Speed Cameras Record Every Car

In this article about British speed cameras, and a trick to avoid them that does not work, is this sentence:

As vehicles pass between the entry and exit camera points their number plates are digitally recorded, whether speeding or not.

Without knowing more, I can guarantee that those records are kept forever.

EDITED TO ADD (7/25): As pointed out by Pete Darby in comments: Passenger moons speeding camera and gets his picture published even though the car was not speeding.

Police may take action against the man for public order offences and not wearing a seat belt.

Officers have the registration of the car, which was not breaking the speed limit, and intend to contact its owner.

It is understood the driver will not face prosecution as no driving offence was being committed.

How did they even know to look at the picture in the first place?

Posted on July 23, 2008 at 5:32 AM • 76 Comments

Comments

Clive RobinsonJuly 23, 2008 6:00 AM

@ Bruce,

"Without knowing more, I can guarantee that those records are kept forever."

Welcom to our world in the U.K., you are begining to think just like many many people in the U.K.

Brian GreerJuly 23, 2008 6:00 AM

What an abuse. I know that the UK is much different than the US when it comes to the expectation of privacy and liberty, but it is really ridiculous over there.

Now I wonder if the "red light cameras" in use in my area are working in a similar fashion!

Clive RobinsonJuly 23, 2008 6:11 AM

One point to note in the article is,

"A minimum of two cameras, each fitted with infra red illuminators so they can work day or night, are mounted on gantries above the road,"

So three things spring to mind,

1) a simple IR detector to warn the driver they have just been seen by a camera.

2) An array of IR LEDs mounted around the number plate pointing up at around 30 degs. Possibly flashing in a series of overlapping random sequencies set at around the line frequency of the cameras.

3) IR blocking film across the numberplate

And how about a mixture of all three...

Andrew GumbrellJuly 23, 2008 6:22 AM

There are (at least) two different kinds of camera in use on British roads.
The most common kind photographs only speeding vehicles. You know when you have been caught by the flash in your rear-view mirror.
The second kind work in pairs. The first one records all vehicles which pass and the second one, knowing how far it is from the first, knows if your average speed between the two is excessive. I suspect the details are never erased as they can be used for intelligence purposes.

Karri KangasJuly 23, 2008 6:24 AM

There's similar camera system in testing in Finland capital area as well. Those cameras are not used to catch speeding, but normal traffic control, such as analyzing traffic jam locations, average speeds etc. According to interview the camera system works with register plate as well. So the possibilities for catching speeding are there as well.

Clive RobinsonJuly 23, 2008 6:24 AM

@ Bruce,

On another matter altogether.

Yesterday the "Report of the Interception of Communications Commisioner" in the U.K. published his report for RIPA and other type spying activities carried out "officialy" in the U.K. in 2007 he has made some very interesting comments that are on the verg of saying that the regulations are being missuesed...

Read it for yourself at,

http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/hc0708/hc09/0947/0947.pdf

Nick LancasterJuly 23, 2008 6:29 AM

Of course, even while attesting that these 'innovations' are for our safety and security, they don't prevent anything - they're used as investigative tools after the fact.

Armin AuthJuly 23, 2008 6:32 AM

When driving through France two weeks ago we noticed on a message board over the highway a notice to a french car that has just overtaken us: register plate and the message that he has been driving too fast.

These systems exist and I expect that this will be common in a few years. BTW: Has anyone wondered why the truck toll system in Germany has cameras that cover all lanes, even the third lane where trucks never drive?

larryoneJuly 23, 2008 6:36 AM

If you get caught trying to evade the cameras with IR lights or a film over your numberplate it could be alot more trouble than it's worth.

I think speed cameras in general take away the opertunity for defense. If a police officer stops you at the side of the road, you can ask for proof that the speed gun used is calibrated correctly, and the calibration is not expired. If they can't do this, the matter does not go any further.
With a speed camera this defense is taken from you, and you usually have to go to court or go through some lenghtly procedure to get the relevant information.

Simon ProctorJuly 23, 2008 6:42 AM

Wouldn't surprise me in the slightest. If we don't have a law against it then we'll keep such stuff in a vault forever.

