t.

Connecticut spells it out this way:

 ‘Mobile electronic device’ means any hand-held or other portable electronic equipment capable of providing data communication between two or more persons, including a text messaging device, a paging device, a personal digital assistant, a laptop computer, equipment that is capable of playing a video game or a digital video disk, or equipment on which digital photographs are taken or transmitted, or any combination thereof, but does not include any audio equipment or any equipment installed in a motor vehicle for the purpose of providing navigation, emergency assistance to the operator of such motor vehicle or video entertainment to the passengers in the rear seats of such motor vehicle.

That’s a mouthful, but it’s worth knowing if you ever get hauled before a Connecticut judge for changing the settings on your iPod while driving.

Any time you get a traffic citation you need to determine the following:

  • Is the law/ordinance listed on the ticket related to the reason you were stopped and cited?
  • Is the law/ordinance referenced on your citation for some other violation and is in fact in error?
  • Were your actions really in violation of this law?

Do the research and find out before you end up tangling with a DA or judge who’s determined to take you down the rabbit hole just because they don’t know the law.

Editor’s Note: The NMA takes no position on the use of e-cigarettes by responsible adults. 


NMA E-Newsletter #271: 2014 First Quarter Legislative Update

Posted on March 23rd, 2014 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 2014. Here’s a brief summary of the driving-related issues we addressed.
 

California 

Opposed efforts by the Elk Grove City Council to renew its photo enforcement contract with camera vendor Redflex. An Elk Grove City Council staff report recommended renewing the contract, even though the report lacked many pertinent details needed to evaluate the true nature of the red-light camera program. 

Florida 

Supported Senate Bill 144 which would repeal the use of red-light cameras throughout the state. The bill was to be heard in the Senate Transportation Committee but has been postponed. 

Supported Senate Bill 392 which would allow for highway speeds of up to 75 mph. The bill passed through the Senate Community Affairs Committee and is now under consideration in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The NMA has been working with the office of bill sponsor Senator Jeff Brandes to move the bill. An NMA-authored opinion piece appeared in the Orlando Sentinel in support of its passage. 

Illinois 

Opposed House Bill 4632 which would allow cities throughout the state to place speed cameras in designated “safety zones,” which include areas around schools and parks. The bill is currently under consideration in the House Transportation Committee. The NMA wrote an opinion piece for the Illinois Business Journal in opposition to the bill, which will be published in April. 

Indiana 

Opposed House Bill 1042 which would allow a school district “to enter into an enforcement agreement with a contractor for camera enforcement” of so-called stop-arm violations by vehicles passing stationary school buses. The bill passed the House Roads and Transportation Committee. Look here for more on the fraudulent nature of school bus cameras. 

Kentucky 

Supported House Bill 58 which would raise the speed limit on four-lane divided highways (non-interstates or parkways) to 65 mph. The bill is currently under consideration in the House Transportation Committee. 

Michigan 

Opposed House Bill 5209 which would withhold a driver’s license from those juveniles who have been found truant. Specifically, HB 5209 would deny licensing or mandate a license suspension for a six-month period. The bill is currently under consideration in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. 

Missouri 

Opposed House Bill 1557 which would legitimize photo enforcement in Missouri. HB 1557 is a “Trojan horse” bill, described as putting restrictions on how red-light cameras operate, but in reality it will facilitate the spread of cameras throughout the state. The bill has passed the full House and now moves to the Senate. 

Ohio 

Supported House Bill 69 which would ban the use of ticket cameras throughout the state. The bill was passed by the full House last year but has been stalled in the Senate. The bill does have bipartisan support but is being intentionally held up by pro-camera forces. Listen to this radio interview with one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Dale Mallory, to learn more. 

Virginia 

Supported House Bill 973 which would have banned the use of red-light cameras throughout the commonwealth. The bill unanimously passed a transportation subcommittee thanks in part to expert testimony from NMA Life Member Joe Bahen but died in the full House Transportation Committee. 

Washington 

Supported efforts by a Washington NMA member to push for legislative reform regarding requirements for the use of unmarked police vehicles. The use of these vehicles facilitates impersonators, as well as creating the danger that comes from misidentifying a real police officer. More details are available here. 

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 Florida Alert: Support Bill to Ban Red-Light Cameras

Posted on March 18th, 2014 in , , | Comments Off

Senate Bill 144, the Senate red-light camera repeal bill, will be heard by the Senate Transportation Committee on Thursday March 20, 2014 at 9:00 AM in Senate Office Building Room 37 (the basement).

If you can attend the committee meeting in support of this bill, please do so. If you can’t, please contact the legislative staff as listed below and tell them it is time for the red-light camera scheme in Florida to be repealed. If SB 144 fails to pass this committee it will die.

Florida’s red-light camera law has saddled motorists with a guilty-until-excused statute and created kangaroo courts that further stack the deck against vehicle owners. Please tell the staff that you oppose turning law enforcement into a for-profit scheme. Finally, the recent legislative staff report documented over 1,100 additional crashes at camera-equipped intersections. Note that local red-light camera operators have failed to provide crash data to the state for the annual report. What are they hiding?

