Monday, April 25, 2011

Driver Uses CarChip Data to Challenge Optotraffic Camera

When Rich LaDieu received a speed camera ticket from College Park he Knew he hadn't been speeding, his car told him so.  LaDieu had a device called a CarChip plugged into the OBDII interface under his dash.  "It records everything the computer sees in the engine, transmission, emissions, sensors, and most important your current speed every five seconds."

The citation (#cp10316438) cited LaDieu for driving 48mph in a 35mph zone on Painted Branch parkway.  Ladieu went to his car chip and pulled data for the date and time shown on the citation.  The data contained both speeds at specific intervals(see speed interval data), showing that at the specific time on the citation he was not traveling at the speed shown.  It also showed the maximum speed for the 3.9 mile trip: 35mph.

LaDieu received is hearing on April 20, 2011 at 1:15pm in the district Court in Hyattsville, courtroom #6.  When he was called to present his case he pointed to the fact that the data from the chip showed both the times at specific intervals, showing the specific time from the citation, including periods with all zeros when the car was stopped at traffic lights, and also the maximum speed for the trip.  The Judge handed LaDieu's data to college Park's representative, a Prince George County police officer, who could not explain the data.

The judge became flustered at this point, looking through papers and closely examined LaDieu's citation.  But rather than rule on the accuracy of the camera, he then declared that the city had used an "improper filing document".  It turns out that most of College Park's cameras are not located in school zones, but rather in "IHE Zones" (Institute of Higher Education) which are not school zones and have no "school zone" signs, but the citation declared the location as a school zone.  The judge dismissed the ticket, and then dismissed the citations for ALL the remaining defendants, citing the same reason.

College park has already issued $2.4million worth of speed camera tickets since October, which works out to about 60,000 tickets, or 2.5 tickets ($100) per resident of the town.  The city expects their cut of that amount after expenses to be $600,000, equal to about 4.76% of the town's $12.6million annual budget, in just the first 7 months of the program.  The remainder goes to Optotraffic/Sigma Space corporation and to pay the PG County officer's who review College Park speed camera tickets (College Park does not maintain its own police force). Presumably most of the ticket recipients did not have chips in their cars recording their speed.

College Park uses the same type of camera as those which are being used in Forest Heights where tickets have been recently been thrown out in court by drivers using time-distance calculations to challenge tickets. has heard from drivers who have received citations from College Park which they believed were in error, but who did not wish to challenge tickets because they felt it would cost them more in lost time that just paying the ticket.  Another driver receiving a ticket from the same type of camera in Riverdale Park, even though time-distance calculations showed he was not speeding, decided not to challenge the ticket because it wasn't worth the cost, and didn't want to talk to the press because of concerns about risking reprisals against his business: "They could make my life hell if I p***ed them off" he wrote to us in an email.  Meanwhile other drivers in the area who requested hearings have reported long delays getting court hearings.  Optotraffic's cameras are based on a proprietary design which does not function like traditional police lidar or radar, and is not listed on the IACP's Conforming Products List of speed enforcement devices.

Fortunately some drivers have now begun standing up for themselves, and judges in Prince George's County are appear to be losing confidence in these cameras.  The question is, will the state intervene and begin an investigation into the numerous claims of errors, or will they continue standing idly by and risk innocent drivers who cannot practically defend themselves getting ticketed?