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Not trusting technology

I had a conversation with my brother yesterday. He told me he’d recently received a speeding ticket in the post, which claimed his car had been caught by a speed camera. The location was one he drives through on an almost daily basis, but the time of day would have been when he was at work. After a quick check with security at work he was able to contest the ticket based on the fact that at the time stated on the ticket, his car was not only in the car park at his work, but was captured there on CCTV with a timestamp. Did they want to see the video footage?

The police backed down and sent him a letter withdrawing the charges, stating the ticket had been issued in error. Human error, or the new-fangled automatic number plate recognition? He doesn’t know.

What he’s thinking is this. If the letter went to someone else who couldn’t prove their car was somewhere else at the time, how would it have played out? If it went to someone who drove a lot and couldn’t remember whether or not they’d been around that particular camera at that time, would they just accept that they’d probably been speeding there? Consequence, a decent-sized fine and points on your license. Even if it went to someone who’d just been at home at the time, how could they demonstrate where they were? The obvious stuff – phone records, internet surfing histories etc. – don’t necessarily tie a particular individual to the phone or PC. What if they’d just been reading a book or sitting in the garden?

The police did sent him the pic from the camera. If I got a ticket for something that looked like a regular car I’d contest it on the basis that I actually drive a campervan. In my brother’s case, though, the pic did show a car of the same make and colour as his.

So there are two observations here. First, don’t trust anything like speed camera technology without verifying what it actually shows, and scoff at officials who say (as I’ve sometimes had in the past) ‘the computer says so, it must be true’. But second, even though it’s technically down to the police to prove their case, offering evidence that undermines it isn’t easy if you’re just getting on with life, not keeping diaries, receipts and other stuff that proves who you are and where you were at any given time.

Apparently there are issues with cloned number plates on cars at the moment – people getting plates made up that are for a different vehicle, so avoiding being caught in speed traps etc. The next time it happens, it could be you trying to prove you weren’t driving past a particular speed camera at a particular time.

My view – it’s just as well the number of cameras is declining, with a lot of them being turned off due to budget cuts and concerns about their being ineffective. There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of people out there who’ve paid fines simply because it was easier than trying to prove the technology isn’t 100% reliable and/or it wasn’t them and their car, but someone else driving on false plates.

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