If you contact a sponsor or co-sponsor (Senators Brandes and Evers on this committee), all you need do is thank them for their work against red-light cameras.

Sen. Brandes (BILL SPONSOR)

Chris Spencer 850-487-5022

spencer.chris@flsenate.gov

 

Sen. Margolis

Terri Jo Kennedy 850-487-5035

kennedy.terri@flsenate.gov

 

Sen. Diaz de la Portilla

Patricia Gosney 850-487-5040

gosney.patricia@flsenate.gov

 

Sen. Evers (CO-SPONSOR)

Dave Murzin 850-487-5002

murzin.dave@flsenate.gov

 

Sen. Garcia

David Marin 850-487-5038

marin.david@flsenate.gov

 

Sen. Joyner

Randi Rosete 850-487-5019

rosete.randi@flsenate.gov

 

Sen. Lee

Douglas Roberts 850-487-5024

roberts.douglas@flsenate.gov

 

Sen. Richter

Michael Nachef 850-487-5023

nachef.michael@flsenate.gov

 

Sen. Thompson

Roosevelt Holmes 850-487-5012

holmes.roosevelt@flsenate.gov

 

 


NMA E-Newsletter #270: Dash Cams—A Double-Edged Sword

Posted on March 16th, 2014 in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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We talk a lot here about how evolving technology can work for you or against you. A perfect example is the use of cell phones to record police activity during traffic stops.

Even though you may be within your rights to record police, they may not see it that way, which can lead to no end of trouble for you. Recall the case of Anthony Graber (NMA E-Newsletter #77, YouTube Video vs. Wiretap Laws), a motorcyclist who posted footage online of a traffic stop in Maryland. Graber was subsequently harassed by police and faced up to 16 years in prison for allegedly violating Maryland’s wiretap law. Charges against him were eventually dropped, but not before he was put through the legal sausage grinder. Use caution whenever you choose to hit the record button.

With the increasing popularity of dash cams in personal vehicles, we thought it would be helpful to revisit some of the issues surrounding the recording of road encounters. First, dash cams are legal, as long as they don’t obscure your vision. The camera can only take up a five-inch square on the driver’s side of the vehicle or up to a seven-inch square on the passenger’s side.

Next, there is an important legal distinction between the taking of a photo (which has long been protected) and the recording of audio (even as part of a video), which some states have tried to regulate using wiretapping laws. This is where the legal pitfalls lie and where Graber got into trouble. Laws in 38 states permit audio recording with the consent of one party to the conversation. That means you can record your own interactions with officers or others without violating wiretap laws since you’re one of the parties.

Twelve states require the consent of all parties before you begin recording. If you live in one of these states, let your passengers know if your dash cam is recording audio and have them acknowledge it within earshot of the recording.

In all but two of those states (Massachusetts and Illinois) courts have ruled that these consent requirements do not apply to on-duty police officers because they have no expectation of privacy. However, in Massachusetts an appeals court decision does allow citizens to record police as long as the recording device is in plain view. Illinois’ wiretapping law was ruled unconstitutional in 2013. Note that some courts have ruled that police do have an expectation of privacy when their duties are taking place out of public view.

Police have been using dash cams for years to record their interactions with the driving public as a way to protect themselves from allegations of wrongdoing. In Russia drivers use dash cams to protect themselves from scammers who fake accidents and then demand money or threaten legal action. (Click here for some truly outrageous examples.)

And that is one of the benefits of having the camera rolling as you drive. Dash cam footage could help protect you in case you’re involved in an accident or other incident on the road. Some advanced systems capture GPS coordinates and can even measure G forces inside your vehicle. But be careful. Such data may be admissible in court, and, depending on what’s been recorded, it may work against you.

Aside from insurance or lawsuit situations, a dash cam could help you during a traffic stop. Police have been known to “lose” squad car dash cam videos. Having your own back-up could help document your version of events, especially when an officer may have done something illegal or inappropriate. Consider a dual-lens dash cam so you can record what’s going on in front of your vehicle and what’s going on behind. (Here’s an example.)

There is no easy answer to whether or not police can search and seize footage from your personal dash cam without a warrant. They may be able to if they have reason to believe the camera contains evidence of a crime. They may also be able to if you’re under arrest. Courts around the country have issued a patchwork of rulings regarding searching cell phones after arrest, some of which may apply to dash cam cases. (Fourth Amendment law regarding personal electronic devices continues to evolve rapidly and may never be adequately settled.)

We have seen reference to a case in which police, responding to an auto accident, seized personal dash cam footage at the scene, ostensibly as part of the accident investigation. If true, this is reminiscent of first responders accessing a vehicle’s black box data for the same reason. And like a black box, the information could help exonerate you or land you in deeper trouble. However, unlike a black box, which you cannot turn off or disconnect, you can turn off your dash cam at any time.

Editor’s Note: Do you use a dash cam in your travels? Let us know if you do and why. Has it helped you prove your case after an accident? Does it make your driving more enjoyable? Tell us your story. Send your thoughts to nma@motorists.org





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