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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.

NMA Washington Alert: Stop Bill to Allow Use of Unmarked Police Cars

Posted on March 2nd, 2015 in , , | Comments Off

Washington House Bill 1951 is being promoted as a “clarification” bill, but in reality it would lift all restrictions from the use of unmarked cars by county and city law enforcement officers. Tickets issued by unmarked cars are a huge revenue source, and police agencies across the state don’t want to give that up. Unfortunately there are many in the legislature who are more inclined to listen to the law enforcement lobby than to common sense.

Aside from the revenue, public safety is also a concern. Police vehicle marking requirements were enacted so drivers would know they were being stopped by a real police officer and not an impersonator. There are documented cases in Washington of police impersonators who have robbed, raped and murdered unsuspecting motorists.

HB 1951 is gaining momentum and may receive a vote in the full House shortly. Now is the time to stop it. We encourage you to contact your Representatives and ask them to vote against HB 1951.

For more information, check out this website from Washington NMA member Kevin Schmadeka, who has been leading the charge against HB 1951.

NMA E-Newsletter #320: The Real Consequences of Real ID

Posted on March 1st, 2015 in , , , , , | Comments Off

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The Transportation Security Authority (TSA) recently announced that by next year all domestic airline passengers will need to have either a traditional passport or a government-issued ID compliant with Real ID standards to board a plane. The new rule could take effect as early as January 2016. At that time, standard state-issued driver’s licenses will no longer allow access to domestic flights.

In the wake of 9/11, you will recall, policymakers moved for stronger national standards to verify the identity of driver’s license applicants. This led to the 2005 Real ID Act which established requirements for a national identification system based on the driver’s license. The act requires the states to comply with 18 benchmarks related to the issuance of personal identification cards. Implementation has been slow because many states initially balked at complying, citing financial, logistical and privacy concerns.

Today, however, only seven states remain noncompliant with Real ID. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that 20-30 percent of U.S. licensed drivers hold licenses from these states. The holdouts will have to act quickly to meet the 2016 deadline or hope for additional extensions or delays as have occurred in the past.

Getting a Real ID-compliant driver’s license is not as easy as simply renewing your driver’s license. You’ll need to round up your papers and present them in-person at your state’s DMV. Here in Wisconsin getting a compliant driver’s license requires the following documentation:

  • Proof of citizenship or legal status in the U.S.
  • Name and date of birth
  • Proof of identity
  • Proof of Wisconsin residency
  • Proof of Social Security number

Make sure to check your state’s requirements before you renew your driver’s license. Your state may offer a choice of a Real ID-compliant or noncompliant driver’s license. If you already have a passport or object to Real ID, you could consider the noncompliant version. A compliant ID card will include a small gold circle containing a white star.

We’re providing this information so you know what to expect the next time you visit the DMV. Let’s be clear. The NMA has opposed Real ID from the beginning. Our position is simple: The only legitimate purpose of the driver’s license is to certify that the license holder is capable of safely operating a motor vehicle on public roads. The license should not be withheld for any reason other than the fact that the applicant could not pass a fair and objective driving test. It should not be suspended or revoked unless, through due process, it is proven that the license owner is not driving in a safe and prudent manner.

Regrettably, through Real ID, the driver’s license is evolving into an internal passport producible on demand through any number of “where are your papers?” scenarios. The personal information collected from each driver will also be pooled and shared among any number of government agencies. Full implementation of Real ID will have substantial consequences for motorists:

  • More government intrusion and control: Real ID, and the sharing of the information it collects, will increasingly be used to track and control individuals’ movements and activities.
  • Increased threats to personal privacy: Since all of an individual’s personal data will be encoded onto the actual ID card, it will be easy for private industry to snap up that data, with or without the owner’s consent.
  • Greater vulnerability to identify theft/fraud: The creation of a single interlinked database containing vast amounts of personal information will become a target for identify thieves.

Even though the Real ID Act was enacted 10 years ago, we’re just beginning to feel its impact. People without Real ID are already restricted from entering certain federal facilities, and those restrictions will broaden to more facilities later this year.

The upcoming travel prohibitions only cover air travel, for now. Who knows what motor vehicle travel will be like once Real ID is in full force? Will motorists without Real ID be allowed to drive when and where they want? Police are already suspicious of anyone behind the wheel. How will they regard someone who can’t produce a Real ID?

We don’t know the answers to these questions, but we do know that Real ID will make life more difficult for many people. We also know that protecting your privacy and your identity will become more important than ever.

NMA E-Newsletter #319: Cars That Never Made It

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

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They were pure fantasy on wheels, machines designed to make the heart race and the mind ask, “What if?” These 1950s concept cars were automotive art built to attract public attention, test wild engineering ideas and give motorists a fleeting glimpse down the highway of tomorrow.


buick 56





1951 BUICK XP-300




1958 FORD X-2000



195? MERCURY D524        This car was never shown to the public.



1953 FORD X-100




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