Of course I can think of an easy way to bypass them. Tailgate a truck on the way in or out, so they can't read your number plate. Of course by the time you see them they've probably already zapped you.

alforaJuly 23, 2008 6:46 AM

A similar system is installed in Austria on some motorways. It is called "Section Control" because some people think it is "cool" to use English words in German speaking countries. ;-) (just google for it, you will find it)

The section control was stopped last year in June because there was no law that would have allowed it! It is active again from this week because a new bill has been passed by the gouvernment.

By law it is forbidden to save data of cars that were not speeding. Only data of speeding cars can be saved for some time (a few months?).

BUT the minister of the interior already told his wish to use this system to find stolen cars and the like (you know, terrorists are everywhere)...

Bruce SchneierJuly 23, 2008 6:49 AM

"Welcom to our world in the U.K., you are begining to think just like many many people in the U.K."

It's no different here in the U.S.

JuergenJuly 23, 2008 7:00 AM

@Clive Robinson: All of those will be seen as attempts to circumvent speed cameras, which is a punishable offence... you're not allowed to put anything on a car that might prevent the license plate from being read - laws like that are in force pretty much everywhere in the world, for obvious reasons ;-)

CalumJuly 23, 2008 7:11 AM

While I agree that what happens to the records of these cameras - like any other "official" record keeping - is important, let's not lose sight of what it's for. Average speed cameras are highly effective in slowng down traffic in contraflows and other high density traffic works - they are not used for general speed enforcment. These situations are lethal: people trying to navigate a contraflow with narrow lanes, sharp bends, confusing signage and little sleep at 80 or 90mph while yammering on their mobiles need to be stopped, and average speed cameras do the job with the smallest impact on the rest of us.

Andy CunninghamJuly 23, 2008 7:23 AM

Speed cameras don't anything to make the roads safer. They distract attention from the main task at hand, and these SPECS cameras cause drivers to drive at a steady speed for a long section with no input whatsoever from the brain. Even when awake and alert, after five minutes driving through a 50mph limit controlled by these things I find myself turning into a mindless zombie who sees nothing but the speedo and two white lines to stay between.

Road deaths in the UK have increased steadily since the introduction of cameras. I think we have to ask about the cause and effect here.

Or is the government too busy about keeping the cash rolling in to actually care about road safety?

VaclavJuly 23, 2008 7:33 AM

@Armin Auth: if the toll system cameras were not installed over the left-most lane, trucks *would* go there when passing under toll gate, to avoid detection.

If you've ever experienced some idiot truck driver overtaking another truck on a freeway in front of you, you know how dangerous it can be. Now imagine lots of cheapstake truck drivers would regularly pull this maneuver off under every toll gate.

BTW, a common (and, unsurprisingly, dangerous) trick to fool these toll gates is to drive under the gate right behind the truck in front of you -- like *really* close to it, so that the camera cannot see your license plate over it.

Iain ColemanJuly 23, 2008 7:39 AM

Road deaths in the UK have increased steadily since the introduction of cameras.

The Office of National Statistics disagrees with you.

"In 2005, 671 pedestrians were killed in road accidents in Great Britain, this was 21 per cent of all deaths from road accidents, the lowest total for over 40 years.

The total number of deaths in road accidents fell slightly by 1 per cent to 3,201 in 2005 from 3,221 in 2004. However, the number of fatalities has remained fairly constant over the last ten years.

Just over half (52 per cent) of people killed in road accidents in 2005 were car users. Pedal cyclists and two-wheeled motor vehicle users represented 5 and 18 per cent of those killed respectively. Occupants of buses, coaches, goods and other vehicles accounted for the remaining 4 per cent of road deaths.

The total number of road casualties of all severities fell by 3 per cent between 2004 and 2005 to approximately 271,000 in Great Britain. This compares with an annual average of approximately 320,000 for the years 1994-98 and 324,000 in 1984.

The decline in the casualty rate, which takes into account the volume of traffic on the roads, has been much steeper. In 1964 there were 240 casualties per 100 million vehicle kilometres. By 2005 this had declined to 55 per 100 million vehicle kilometres.

