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NMA E-Newsletter #315: Avoiding Unpleasant Surprises

Posted on January 25th, 2015 in , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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John Nettles probably didn’t give it a second thought when he got a speeding ticket in Ehrhardt, South Carolina, in 1997. Like most people, he simply paid it and moved on. But some 17 years later, that decision has cost him his job. 

It seems that Nettles’ ticket was never properly processed so it never showed up on his driving record. That is until two years ago when the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (SCDMV) caught the oversight and helpfully recorded it. Nettles’ job as a power line worker requires him to drive for a living. With the addition of this bit of ancient history to his record, he can’t get insurance, which means he can’t drive. And that means he can’t work.

The issue came to light after Nettles got a copy of his SCDMV driving record and was surprised to see the 17-year-old speeding conviction. He now faces an uphill battle with the court to get the matter resolved. Until then, he has to look for another line of work.

The lesson here is twofold. First, fight every ticket. Pleading guilty/responsible and paying the fine is the same as a conviction in the eyes of your state DMV and your insurance company. This applies to out-of-state convictions as well. They will likely hit your driving record and impact your insurance rates. Also consider notorious gotcha penalties like Georgia’s abusive Super Speeder law. Many out-of-state drivers pay their Georgia speeding tickets unaware that by doing so they may be subject to a $200 surcharge. Many say they would have fought their tickets had they known.

Second, go online and check your DMV record. Go back as many years as you can. It only costs a few bucks and it could save you a lot of grief later on. Also check the current status of your license. You’d be surprised at how many people are driving with suspended licenses and don’t even know it—until they get pulled over. Find out before that happens.

If you do get a ticket, you have access to plenty of online resources that can help you fight it. If you’re charged under a state speeding statute, look up the language. If the officer wrote down the wrong statute or if the specifics of the law don’t apply to you, you might win a dismissal.

While you’re at it, check to see what the penalties are so you know what’s at stake. Look for this information on your state’s DMV website or on the website of the court that has jurisdiction over your case. The court’s website may also tell you how to request a continuance as well as other procedural details about doing business with the court.

The goal of all of this is to avoid any unpleasant surprises. Much of the information you need to make good decisions about your case is available through the very agencies that make up the traffic enforcement infrastructure. Here are some other related NMA e-newsletters that may help:

Also, be sure to check out the NMA’s E-book, “Fight That Ticket!” It is the best place to start when planning your ticket defense. It’s available free to NMA Supporting Members and as a $9.95 download for others.


NMA Minnesota Alert: Lawmakers to Consider ALPR Bills

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

The Minnesota Legislature is set to consider several bills to place limitations on how long data from automated license plate readers (ALPRs) can be retained and how it can be used.

ALPRs consist of 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. 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.

House File 154 and House File 155 are similar bills that would require ALPR information to be destroyed unless it identifies a vehicle or license plate that had been stolen, there is a warrant for the arrest of the vehicle owner or the owner has a suspended or revoked driver’s license, or the data are related to a criminal investigation. These bills would also require law enforcement agencies to keep daily logs pertaining to the use of each ALPR and to conduct routine audits to determine that privacy protocols are being followed.

Both bills have been assigned to the House Civil Law and Data Practices Committee. We encourage you tocontact committee members to tell them to vote for these important privacy measures.

On the Senate side, Senate File 86 would require all ALPR data unrelated to a criminal investigation to be destroyed within 90 days. SF 86 would also require law enforcement agencies to provide annual inventories of the surveillance technologies they use, keep daily logs and establish protocols for providing access to the data.

SF 86 will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee this Thursday at 12:00 pm in Room 15 at the Capitol. Attend if you can and speak in favor of SF 86. If you can’t make it, there’s still time to contact the committee members to tell them to vote for SF 86.


NMA E-Newsletter #314: 2014 Third and Fourth Quarter Legislative Update

Posted on January 18th, 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 second half of 2014. Here’s a brief summary of the driving-related issues we addressed.

California

Opposed Assembly Bill 1646 which would add a violation point for texting or using a cell phone without a hands-free device while driving. The bill was vetoed by Gov. Brown.

Opposed Assembly Bill 2393 which would increase vehicle registration fees to fund the implementation of an automated fingerprint identification system. The bill was passed and signed into law by Gov. Brown.

