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Washington Police: Using iPhone App to Avoid Speed Traps “Cowardly”

Washington D.C. police chief Cathy Lanier is denouncing the use of an iPhone app to avoid speed traps and red light traffic cameras as a "cowardly" act, and warned said cowards that they would be caught, one way or another, if they break D.C. traffic laws.

"I think that's the whole point of this program," Ms. Lanier told The Washington Examiner. "It's designed to circumvent law enforcement -- law enforcement that is designed specifically to save lives."

Conventional wisdom holds that if you want to avoid getting a traffic ticket, your best course of action is to go the speed limit and obey traffic lights. With iPhone apps like Trapster and GPS-related services such as PhantomAlert, however, drivers can get alerts when they approach known speed trap and traffic camera locations.

The cynical among us might point out that Washington D.C. has generated some US$1 billion in revenue from photo radar tickets in fiscal 2005-2008, and it would be easy to leap to the conclusion that concern over such revenues lies at the heart of any concern over circumvention tools ranging from radar detectors to new tools such as the above-mentioned software.

The reality, however, is that for most large-city police departments, police chiefs such as Ms. Lanier don't have access to or control over revenues generated from traffic tickets.

Speaking of Ms. Lanier, she told The Examiner that it would be too difficult to outlaw GPS-related software tools, though radar detectors are already outlawed. "With the Internet and all the new technology," she said, "it's almost impossible to stop the flow of information."

We'll close our coverage by quoting our friend Jim Dalrymple at Loop Insight, who quipped, "Want to foil police efforts to catch speeders in Washington, D.C.? There's an app for that."

Trapster Screenshot
Trapster Screenshot

12 comments from the community.

You can post your own below.

John F. Braun said:

I’d throw this right back at our law enforcement friend and state that generating traffic violations based solely on what a machine says, be it a red light camera, radar or laser speed detection, or an automated speed camera is cowardly. 

Human judgment is required to determine if the violation is really a safety risk.  Going through a red light at 3AM with no other vehicles visible?  Going over the speed limit when everyone else is at a similar speed and maintaining a safe following distance?  Snapping a picture and sending a ticket without taking conditions into account?  You get the idea.

I wish the police were actively out on the roads, addressing those that are the real safety risks, namely, those that follow too close, weave in and out of traffic, drive much slower or faster than the surrounding traffic, or those talking on the cellphone or messing with their electronic gadget when they should be driving.  Of course that would take too much work, and probably not generate as much revenue.


Bregalad said:

The police are only upset because they’re losing out on ticket revenue. The whole point of traffic law enforcement is to improve driver behavior. If knowing where a speed trap is makes drivers slow down then that’s mission accomplished in my mind.


Photodan said:

These services are easy for the cops to defeat. Don’t just sit in the trusty old speed trap locations. We all know that speed enforcement is a game. This is as much a technological advantage as the laser gun. They should stop whining.



Bosco (Brad Hutchings) said:

“Cowardly” is when police raid the wrong home and shoot people’s dogs, for example. I think she meant “unpatriotic”.


Terrin said:

Speeding tickets is all about generating revenue. It is kind of like DUI enforcement. States used to do hardly anything about Drunk driving until somebody hit somebody drunk. They then found that it can create a large amount of revenue by fining the heck out of people. So, much so that at least in Michigan the State keeps lowering the amount of allowable alcohol to the point were drinking one beer can cost you $6, 000 bucks.


headwerkn said:

this is obviously only a Washington thing… in Australia and I believe the UK the police make public knowledge where fixed cameras are located, and the radio stations encourage people to phone when they see a mobile unit. The police are happy about this, because then people know to slow down in these areas.


Boxav8r said:

Speeding tickets is all about generating revenue. It is kind of like DUI enforcement.

You couldn’t be more wrong about DUI enforcement being about revenue.  Having had a spouse killed and an infant child maimed for life by a .08 Drunk Driver - Stopping DUI is all about safety.  John F. Braun said it well. But, you’ll get no sympathy from me on the DUI issue, Terrin.  It’s the leading cause of death among young people.  71 people are killed each day in alcohol related accidents.  An average of one American life is lost every 20 minutes in alcohol related auto crashes.  You can bet if that many people were being shot to death, the 2d Amendment would have long ago been repealed. If 500 people were killed each week in airplane crashes, the airlines would be out of business. Yet this national tragedy continues unabated.

Speed is one thing. Speeding with inhibited motor skills is quite another. My brother’s a cop.  If he catches you going fast, he’ll pull you over. If you were WAY over the limit, he is going to ticket you. If you weren’t particularly unsafe, he might cut you a break and get you for 19 over. (Where we live 20+ over is an automatic court date with MUCH larger fines and penalties possible.)  If you were 10 - 15 over, but not endangering anyone, he might even let you go with a warning. But realize, you’ve given him a reasonable and articulable suspicion that something else might be going on i.e. DUI.  If he smells alcohol, you’re going to be evaluated. If you fail, you’re going to wear the cuffs behind your back and be booked. Period. No breaks, no warnings,  even if you’re a fellow law enforcement officer. The more you protest, the more you make his day.

Apps like this are great.  They help you slow down and avoid problems.  If you’re concerned about being DUI,  perhaps an app like RI DUI will be helpful.  The life you save, may be your own.


Yazi said:

Right, because there’s nothing braver than allowing oneself to receive a ticket when the option not too is available.

If that’s bravery, call me a coward!


Boxav8r said:

Exactly, Yazi!  Should have gone there, instead.  Guess it’s brave to keep your speed up and run red lights & to let them catch you.


Music Videos said:

“Thanks for the great advice, I myself am starting a business and am
interested in finding more information, can you point me to any additional websites”


rpaege said:

Total horsepucky.  The ONLY thing these new tools do is help drivers avoid the velocity tax.  For years the authorities have been feeding the public this “saving lives” B.S., all the while abusing the process to boost revenues.  Now they’re crying because the public has finally gotten wise to the dishonest baloney.

These tools help drivers slow down more than any tax collector with a badge does.


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