The United Kingdom has a very good record for road safety compared with most other EU countries. In 2004 it had one of the lowest road death rates in the EU, at 5.6 per 100,000 population. The UK rate was also lower than the rates for other industrialised nations such as Japan (6.96 per 100,000 population), and substantially lower than that of Australia (8.15) and the United States (14.66)."

http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=1208

John RidleyJuly 23, 2008 7:41 AM

Something even more invasive is being done in the US. They have plate cameras on patrol cars which OCR plates as the car drives around, recording plate number and GPS location. I doubt those records are ever deleted either. A rep on an NPR show about it a year or two ago said that they could go back to previous database records and see if any car had been seen near the same area as the last few week's robberies, for instance.

I don't know how widely this is being rolled out. I'd bet that practically everyone in law enforcement wants it, but it's expensive.

RonKJuly 23, 2008 7:41 AM

@ Armin Auth

> Has anyone wondered why the truck toll system in Germany has cameras
> that cover all lanes, even the third lane where trucks never drive?

Never having driven on such a highway in Germany, I am assuming that it is physically possible for a truck to drive for a short period in that lane without dire results. If that is the case, I suggest you look at a previous post in this blog, "The Security Mindset":

http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2008/03/the_security_mi_1.html

if only to understand that you don't seem to have it.

If I am mistaken in my assumption, I apologize.

SparkyJuly 23, 2008 8:04 AM

Indeed, we have had these for years in the Netherlands. There are rather large and clear signs warning the motorists, and everybody knows where they are.

Tailgating will not work, because they photograph the rear of the vehicle, not the front. There are loops in the road to trigger the cameras (like the detection loops at traffic lights). When you ride a motorcycle on the line between two lanes, you ride between the loops and you can pass undetected.

They don't cause dangerous braking like regular speed cameras, and during that ~3km stretch, everybody drives roughly the same speed, meaning there is very little overtaking and lane changing. Ofcourse, at the end of that stretch, which you can easily see because the cameras are pretty big, many speed up again, and it's business as usual.

When they were first installed, some people would drive 70km/h entering the measured stretch (with a 100km/h limit), and half way through, speed up to 130km/h, just for the fun of it.

I don't know about any laws for keeping the records of those not speeding, but in several cases, they only provided a single ISDN line (64kbps) to the installation, which meant that 75% of the tickets would be dropped because of insufficient bandwidth. It took about 2 years to fix this. Sometimes bureaucracy can be a good thing.

SparkyJuly 23, 2008 8:07 AM

By the way, on the mooning passenger: was he wearing his seatbelt at the time?

vwmJuly 23, 2008 8:22 AM

Some related information on the German Toll Collect system (@Armin Auth): It actually does drop the record of any vehicle it has detected on the instant if the vehicle has either identified as a passenger car (not chargeable at the moment) or as a truck that has prepaid or an active "On Board Unit" -- so only pictures of the Toll offenders are kept.

The German government was reminded on this when it demanded, Toll Collect should release some pictures that might have been used to solve a murder case that had been committed on a motorway station -- but they did not have any pictures from that place and time in question.

Scott KJuly 23, 2008 9:09 AM

@Larryone: The side of the road is not the place to argue radar gun calibration--that, too, generally has to wait for the courtroom as well.

Clive RobinsonJuly 23, 2008 9:16 AM

@ Juergen,

"you're not allowed to put anything on a car that might prevent the license plate from being read"

But you are not preventing your number plate from being read (by a human or visable light system)... Only an IR device, I think you will find that the laws predate these systems and therefore this asspect has not (yet) been covered.

Unix RoninJuly 23, 2008 9:31 AM

"Without knowing more, I can guarantee that those records are kept forever."

And they're probably an Official Secret, too....

CalumJuly 23, 2008 9:55 AM

@Scott K

If you're in a jurisdiction where calibration issues are more or less automatic grounds for a case getting dropped, then you're best off asking by the roadside. Presuming the cop has a clue (and by and large, they do), they will have the sense to drop it there and then.

derfJuly 23, 2008 10:08 AM

As red light cameras become ever more present in the good old former land of the free/home of the brave, I'm sure these will also capture every license plate. By correlating speed cameras, red light cameras, and the state license plate database, it will be possible to know the path of every metropolitan driver on any given day.

"Why would anyone want this data?"

Cities will be able to make a bit of cash by selling this data to advertising firms, insurance agencies, detective agencies, etc.

Pretty Ignorant about this matterJuly 23, 2008 10:09 AM

Maybe Unix Ronin's message suggests no, but is there any chance these records could be FOIA'd into the public domain?

