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NMA Michigan Alert: Update on State Transportation Funding Proposal

Posted on December 23rd, 2014 in , , | Comments Off

The Michigan Legislature has passed a package of transportation funding measures that would, among other things, accomplish the following:

  • Raise $1.3 billion for transportation, with $1.2 billion a year going to roads and about $112 million going to transit.
  • Remove the sales tax from fuel sales.
  • Increase fuel taxes that Gov. Snyder said will result in about a 3-cent-a-gallon increase from the average fuel price in 2013.
  • Increase vehicle registration fees by $45 million and heavy truck fees by $50 million. A spokeswoman for the Senate majority leader said registration fees for cars and light trucks won’t go up, but the 10 percent discounts new car buyers receive for each of the first three years they own their cars will be eliminated.

However, none of these measures will take effect unless Michigan voters pass a ballot initiative known as House Joint Resolution UU, which would increase the general sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent. This ballot initiative is scheduled for May 2015.

There are many intertwined, complicated policy and budget issues at work here; many will have an impact on the quality and safety of Michigan’s highways as well as on your pocketbook. Here are a few information sources that will help you sort through what’s going on and make an informed decision next May:

Detroit Free Press story

Detroit News story

Legislative Fiscal Analysis


NMA E-Newsletter #310: Score a Big One for the Good Guys!

Posted on December 21st, 2014 in , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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It’s official. New Jersey’s red-light cameras went dark last Tuesday after state lawmakers chose not to take up legislation to extend their operation. The five-year pilot program generated controversy from the start. Outspoken critics such as NMA ally and state Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon were quick to point out that photo ticketing was more about generating revenue for cash-strapped municipalities than improving public safety.

The demise of the program is notable for several reasons. First, while well-resourced camera companies and their lackeys made every attempt to salvage the program, they couldn’t gain enough traction with New Jersey lawmakers. (Translation: legislators knew how unpopular and misguided the program was and weren’t going to risk going against the will of the voters.) Second, with cameras spread across 25 cities as part of the pilot program, New Jersey is the first state to abolish cameras statewide. Third, the NMA played a key role in dismantling the program by proving serious flaws in how it was administered and operated.

Things started to unravel in November 2011 when Janice Bollmann received a red-light camera ticket from Edison Township. Angered by the $140 ticket, Bollmann decided to fight. Through a public records request she discovered that Edison had not complied with the state’s certification requirements for proper operation of its cameras.

Bollmann joined the NMA in early 2012 and contacted Steve Carrellas, the NMA’s New Jersey Director of Government and Public Affairs. Bollmann, with the NMA’s assistance, won her case in April that year. But that’s just the beginning of the story.

Realizing that noncompliance with certification requirements could potentially bring down the cameras, Carrellas partnered with O’Scanlon to challenge the legality of the program. In June, public concern over improperly set yellow-light times compelled the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) to suspend ticketing at 63 of the 85 camera locations.

NJDOT subsequently required each municipality to recertify the proper operation of each suspect camera. Amazingly, some did so within one day and all 63 cameras were recertified before the end of June, even though traffic surveys were required for each intersection. NJDOT admitted it did not verify any of the data provided to recertify the cameras.

Many, including the NMA, saw the “recertification” as a farce that would not end camera abuses or make the public any safer. There simply was no independent verification that the yellow-light timing had been set to correspond to prevailing vehicle approach speeds, as required by New Jersey law.

The NMA responded on two fronts. Working with O’Scanlon’s office, we filed a public records request requiring NJDOT to disclose information pertaining to the camera recertification. Next, we dispatched an experienced traffic survey team to New Jersey to find out what was really going on. The team crisscrossed the state for several days measuring the 85th percentile approach speed and yellow-light intervals at several of the questionable intersections.

Not surprisingly, the NMA’s analysis revealed a variety of post-certification improprieties—enough to push for an overhaul of the system. O’Scanlon introduced legislation that would substantially lengthen yellow-light times and make other reforms. The bill died in the committee, but the tide was already turning.

A class action settlement at the end of 2012 forced camera vendor American Traffic Solutions to refund $4.2 million in fines due to improperly certified yellow-light times. Public and media backlash against red-light cameras continued throughout 2013. In early 2014, the mayor of Brick Township created headlines when he pulled the plug on the city’s red-light camera program citing safety and fairness concerns.

As the December 16 camera program expiration date approached, the New Jersey Legislature sent clear signals it was not interested in renewing the program. The chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee said his committee would not even consider legislation to extend the program. Gov. Christie likewise voiced his concerns over the how the program was administered and said his “gut feel” was not to renew it.