Opposed Assembly Bill 2398 which would establish penalties for a driver convicted of causing bodily injury or great bodily injury to a “vulnerable road user,” defined as a pedestrian, a person on horseback, a person operating a bicycle, in-line skates, roller skates, a scooter, or a skateboard, and a person operating or using a farm tractor. The bill was vetoed by Gov. Brown.

Supported Senate Bill 1079 which would protect against potentially higher fuel costs by exempting suppliers of transportation fuel from having to purchase carbon allowances until 2021. The bill died in committee.

Opposed Senate Bill 1077 which would require various transportation agencies in the state to implement a pilot program designed to “explore various methods for using a mileage-based fee (MBF) to replace the state’s existing fuel excise tax.” The bill was passed and signed into law by Gov. Brown.

Opposed Senate Bill 1183 which would allow local jurisdictions to impose a $5 vehicle surcharge to fund the expansion of, and improvements to, bicycle trails and bicycle parking facilities. The bill was passed and signed into law by Gov. Brown.

Opposed Senate Bill 1151 which would enhance penalties for numerous infractions and misdemeanors committed in school zones. The bill was vetoed by Gov. Brown.

Illinois 

Opposed efforts by the Will County Board to charge towing and storage fees to motorists who have not been found guilty of any crime or violation. The proposal is expected to be resolved in early 2015.

Missouri 

Supported a ballot initiative in St. Charley County to ban red-light cameras throughout the county. The initiative passed with 73 percent of the vote, but towns within the county have fought back by filing a lawsuit against the county.

Ohio

Opposed Senate Bill 342 which was sold as a ban on ticket cameras but in reality would allow the cameras to still operate under certain conditions. The bill was passed and signed into law Gov. Kasich.

Pennsylvania

Supported petition efforts to urge the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to suspend approval of a wireless ENRADD (Electronic Non-Radar Detection Device) speed measurement device, pending a thorough technical and regulatory investigation over reliability and accuracy concerns.

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 Missouri Alert: Red-Light Camera Settlement Results in Refunds

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

Motorists who received a red-light camera ticket in Missouri may be entitled to a partial refund, thanks to a recent class action settlement with camera vendor ATS. Eligible drivers have until Feb. 28 to request a refund of approximately $20 per ticket received. According to thenewspaper.com, postcards have been sent to several hundred ticket recipients who must go to www.Morlcenforcement.com to request their refund.

The settlement applies to tickets received in the cities and towns of Arnold, Bellerive Acres, Bel-Nor, Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Bridgeton, Calverton Park, Clayton, Country Club Hills, Creve Coeur, Dellwood, Ellisville, Excelsior Springs, Ferguson, Florissant, Grandview, Hazelwood, Kansas City, Moline Acres, Northwoods, Richmond Heights, St. Ann, St. John, St. Joseph, St. Louis, Sugar Creek and Washington.


NMA Indiana Alert: Lawmakers to Consider Anti-Motorist Legislation

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

The Indiana General Assembly is set to take up House Bill 1404, which proposes the following anti-motorist measures:

  • Permit the use of speed cameras in highway work zones.
  • Permit the issuance of work-zone violations without workers present.
  • Make it a Class A misdemeanor to use a handheld device while driving through a work zone.
  • Permit the use of school bus “stop arm” cameras to record alleged passing violations.

None of these provisions will make Indiana’s roads any safer and will only lead to more aggressive and arbitrary traffic enforcement. The NMA opposes the use of all camera-based traffic enforcement. Click here to learn more about speed cameras and the abuses they create.

The claim that cameras on school buses can protect school-age children is particularly misleading and cynical since very few children are killed each year in school-bus related accidents, and most who are, are actually killed by the bus. The NMA has commented extensively on this issue. Learn more here and here.

HB 1404 has been assigned to the House Roads and Transportation Committee. Now is the time to contact the committee members and tell them to vote against HB 1404.


NMA Virginia Alert: Lawmakers Propose Limits on Plate Reader Data

Posted on January 14th, 2015 in , , , , | Comments Off

The Virginia General Assembly is considering legislation to place limitations on how long data from automated license plate readers (ALPRs) can be retained and how it can be used.