LindseyJuly 23, 2008 10:46 AM

I think the EZ Pass system in the US is similar. Haven't we already heard stories of people retroactively getting speeding tickets because it took them too little time to drive between toll gates? Why would one think that only the information of speeders is stored? Everyone has to be checked so everyone's information is stored.

Carlo GrazianiJuly 23, 2008 11:40 AM

@Lindsey:

It seems to me that EZ-Pass is much more insidious than cameras. There's an actual beacon in your car that tracks your movements across tollways, and which could in principle be used by people with specialized equipment to track you elsewhere as well, remotely and unobtrusively.

I know I've seen a news story in which EZ-pass records were used in a divorce lawsuit as evidence of an illicit tryst. I'd be shocked if law enforcement agencies hadn't woken up to the value of such records, to say nothing of their Funny colleagues. Whatever Total Information Awareness is called nowadays, I feel confident that EZ Pass records are one of its mainstays.

2be1or0butnotnullisasignatureJuly 23, 2008 12:13 PM

It is creepy to know that humans really are becoming slaves to data collection machines, for a few people who aspire to be gods.
In a post 1984::book world, grr, the distinction between men and ruled is no different between man and machine. Uncool.
Even the internet and blogs are like this, all collected, and worse, filtered, feed back to the corrupt with horrifying precision...
Ha! When do the worker bees revolt? Never, they have been chemically changed! 1984 was for simple minded men.
Road coverage patterns and unique traffic patterns makes for unique circumstances.
Little factoid, you can detect cameras that record everything sometimes by how traffic patterns are manipulated, and overly long red lights for left. Force right traffic to avoid, then caught. If left, then sometimes miss because another way out. Found such a pattern and it adds up...
Look for steep hills and cameras in traffic lights. Ah!

SteveLJuly 23, 2008 12:29 PM

The real UK privacy issue is not the average speed cameras, it is something called ANPR, "Automated Number Plate Recognition" which is an attempt to instrument all the main roads between the cities, the bridges -and other CCTV cameras that want to play. The petrol stations (==gas stations) are doing this because it helps them reduce the number of non payers, but the consequences are pretty frightening: they get to log your journeys, feed it through map/reduce and correlate who travels where.

1. Its likely that some of the people involved in the Glasgow airport attack were tracked down using ANPR -this was when the police stopped the M6 motorway to arrest them.

2. The US government wants all the data. At that point, wave goodbye to all rights.

SkorjJuly 23, 2008 1:21 PM

For EZ-Pass, you need to buy one device per toll gate in your regular commute and swap them as appropriate. As each device registers at only one gate, there is no speed info available.

Of course, you need to ensure that the spare devices aren't read by accident. I recommend tiny tinfoil hats.

JohnJuly 23, 2008 1:23 PM

Clearly, we need James Bond-style license plate changers.

Oh, wait, they *do* exist! :)

elgeebarJuly 23, 2008 1:24 PM

Average speed camera's in the UK use a system called ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Reader) which only requires a standard video feed. In other words ANPR can be added to any CCTV system (though obviously this only makes sense for systems with cameras monitoring roads).

I believe ANPR was installed at all UK ports around 1999 where I also believe they are used by Customs and Excise to spot vehicles that are always going backwards and forwards to, for example, France on the "booze cruise".

Simple SolutionJuly 23, 2008 1:39 PM

@Carlo Graziani

"It seems to me that EZ-Pass is much more insidious than cameras."

So don't install one.

Carlo GrazianiJuly 23, 2008 2:09 PM

@Simple Solution:

Good tip, thanks!

In point of fact, I have not installed one. You should note, however, that (at least in Illinois), the tollway authorities have gone to considerable trouble to herd people into EZ-pass -- cash tolls are more expensive than EZ-pass, and the cash lanes are actually diverted off the main tollway, so you get to pull over to the side into a constricted area to pay at one of a few available cash lanes, while wistfully watching the EZ-passers whiz through. I'm sure most of them have no idea of the daily database entries that they've been subtly induced to make, in exchange for cheaper and more convenient transit.

So, yes, protecting your privacy is still an available choice, but one that has state-imposed costs associated with it that are not as airily dismissed as you seem to believe.