The net result is that red-light cameras are history in New Jersey, thanks to the efforts of many concerned citizens, advocates and lawmakers. At least for now. NJDOT still has to make a recommendation to continue the program or not, and policymakers would have to pass legislation to bring it back. We don’t think they will.

Red-light camera programs continue to fail across the country, and the recent indictments and guilty verdicts in the Redflex/Chicago bribery scandal have given the industry a huge black eye. More and more policymakers are figuring out what the anti-camera side knew long ago. Here’s how O’Scanlon recently put it: 

If cameras actually increased safety no one would have to bribe anyone for business—we’d all be lining up! How any public entity can continue to do business with Redflex in particular, but really any of these companies pitching these ineffective, thieving cameras is beyond me. Is the lure of fast cash so strong we have decided that morality doesn’t matter?

Finally, for a bit of fun check out this video clip of O’Scanlon and other anti-camera activists, including the NMA’s Steve Carrellas, celebrating the end of New Jersey’s red-light camera program.


NMA E-Newsletter #309: NMA Reviews Member Benefits Package, Needs Your Input

Posted on December 14th, 2014 in , , , | Comments Off

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As part of its 2015 strategic plan, the NMA will be reviewing its member benefits package to make sure we’re meeting your needs as the premier drivers’ rights organization in North America. We’re particularly excited about a possible new benefit. It would consist of a trip mapping feature, similar to MapQuest’s Route Planner (see sample screenshot), overlaid with speed trap and roadblock location data from our extensive Speedtrap.org and Roadblock.org databases.

members-benefits-package-survey

We’d really like to know what you think. Would you use such a tool to plan your next trip? What other NMA benefits do you find most useful? Would you like to see changes to our benefits package? Let us know by taking a short (honestly) survey. Simply click the link below. Your responses will be completely anonymous. As a reminder, you can review current NMA member benefits here.


NMA E-Newsletter #308: Trigonometry Can Set You Free

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

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The NMA spells out several proven strategies to fight a speeding ticket in our Fight That Ticket! ebook — a free download for supporting members, a $9.95 purchase for non-supporting members. One such technical defense is based on cosine error. It is an underutilized strategy perhaps because it brings back unpleasant memories of high school math class, or maybe because the error usually produces a lower-than-actual speed reading on a radar/laser gun that already favors the driver.

To first explain what cosine error is and how it can come into play when a law enforcement officer uses radar or laser to gauge the speed of a passing vehicle, we’ll snip a couple of pertinent pages from Volume 2 of Fight That Ticket!:

 

 

Cosine Error pg 24 - ebook

This page from the CopRadar.com website allows you to dig as deeply into the trigonometry as you’d like. It also provides online calculators to determine measured vs. actual vehicle speed based on the cosine angle. The calculators are helpful if you want to try to avoid unpleasant flashbacks to 9th or 10th grade.

All of this leads to one of the cleverest uses of the cosine error to beat a speeding ticket that we have seen. In fact, we published the following successful defense strategy in the November/December 2005 issue of National Motorists Association Foundation News, the forerunner to the current NMA member magazine, Driving Freedoms. Zamir Bavel incorporated his knowledge of cosine error with strategic questioning to discredit the testimony of the ticketing officer and win his appeal.

Cosine Effect article Nov-Dec 2005A little bit of math mixed with the same courtroom ingenuity may turn out to be your best defense against a speeding ticket someday.


NMA E-Newsletter #307: When You Hit the Road this Thanksgiving, “Do the Right Thing” and Let Faster Traffic Pass

Posted on November 30th, 2014 in , , , , , , | Comments Off

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Just in time for the holidays, here’s the latest NMA news release highlighting the kickoff of our Lane Courtesy public awareness campaign:

Waunakee, WI – November 24, 2014: The National Motorists Association (NMA) in conjunction with the nonprofit NMA Foundation is kicking off an ongoing Lane Courtesy awareness campaign in time for Thanksgiving, one of the major driving holidays of the year.

“Lane courtesy is the act of keeping or moving right to allow overtaking traffic to pass on the left,” said NMA President Gary Biller. “It is one of the most important driving principles, both from a safety and a traffic flow efficiency standpoint. Those are interrelated, of course, and yet most American drivers have difficulty yielding the right of way.”

He added, “We highlighted the keep-right conundrum between motorists and law enforcement officers in a NMA e-newsletter, ‘Lane Courtesy Redux.’ The goal of our ‘Do the Right Thing’ campaign is to have all drivers recognize the value of practicing lane courtesy, making it an integral part of our driving culture.”