ALPRs consist of 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. 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.

Both House Bill 1673 and Senate Bill 965 allow for the use of ALPRs provided the information they collect “is held for no more than seven days and is not subject to any outside inquiries or internal usage, except in the investigation of a crime or missing persons report.” These are critical privacy protections that could significantly reduce misuse and abuse of such sensitive data.

HB 1673 has been referred to the House Committee for Courts of Justice while SB 965 has been referred to theSenate Committee on General Laws and Technology. (Click on each committee link for member contact information.) We encourage you to contact members of both committees and tell them to support these important safeguards on motorist privacy.


NMA E-Newsletter #313: The Wonderful World of Driving circa 1958

Posted on January 11th, 2015 in , | Comments Off

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Those of us of a certain age fondly remember the Sunday night TV ritual of watching “The Wonderful World of Disney.” Tucked in among all of the Disney standards like Davey Crockett and The Absent Minded Professor was a particularly compelling episode from 1958 extolling the virtues of the burgeoning interstate highway system. Turns out that Walt and Mickey were friends of the motorist.

At least that’s what we’ve concluded after watching the episode, which came to us from a Michigan member. Watch it below and see for yourself.

Overall, we were struck by the enthusiastic, hopeful tone. Consider Walt’s opening comments beginning at the 1:54 mark:

One of the many freedoms we enjoy today, yet often take for granted, is the freedom of the American road, to come and go as we please in our pursuit of happiness. Today we enjoy the pleasure and convenience of going places in engineering marvels such as this modern automobile. 

Sounds like something right out of the NMA’s Motorist Bill of Rights. Too bad many of those driving freedoms we used to enjoy have become things of the past. Can you imagine a prominent public figure saying something like this today? The narrative is unabashed in its praise for the developing interstate highway system, highlighting its importance in enhancing our quality of life. Listen to this at the 3:35 mark:

Our roads are the lifeline of America, channeling our everyday needs. Materials to build our homes, fuel for a thousand daily uses, and meat on our tables. Roads to make a better world, to protect our lives and property, for our national defense … this is the freedom of the American road. Our growing abundance and our pursuit of happiness is dependent upon the greatest highway system in the world. 

And here at 23:55:

This multi-billion dollar highway program will more than pay for itself in the time and money it will save us, the new wealth it will create and the thousands of lives it will save. This is the biggest building project in the history of man. 

Check out this early, and more literal form of Lane Courtesy at 13:22. And this prediction about the coming gridlock and the importance of proper planning and engineering at 22:05:

By 1975 we estimate there will be at least 100 million automobiles in America. Now because of these ever increasing loads on our highway system, we must plan and build for the future right now. To solve this problem the planning of highways must be based on the way they’re used. The highway engineer has to satisfy you, the driver. 

The creation of the U.S. interstate highway system was a monumental achievement, made even more remarkable by the fact that so much of the design was completed “by hand,” without the aid of computers—and the computers that were used were of the mammoth punch-card variety. Just watch the sequence from 26:00 – 29:15.

At 36:00 motorists weigh in with their own suggestions for vehicle and highway design improvements. We’re particularly intrigued by the disposable highway vehicle and the do-it-yourself highway.

Predictions about the highway of the future begin at 39:30. In classic Disney fashion we’re presented with fanciful notions like the “sun powered electro suspension car” and “miles of tubular highways.” But some of the ideas were remarkably prescient. For example radar-equipped cars that can better “see” objects near them, electronic safety controls including rearview cameras, driverless cars equipped with video conferencing capabilities, and even centralized control of the entire communications grid.

To wrap things up, the narrator concludes at 47:55: “As in the past, the highway will continue to play a vital role in the progress of civilization.”

A little idealistic? Maybe. But we appreciate the sentiment. It’s a far cry from today where most people fail to recognize the benefits provided by a modern, safe highway system that allows the free movement of people and goods. We only wish Walt were still around to help us fight for it.


NMA E-Newsletter #312: Let’s Get Personal

Posted on January 4th, 2015 in , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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Editor’s Note: A member in Kissimmee, Florida, recently sent this letter to a county official questioning the county’s motives for employing red-light cameras. Note how the writer makes it personal by telling his own story. It’s a great example that may help you as you reach out to your public officials about motorists’ issues that affect you.