Toll WarriorJuly 23, 2008 2:51 PM

@Carlo Graziani:
I have never paid an IPass toll on my motorcycle. I keep driving. Let them track and cross-reference me and pay someone to deliver me an invoice for the toll money. They've spent my money (back when I lived in IL) on infrastructure to catch 'toll dodgers' -- let's see them get a return on that investment. The worst part is that the toll was only supposed to pay for construction of the road -- and then it was upkeep, and now it just goes into the general fund. As a resident of Wisconsin, I already pay taxes to maintain roads (and some, like Rte. 12, are much nicer roads). I'm not going to pay additional money for the Illinois school system or whatever else they're diverting money toward today.

PeterJuly 23, 2008 3:02 PM

I have been informed (although this could be completely wrong) that the police in the UK have ANPRs installed on most major motorway slip roads, etc.... am guessing we're only getting to know about the very thin edge of the wedge here.


Simple SolutionJuly 23, 2008 3:36 PM

@Carlo Graziani

"...one that has state-imposed costs associated with it that are not as airily dismissed..."

Sounds like you are against the state imposing "extra" costs on those who don't want to give up other rights.

What was the name of the political philosophy that consistently holds that position? Libert... something.

Welcome aboard!

Clive RobinsonJuly 23, 2008 3:37 PM

@ Carlo Graziani,

"that (at least in Illinois), the tollway authorities have gone to considerable trouble to herd people into EZ-pass"

In London we have a travel card system for "public transport" called Oyster Card. The owners of the system Transport for London (TfL) acting on the direction of the former London Mayor Ken Livingston made it just about as invasive of peoples privacy as possible. So much so it appears to have placed young teens at risk from preditors and the police.

The lure to get people to use it was discount (or free for young teens) travel, however the prices where put up so fast that even with the (supposed) substantial discount fares have risen considerably faster than inflation.

Ken Livingston was awarded a Big Brother award for amongst other things the Oyster Card system and it's outrageous invasion of peoples privacy.

I have listed some of it's more major failings in the past but to give you an idea, TfL reserve the right to store pyscological information on any and all Oyster Card holders and make it available for sale or to other interested parties such as journolists...

Every journy made on the card is recorded in a central database (effectivly indefinatly) and the last twenty five are stored on the card it's self. Supposadly to prevent fraudulant claims from card holders. However it appears that the Met Police are very interested at looking at the info to find potential "witnesess" for crimes...

As has been shown in the recent past the security of the underlying MiFare systems is at best extreamly questionable.

Also there are hand held readers available to "casual" labour and temps that act as ticket inspectors and security staff. It would apear that these people are not vetted and that people with criminal records have been employed.

As a parent it scares me that a criminal could read a young teens card and see where they have made their last 25 journys from as atleast some of them will be the bus stop or station closest to the childs home...

Further it appears that the central databse that also has associated electronic photographs of all the young teens their home addressess and other sensitive data can be accessed by other temp and casual staff.

Also there is evidence to sugest that the system has been given free to young teens to get them used to carrying an identity card. A number of politicos have promoted the use of the Oyster Card as a school ID Card to remove the need for a role call for attendance. One touted potential benifit is texting the card usage to parents so they are aware of if their child is in school or not.

AndyJuly 23, 2008 4:01 PM

In some places in the US, they are removing the red light cameras. They do make people stop for the red light.

And revenues from fines are dropping.

jammitJuly 23, 2008 5:08 PM

Hmmmm. I wounder if I'll be pulled over for applying my plate upside down?

BetaJuly 23, 2008 5:12 PM

@Nima: "Imagine you need to prove that you've been somewhere at some specific time driving..."

I can't imagine why (unless you also give up the presumption of innocence). But this system wouldn't do that, because as far as I know it isn't set up to take a clear picture of the driver (yet). It can incriminate, but not exculpate.

elgeebarJuly 23, 2008 6:39 PM

@Beta

"Top Gear" (the UK motor/comedy TV show) had a piece a few weeks back where Jeremy Clarkson was racing his co-hosts across Japan (he was in the new Nissan GTR and they were on the bullet train). Anyway, he made mention that their speed camera legislation requires the picture to clearly show the driver's face (for comedy effect he had a Bill Oddie mask ;-).

AnonymousJuly 23, 2008 6:48 PM

@ John

"Clearly, we need James Bond-style license plate changers.