The NMA first promoted keeping right for faster traffic over a decade ago when it designated June as Lane Courtesy Month. The membership-based drivers’ rights organization lists several benefits to keeping right on multi-lane highways:

  • Drivers are less likely to be in accidents: Letting faster traffic pass creates smoother traffic flow, minimizing stress and aggressive tactics like tailgating;Lane Courtesy Laws by State.
  • Fuel economy will increase: Efficient traffic flow results in less braking and accelerating as well as fewer forced lane changes;
  • Yielding to faster traffic reduces congestion: Motorists get to their destinations on schedule more consistently;
  • Keeping right is the law in most states: The driver who camps in the left lane and holds up traffic, regardless of speed, frequently is violating the law.

The campaign’s “Do the Right Thing, Yield to Faster Traffic” theme is being utilized in public service announcements and conveyed through promotional items such as laminated posters and display magnets. The NMA and NMA Foundation hope to raise enough funds to produce a lane courtesy educational video that can become part of the curriculum in driver education classes across the country.

Biller noted, “Our ongoing campaign will help educate drivers, young and old, about the many benefits of lane courtesy. If we can instill a ‘keep right’ mindset among motorists, our highways will be safer to travel and more pleasant to drive.”


NMA Ohio Alert: Ohio Senate May Pass “Trojan Horse” Camera Bill

Posted on November 26th, 2014 in , , , | Comments Off

The Ohio Senate is pulling the oldest trick in the book again. In the name of “banning” ticket cameras, it is about to vote on a bill that actually authorizes the use of red-light cameras, speed cameras and bus cameras.

Here’s the shady part. In many of the 10 cities that have banned ticket cameras by referendum in Ohio, the language says an officer must be present with the camera and issue the citation personally to the driver. The current bill, Senate Bill 342, leaves out that last portion.

Under SB 342, the officer still has to babysit the camera, but “may use any lawful means to identify the registered owner.” And that includes the use of a camera.

SB 342 is not ban; it is a cynical attempt to confuse legislators and to trick the public into supporting a bill that will in fact allow widespread use of photo enforcement.

Don’t let them get away with it. Contact your Senatorand tell him or her not to support SB 342 as written. The bill needs to be amended with the following language to be an effective deterrent to the predatory use of ticket cameras:

“The city, including its various boards, agencies and departments, shall not use any traffic law photo-monitoring device for the enforcement of a qualified traffic law violation, unless a law enforcement officer is present at the location of the device and personally issues the ticket to the alleged violator at the time and location of the violation.”


NMA National Alert: Support the NMA Foundation with your Online Purchases

Posted on November 24th, 2014 in , | Comments Off

If you plan to do your Black Friday weekend shopping online this year, don’t forget about the NMA Foundation AmazonSmile program. When you do your holiday shopping at AmazonSmile, Amazon donates 0.5% of the purchase price to the NMA Foundation. Bookmark the link http://smile.amazon.com/ch/39-1951971 and support motorists’ rights every time you shop online.

Thank you and remember to drive safely this holiday season.


NMA E-Newsletter #306: The Public Records Request

Posted on November 23rd, 2014 in , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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One of the most effective ways for a NMA member to go on the offensive is to issue a public records request. Governmental transparency is a wonderful concept but it remains just a concept unless the citizenry actively exercises the right to probe the policies and actions of public agencies.

There are many reasons to use federal and state public records laws to obtain government documents. Among them:

  • To obtain agency records for historical or academic research;
  • To obtain evidence that can be used to challenge agency rulemaking;
  • To obtain evidence that can be used in civil or criminal discovery;
  • To verify agency performance of statutory responsibilities;
  • To review records involving policy issues and decisions;
  • To expose governmental wrongdoing.

Promo for NMA PRR Guide

The power of this instrument of the people cannot be understated. Earlier this year the NMA issued an 11-page guide to public records requests to demystify the process so that more will be encouraged to examine and challenge the actions of government. This is particularly true when those actions involve motorist issues, where policies seem to be driven more by the need for revenue than for the safety of the greater public.

(Click the adjacent watchdog image to review the guide.)

Last month the opportunity arose for us to use our own guide. As outlined in E-Newsletter #303, Masking an Agenda, AAA Idaho publicly questioned the Idaho Transportation Department’s (ITD) plan to increase the posted speed limit on several segments of interstate from 75 to 80 mph. While AAA used public statements to delay action by the ITD, the NMA decided to use the power of actual information.

In #303, we noted that it took but 30 minutes to issue a public records request to the ITD, an action that within days provided proof of the due diligence performed by that agency before it made the decision to raise the interstate limits.