 

Independent studies show that traffic accidents of all types, particularly rear-end collisions increase, often dramatically, when red-light cameras are installed at intersections. Injuries and deaths are included in this increase.

I have no way of knowing what your motivation was for placing the motorists of Osceola County at increased risk for property damage and bodily injury at the ten intersections where you have allowed privately owned, profit-motivated interests, namely American Transportation Solutions (ATS), to install these devices. I can think of only two. One is that due diligence was not done. Perhaps you relied on their salesman’s disingenuous, inappropriate and incorrect use of the term “safety.”

The other, of course, would reflect on you in an even more negative fashion. In either case, you have not done your job and thus are guilty of some form of negligence. To be sure, the bottom line has nothing to do with safety whatsoever as proven by the studies referred to above and in the small sample of enclosures.

Inasmuch as you now have concrete, reliable, unbiased evidence that these devices are a traffic hazard, I will not be convinced of any hint of altruism, misguided as it would be, until all proceeds are donated to charity. The clear implication would be that you are knowingly placing the populace at risk in the name of profit. I do not believe this is the case. However, this letter and its enclosures make you aware of that and thus negate any innocent “gullibility” on your part.

Among the many facts and studies that you would have had to consider, had you done good faith research, is that after trying what seemed like a good way to increase revenue, many communities have removed or deactivated these devices for the reasons noted above. Absent this knowledge, you entered your constituents into a contract that cannot be terminated. In the event that the cameras prove to be dangerous, (or not as productive as hoped for) you cannot walk away, but only shift the danger to other intersections until the contract runs its course, regardless of how many people may be injured or killed.

Yes, on the surface it appears to be a good idea. But the reality is counterintuitive. That is because, among other issues, the notification of a violation comes long after the incident, when a motorist has most likely forgotten (if he was even aware of it at all), thus any possibility of negative reinforcement is lost. And as any behavioral scientist will tell you, positive or negative reinforcement is most effective when it is immediate. Weeks later, it is perceived as persecution and any hoped for change in behavior is no longer possible. Then, if a motorist desired to defend himself, it would be difficult at best, given the lost opportunity to gather evidence in the immediate aftermath, as would be the case when a police officer made the stop in a timely manner. Perhaps that is by design.

Another issue that you have failed to consider is the 6th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the right to confront an accuser. I fail to see how this is possible when the “accuser” is a machine that cannot be compelled to take the stand in a court of law and be cross-examined as can a complaining police office or any plaintiff. There are no witnesses.

Bear in mind that there are, on rare occasions, compelling reasons to enter an intersection on red. I have had do it twice to avoid serious accidents. On one occasion, I was stopped by a police officer, who having witnessed the circumstances involved, did not charge me with disregarding a traffic light. Had he cited me I would have had the opportunity to cross-examine him in court and the mitigating circumstances would have been clear to a judge.

In an earlier incident when I was 6 years old, my father, who was stopped for a light, suddenly accelerated into the intersection and made a hard right turn, (accompanied by my mother’s questioning screams). The reason? A large truck coming at us from behind barreled through the intersection at high speed. Had my father not “broken the law,” an entire family would have been wiped out of existence.

In another telling incident, I witnessed, and was spared involvement in, a three-car pileup at the intersection of Highway 193 and Celebration Ave. which occurred immediately following the installation of a red-light camera. Having had the visceral experience of coming so close I feel I need to make you understand how bad your decision to vote in favor of this dangerous matter was.

Inasmuch your action has placed my family and myself at risk again, I must, in the strongest possible terms, implore that you reconsider your vote, even at the expense of buying out of the contract with ATS.


NMA Pennsylvania Alert: Sign online petition to have PennDOT suspend approval of wireless ENRADD device

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

Pennsylvania is the only state which prohibits local police (as opposed to state police) from using radar for speed enforcement.

As a result, certain devices and techniques are used in PA but rarely if ever in other states. One such device is ENRADD (Electronic Non-RAdar Detection Device) model EJU-91 wireless.