Oh, wait, they *do* exist! :)"

I'd go with a hi-tech option... LCD registration plate with IR & flash sensors... blank the plate OR randomise upon detection.

Another option would be to continually change the plate in a slow (around 5 minutes) fade/morph so people don't notice it changing. When parked, show the real registration.

Of course this would all be VERY illegal.

SpiderJuly 23, 2008 7:06 PM

@Bruce "Without knowing more, I can guarantee that those records are kept forever."

Wow, some one is very optimistic about the UK's data storage capabilities. I, on the other hand believe they'll be lost either next Tuesday on a double Decker bus, or the heat death of the universe, which ever happens first. But defiantly not forever.

Davi OttenheimerJuly 23, 2008 7:20 PM

Oh, I was surprised to find out the evasion technique discussed in the article was just changing lanes. I thought for sure it would be more hype about using LEDs or other sources to blind the cameras.

My beef with these cameras and plate recognition systems is how ridiculously brainless the investigations seem to be. I have several times now received notices for vehicles I do not own in places I have not been. Perhaps the most annoying one was a fuzzy image of a light colored Range Rover at a bridge toll I haven't driven in many years. Their only reason for sending it to me was they could not make out the license clearly, but thought it could be mine because a couple letters matched. I simply wrote a letter to the investigator explaining that since I own a dark colored vehicle that is definitely not a Range Rover, they should perhaps at least try contacting someone with the right vehicle make/model. A couple letters matched? Idiots.

Ironically, if you've ever worked with law enforcement you'll know that when you call in nothing more than a partial plate match the chances of dispatching someone is basically zero. However, for some reason when a camera gets installed the people managing the system turn their brains off and expect the technology to work some kind of special magic.

Incidentally, EZPass uses a passive ID that reflects a signal. You sometimes have to work hard to get the sensors to detect the antenna. If you put it in a box or even on the floor, you won't be tracked by the typical toll booth. Those guys busted for a tryst based on EZPass evidence are no different than guys (like former mayor Jerry Springer) who pay for prostitutes with a personal check. Cash is the easy and trivial option. Don't blame the technology.

blackseabrewJuly 23, 2008 11:15 PM

I suppose shooting out the camera is a bit overboard. But I'm just your average non-gun-toting Yank........that can hit any target I please at well over a thousand meters. These cameras are oppression at its worst. Just a slick way for tyrants to tax the peasants.

Jon SowdenJuly 24, 2008 12:14 AM

Thanks for that, Clive. There are, this week, introducing an Oyster-clone called Snapper here for public transport. I've read their privacy policy ( http://www.snapper.co.nz/privacy.html )and was underwhelmed by such gems as

"We reserve the right, at our discretion, to update or revise this Privacy Policy at any time. Changes to this Privacy Policy will take effect immediately once they are published on the Website. Please check this Privacy Policy regularly for changes."

Yeah, right. I guess I won't be getting hooked anytime soon. Which is frigging annoying, because they are getting rid of the current paper-based 10-trip discounted tickets.

TearlachJuly 24, 2008 3:55 AM

"Without knowing more, I can guarantee that those records are kept forever."

One question -- if all cars are being tracked how much data are we talking about? Every car, Never deleted, Year after year -- that is a serious data storage and processing. I would expect such a system to grind to a bloated halt -- especially if the govt outsources the IT project. We can't even get a usable database working properly for the NHS.

SparkyJuly 24, 2008 5:02 AM

"I suppose shooting out the camera is a bit overboard. But I'm just your average non-gun-toting Yank........that can hit any target I please at well over a thousand meters. These cameras are oppression at its worst. Just a slick way for tyrants to tax the peasants."

(note: in the Netherlands, there hardly are any firearms, so I never even seen one in real life)
1000 meters for a camera-sized object (say, 15*15 cm front surface) sounds rather unlikely for a civilian without extensive training.

A moderately powerful laser, say, from a DVD burner (250mW red) will nicely toast the CCD inside the camera, and is a lot less obvious than a large rifle. How thoughtful of the designers to include a perfectly focused lens right in front of that delicate CCD.

crossbuckJuly 24, 2008 8:34 AM

One thing people haven't mentioned here is the technology for the camera systems is different in various area. In our area, the red light camera system uses film and a flash system, even in daytime. The flash is only useful in daytime to signal that the driver has been photographed. Yes, the camera could go off "silently" in the daytime and record any car, but the rolls of film aren't so big that they could waste film recording people driving legally.

