Print and Web Reviews

WASHINGTON, Aug. 16, 2004

Busted For Speeding On Camera?

(CBS) Every year, millions of motorists across the country are busted by an invisible big brother- the hundreds of cameras that are set up to catch speeders and people who drive through red lights.

Now, there is a product that claims to level the playing field.

The speed trap could have nabbed any mommy-mobile cruising through Washington that June morning. It got CBS News Correspondent Joie Chen.

But she didn’t even know she’d gotten her first speeding ticket until it came in the mail nearly three weeks later.

She was caught in the act by one of the hundreds of radar cameras used by police around the country.

Besides the District of Columbia, where she had her run-in, 18 states have found speeding and red-light cameras save lives, and manpower, while generating big revenues.

Such states are:

  • District of Columbia
  • New York
  • Maryland
  • California
  • Virginia
  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Texas
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Washington
  • New Mexico

In D.C., red-light runners and speeders caught on camera have paid more than $80 million in fines since the flashes started going off five years ago, but police insist it’s not about the money.

Inspector Kevin Keegan of the DC Metropolitan Police Department says, “It’s about safety. Nobody wants to hurt anybody or have a relative hurt and that’s what we’re talking about here.”

And face it, drivers speed. At a particular Washington spot, where a camera is installed, six cars went by in just 19 seconds. Five of them will get tickets in the mail. That’s at least $250 in fines, in less than 20 seconds!

Everyone’s got a story.

Christina Lobo of Bethesda, Md., says, “Me and my husband have already gotten several tickets when we weren’t really speeding.”

And everyone seems to have someone at home who’s always getting caught.

Mike Jones of Capitol Heights, Md., says about a relative, “She’s gotten over $1,200 of tickets, at least. I mean she just runs through the lights, and the lights just FLASH.”

So they’re trying a product that claims to thwart the cameras.

The idea is to make the license tag glossy – so shiny that it reflects the radar camera’s flash.

The cops say it doesn’t work. But an auto shop has sold more than 700 cans, and only four drivers have called to complain.

In an unscientific experiment, Chen tried it on a CBS staffer’s tag and tried to reproduce the flash with a Polaroid camera.

The glare seemed worse at some angles. But it’s hard to tell whether any speeders would be spared.

Other products, like covers that slip over the license tag, are illegal. But dealers insist this stuff is fine.

Will Foreman of the Eastover Auto Supply says, “How can they outlaw something making their license plate clean and glossy? Are they going to make it illegal to wax your car?

Maybe. D.C. police says spraying tags amounts to defacing government property. Chen didn’t try it. She figured, she’s in enough trouble already.

So far there are no specific laws that make these kinds of products illegal.