The brief, four-paragraph October 8, 2014 letter from Gary Biller to the chief administrative officer of the ITD is displayed below. A quick review of the NMA public records request guide, and in particular of Appendix 1—Public Records Request Examples, and Appendix 2—State Public Records Laws, made the letter a straightforward task.

Of course, not every information request can be summarized as simply. But with the NMA Guide to the Freedom of Information Act and State/Municipal Public Records Requests in hand, you’ll be able to effectively challenge governmental actions through discovery.

And remember, if there is a processing fee from the agency to respond to your information request the NMA has another resource at your disposal. Our Community Support Program can provide a grant to help cover such costs. As the NMA tagline says, “Empowering Drivers since 1982.”

PRR to Idaho CAO for Interstate Speed Studies

 

 

 


NMA E-Newsletter: #305: T’row de Bum(s) Out!

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

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By Gary Biller, NMA President

Popular lore has it that the phrase “throw the bums out” originated during the 1941 World Series when the New York Yankees faced off against the Brooklyn Dodgers. A man supposedly walked into a bar—stop us if you’ve heard this one before—in Brooklyn in the midst of the games and loudly toasted to all in attendance, “May the best team win.” New York hospitality being what it was, the man was set upon by the resident mob with shouts of, “T’row de bum out!” The Yankees won that series four games to one which probably didn’t improve the mood or diction of Brooklynites.

Today “throw the bums out” is more commonly applied to the world of politics where it is demonstrated all too often that our elected officials forget who they are representing and why. No better an example of this exists today than with the Brooksville, Florida, city council which has fought tooth and nail to prevent citizens the right to vote on how they are governed and regulated.

The United States is a federation of states with a republican form of government where the governing power rests with the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them. Most of us know this from Civics 101 but it bears repeating for those cretins in elected office who are more interested in preserving their power status than in representing the interests of the people.

Earlier this year Brooksville’s Pat and Shirley Miketinac gathered enough signatures to submit a petition, subsequently certified by the city’s supervisor of elections, which would allow voters to decide whether to approve a charter amendment prohibiting the use of red-light cameras by Brooksville. City administrators, supported by the vendor whose cameras were already in place, filed a lawsuit to prevent the up-or-down vote on the ticket cameras from ever being placed on the public ballot.

A week before the November elections, a county judge ruled in favor of denying Brooksville voters the opportunity to decide the fate of the cameras, determining ironically that a vote now could prevent a similar vote at some future date. Higher courts in California, Ohio, and Texas previously overturned similar rulings that would have prevented the people from determining the fate of red-light cameras in their communities. With election day come and gone, it is not certain that the ruling in favor of Brooksville cameras will be appealed.

Our advice to Brooksville voters: Throw the city’s leadership out at the earliest opportunity for opposing the will of the people.

Postscript 

The Brooksville issue aside, November 4, 2014 was mostly a good day at the ballot box for motorists:

  • Four cities voted to discard red-light cameras—Cleveland; Maple Heights, OH; St. Charles County, MO; and Sierra Vista, AZ—by more than 70 percent majorities in each case. This brings the number of communities that, when given the chance to vote, rejected ticket cameras to 32 out of a possible 35.
  • Maryland and Wisconsin passed constitutional amendments that prevent their transportation funds from being robbed for non-transportation projects.
  • Texas voters overwhelmingly decided to allow the transfer of up to 50 percent of oil and gas production tax revenue that has been going to the state’s “Rainy Day Fund” to the Texas Highway Fund under certain economic circumstances.
  • Bond issues to authorize new mass transit projects were voted down in Florida (in the Gainesville and St. Petersburg areas), in Texas (Austin), in Kansas (Wichita), and in Washington (Seattle).

NMA National Alert: Red-Light Camera Class Action Suit Filed in Florida

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

If you received a red-light camera ticket in the state of Florida since July 1, 2010, you may be eligible to join the plaintiffs in a class action suit filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Miami on October 27, 2014.

Potential plaintiffs for this class action are individuals who received a Notice of Violation or Uniform Traffic Citation in Florida as a result of an image or video taken from a red-light camera administered by American Traffic Solutions (ATS) during the period noted.

The lawsuit alleges that ATS made ticketing decisions that by state statute can only be authorized by law enforcement officers who are government employees. By doing so, the suit claims, the due-process rights of those charged by ATS with red-light camera infractions were violated.

To help determine if you are a potential plaintiff in the $5 million class action and who to contact, click on this link to visit the site of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC. You can also find the text of the formal Parker v. American Traffic Solutions complaint there.





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