It's also true that red-light cameras become less and less effective moneymakers (which is their primary function, after all) with time, until they are no longer cost-effective and they get removed, which has happened in some towns.

For those areas that have advanced IR digital techniques to record speeders/red-light violators, I feel sorry for you. They use film here only because that's the system they bought, and that people here are naturally suspicious of any electronic system which can be manipulated by the companies that provide the service. Law-enforcement only gets the results of what the contracting company sends them, so a digital system would invite mischief from the company to add to their coffers (they get a cut of any fine a violator pays). There's already been mischief even with the film system, gaming the milliseconds before/after the light turns red before a violator can be photographed. That's right, before the light turned red at one intersection.

SteveCJuly 24, 2008 8:39 AM

@Carlos:

"There's an actual beacon in your car that tracks your movements across tollways, and which could in principle be used by people with specialized equipment to track you elsewhere as well, remotely and unobtrusively."

That beacon has a very small and weak battery in it that can only send its signal a few yards / metres. That's why the EZPass lane only picks it up as you go through it, not from a great disxtance. If you think about it, having a much higher range would make a big problem for the not very sophisticated RFID reader at the toll gate.

Due to this extremely short range, the only ways that "people with specialized equipment" could use the EZPass unit to track you elsewhere are prohibitive in cost and logistics.

bobJuly 24, 2008 2:31 PM

Sounds like it is time to take direct action such that speed limits are raised to the point where someone who is exceeding them is actually doing something wrong and/or unsafe and prosecuting them would actually have a benefit to society instead of merely enriching the police/industrial complex.

In OH, the speed limit is 65 [on motorway/autobahn-class roads]. And that is probably the 30th percentile - in other words 70% [overwhelming majority] of drivers are exceeding it.

The most unsafe drivers [those around whom most accidents occur] are those in the bottom 30% and the top 10% of speeds - this means that there is currently a NEGATIVE correlation between eligibility for a penalty and an unsafe behavior. If we raised speed limits to the 70th percentile we would get much more compliance AND a stronger correlation between penalization and unsafe behavior. Plus we would no longer be raising our kids to see that laws are something arbitrary imposed on us by "them" and to be thwarted or ignored.

And the wives tale that speed goes up linearly with speed limits is not true. [stipulated that it doesn't necessarily stay unchanged either]

Everyone has a "comfort zone" at which they travel [they used to teach that in driver's ed] and they tend to drive there regardless of the limit. For example, with all other factors being equal [interstate caliber road, clear day, dry surface, sparse traffic, etc] I usually drive 69 in a 65 zone. I would prolly drive 73 in a 70 zone, 76 in a 75 zone, 80 in an 80 zone and 82 in an 85 zone [and ive never heard of a speed limit higher than 85].

bobJuly 24, 2008 3:09 PM

@SteveC: I believe you are overlooking the fact that the EZPass & similar systems' receiver units have to be bought in quantity by the organizations installing them, so there is a limit as to how sophisticated a receiver would be marketable. Plus as you say they dont want to read them TOO far away anyway.

However, a hacker/thief doesn't have those restrictions; in fact his motivation is the opposite, so they can build an antenna which completely fills the inside of a truck body plus an overclocked (so to speak) receiver and come up with a unit that can easily receive the EZPass info at 50x the range that the commercial one can.

ModeratorJuly 24, 2008 9:09 PM

L.O.U.C/Simple Solution, this is your last warning for sockpuppetry. Any more comments by you under names under than L.O.U.C. will be removed.

ModeratorJuly 24, 2008 9:13 PM

Nima, please don't use a signature block here. Using the URL field to link to your blog is fine.

averrosJuly 25, 2008 4:41 AM

Shotgun with some buckshot-loaded magnum cartridges sounds just about right as a cure for these pesky cameras. On a second thought, it'll do for these pesky politicos, just as well.

The only problem is, quoting Vladimir Vysotsky, "The real rabid are few". The rest of the populace, of course, will bring their own Vaseline.

ChrisJuly 25, 2008 5:47 AM

@Bruce: "How did they even know to look at the picture in the first place?"