Based on information obtained through Open Records requests and other research, there appear to be significant issues related to:

1) The appearance of the ENRADD model EJU-91 wireless on the list of devices approved by PennDOT for use in PA, and on whose authority and on what basis that approval was granted.

2) The real-world accuracy of the device when used on roads vs. controlled laboratory settings, and various error mechanisms which do not appear to have been thoroughly reviewed as part of the approval process.

3) The manner in which the devices are being calibrated state-wide, and whether such calibrations are being done according to 67 PA Code 105.56(e) as prescribed by regulation.

Additional detail from PA Senate Transportation Committee testimony can be found here: http://transportation.pasenategop.com/files/2014/03/Drack.pdf

Such issues may be resulting in large numbers of unfair citations to PA motorists based on readings from these devices.

You are encouraged to sign the online petition at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/investigate-enradd in order to coax PennDOT to suspend approval of the device pending a thorough technical and regulatory investigation of these issues, or absent action by PennDOT, to encourage the PA State Senate, PA House, and/or PA Attorney General to see that the device approval is suspended and the matter is investigated thoroughly.


NMA E-Newsletter #311: The Business of Civil Forfeiture

Posted on December 28th, 2014 in , , , , , , | Comments Off

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It’s the highway hustle. The shakedown shuffle. It’s civil forfeiture, and it’s one of the most flagrant roadside abuses motorists face today.

Using civil forfeiture laws, police can confiscate property, like cash and vehicles, from motorists if they suspect the property is tied to illegal activity. The police don’t actually have to prove such a connection exists, and motorists must often fight lengthy and expensive legal battles to retrieve their property.

With the Justice Department taking in a record $4.2 billion in forfeitures for 2012, civil forfeiture has become big business. And business is the operative word here because behind many questionable law enforcement practices—and transportation policies for that matter—you find public officials partnering with private business interests focused primarily on the profit motive. Think Redflex and ATS for red-light cameras, Vigilant Solutions for automated license plate readers and any number of international conglomerates for toll roads.

For civil forfeiture, that business partner appears to be a company called Desert Snow, which trains police officers on the finer points of civil forfeiture. Desert Snow has also created a database known as Black Asphalt, which police around the country use to enhance their forfeiture operations.

Black Asphalt lets its 25,000 users compile and share detailed data on private motorists—whether they’ve done anything wrong or not—including addresses, social security numbers, information from traffic stops or interrogations, searches, etc. Information is shared informally without official oversight, and many of the reports end up in federal fusion centers where they can be shared with law enforcement agencies at all levels.

Desert Snow encourages users to provide data about their traffic stops by offering rewards and incentives. The more data an officer enters, the more rewards he earns. Desert Snow also holds an annual competition to recognize officers who have seized the most contraband. Top earners (to borrow a term from The Sopranos) are honored at Desert Snow’s annual conference.

The system appears to work. According to The Washington Post, police officers affiliated with Desert Snow reported seizing $427 million from traffic stops over a five-year period. In fact, Desert Snow’s methods are so lucrative, company personnel have even gotten in on the act. Last year, the Caddo County, Oklahoma, district attorney’s office contracted with Desert Snow employees to conduct interdiction operations on state highways. Working with local police officers, Desert Snow employees seized more than $1 million over six months. The firm retained 25 percent of the haul under the contract terms. Fortunately, the scheme was shut down after a local judge got wind of it and threatened to jail the Desert Snow employees who were involved.

But that’s not the end of it. In September, the ACLU of Oklahoma filed suit to compel Logan County, Oklahoma, Sheriff Jim Bauman to turn over records pertaining to Black Asphalt. (Desert Snow had passed control of Black Asphalt to Bauman in 2012.) The ACLU had previously filed a public records request for the information, which was ignored despite repeated inquiries. The ACLU also reports that Sheriff Bauman has been attempting to move Black Asphalt out of Oklahoma and that the Black Asphalt website has been put under the control of a sheriff’s department in Illinois. One can’t help but wonder what they’re trying to hide.

Now, we have no quarrel with a private company trying to make an honest buck. But we do have concerns when public officials collude with private firms to rip off motorists through illegal and likely unconstitutional schemes. Such unholy alliance are not uncommon, and they turn law enforcement into a for-profit enterprise. As a result, accountability and transparency go out the window, and the driving public suffers.





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