The myth of manual review

Some cities with ticket cameras promise that human police officers will review every ticket to keep the robots under control. In fact the robots are running the show with a little help from corporate accountants.

Your camera probably has a feature where it looks around the room and draws boxes around the faces it sees. Ticket cameras work the same way except they look for license plates. There can be many faces in a room. There can be many license plates on a road.

The radar records the fastest speed on the road. The camera records the clearest license plate on the road. The computer mails a ticket for the fastest speed to the car with the clearest plate.

This is why a New Orleans man keeps getting tickets saying his parked car was speeding. A speeding police car registers on radar. The innocent victim’s stationary license plate registers on camera.

Supposedly there are two levels of review. First, the company running the camera system looks at the ticket. The company gets paid by the ticket. Money or honesty, not even a close call.

The second level of review is supposed to be the police department. Police officers don’t want to waste their time watching boring videos. When Minneapolis had the same problem in 2005 a police spokesman explained, “we process hundreds if not thousands of these within a week and sometimes due to the sheer volume I think that we rush to judgment.”

Some police departments don’t spend any time. Riverdale Park, Maryland let the camera company forge police approval. The city won the resulting lawsuit. When you get a ticket in the mail, you’re supposed to recognize that the officer’s signature is forged, persuade the court to subpoena the officer, and try to get the officer to testify that he didn’t sign that ticket. If you don’t do this in time you’re guilty. Every victim has to do this individually. Maryland doesn’t like class action suits against ticket cameras.

When ticket cameras are used, sending 5% of tickets to innocent bystanders is acceptable collateral damage.

At a software job we had a big suite of automated test software. Our human testers still spent hundreds of hours going over each new version. They worked off a checklist to make sure they got everything. That’s because our reputation was on the line. “It works 95% of the time” is not close to good enough.

In America we’re supposed to have disputes decided by an impartial adjudicator. We let traffic court become an exception. Then we moved traffic court into an “administrative” tribunal where you’re presumed guilty. Finally we outsourced traffic court to a company that gets paid for finding people guilty.

Some states have tried to ban per-ticket compensation. Cities and camera companies find a way around those laws. If camera tickets were taken seriously paying companies to report high speeds would be as illegal as paying technicians to report high BAC.

It takes an electronic brain the size of a fist a millisecond to start an automated process that says you are guilty unless you take hours of your time to try to prove your innocence.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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