The article says it was a mobile camera. These are vans fitted with cameras that park in strategic, and well known, places (you can even get the schedules online). There would have been at least one driver/operator to see the incident and note the time (or trigger the camera if it's not recording continuously).

bobJuly 25, 2008 6:50 AM

I always wanted to cut several tuning forks to a range that resonate at (what a radar interprets as) 90-117 mph or similar; then stand next to an unattended radar camera and whenever I see someone extremely wealthy or driving extremely slow (ideally both, but there seems to be an anti-correlation there), whack a tuning fork and stick it in front of the radar antenna; and then wait for the results when the city gets 500 people who claim they were only going 27 in a 45 zone when the camera clearly clocked them at 98 or so. This would be especially fun with mopeds, ice cream trucks and street cleaning machines.

raimundoJuly 25, 2008 8:35 AM

///walking over the I 94 on the park ave bridge in minneapolis, I looked down at the newly resurfaced roadway,there was a large diameter plastic pipe sticking out of the dirt at the side of the pavement, and a thick wire went into it. the wire was related to a reel of such wire sitting there, I figured it was a traffic counter, but its really stupid to put this plastic pipe there permanently so that they can occasionally study traffic flow, pumped full of tovex, that thing could be minneapolis first roadside bomb. Courtesy of the same administration that lets the bridges fall down and wants to make that fool pawlenty the president in waiting for mcbush

InTheKnowJuly 27, 2008 12:48 PM

3M makes a wonderful film called microlouver. With it installed on your plate, it can only be read from ground level and its clear so you cant easily tell that it is there. On another note, US vehicle manufacturers are installing RFID tags under the dashboards of vehicles now that allows a remote reader to see the VIN number of the vehicle. Of course it has a cleverly created "cover" for its introduction to mask its true purpose. It is being touted as a Dealer Security System that will notify dealers if one of their cars are being stolen off the lot. But since those tags are not deactivated or removed once the car is sold, well, you get the picture. The next time you travel on a freeway, look for poles on the side of the road that hold a 9"x6" white flat box which is tilted down at the road at about a 45 degree angle. Hmmm, let"s see, an RFID tag under the dash and an RFID reader on the side of the road? Nah, they could not possibly have any connection could they?

D0RJuly 29, 2008 7:31 AM

@jammit

> Hmmmm. I wounder if I'll be pulled over for applying my plate upside down?

Yes, unless you plate is 806HH908 or the like.

D0RJuly 29, 2008 7:35 AM

> Police may take action against the man for public order offences
> and not wearing a seat belt.

If the driver somehow refuses to disclose the passenger's identity, how are they going to find him? Are they going to build a "gluteal composite"?

BenJuly 31, 2008 4:45 AM

@Bruce and others.

There are green boxed cameras installed on nearly all motorways now. These are used to monitor traffic flows by the Highways Agency (and its private contrators). To quote the Highways Agency website:

"ANPR cameras are used by our monitoring consultants. They allow them to track where individual vehicles join and leave the motorway and how long their journey took. This is important information which allows us to assess the success of the scheme. The information is encrypted so at no stage do our monitoring consultants have any access to personal information".

Wouldn't like to bet how hard it is to get the info decrypted if you want to.

A similar system, using blue boxed cameras is used by Trafficmaster to chech traffic flows on many roads in the UK.

TimJuly 31, 2008 11:45 AM

@Andy Cunningham: "I think we have to ask about the cause and effect here."

Yes, and the police's grasp of elementary statistics, too. I have *never* yet heard any mention of false-positives or the increase in danger through presence of speed-cameras. I have, however, reported one such incident (camera in front of me confused by two oncoming fronts, flashing right in my eyes causing me to abort an overtaking manoeuvre) to be greeted with a blank repetition of the "they're for your own good" bogo-statistics. Grrrr.

DaveKAugust 16, 2008 10:42 AM

@Pete Darby & Bruce Re Mooning:

>"How did they even know to look at the picture in the first place?"

From the BBC story:

>"The "mooning" man was snapped by the mobile camera "

This is a mobile camera; a temporary roadside installation on a tripod, manned by a couple of traffic cops, who aim it manually at passing traffic. They will have seen the guy mooning at them with their own eyes.

No conspiracy this time.

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