Oklahoma Looks To Clamp Down On Uninsured Driving With Traffic Cams And Perverse Incentives
from the like-an-ATM,-but-with-zero-end-user-interaction dept
Oklahoma is home to a large percentage of uninsured drivers. Nearly a quarter of the state’s drivers get behind the wheel as latent threats to insured drivers’ insurance rates. The state thinks it’s found a solution to this problem — one that will net a private company and the state’s district attorney offices lots of money.
Oklahoma has finalized a deal with a Massachusetts company to use license-plate scanners to catch uninsured drivers, and the firm expects to issue 20,000 citations a month starting as early as next year.
The program, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, involves setting up automated high-speed cameras on highways around the state to detect uninsured vehicles and mailing their owners a citation with a fine of $184, according to the District Attorneys Council.
The problem isn’t so much the solution — although the solution has its own issues, like the mass collection of plate/location data. The problem is the incentives. First off, there’s the company involved: Gatso USA will receive more than 40% of the revenue ($84 for each paid citation) for the first couple of years. Its percentage of the take will decline over the next several years but will never drop below $68/ticket. The company hopes to make more than $1.6 million a month through its work with the state of Oklahoma.
The more problematic incentive is this:
It will be overseen by the District Attorneys Council rather than law enforcement, and the state’s 27 district attorneys’ offices are expected to receive millions of dollars in citation revenue a year, although no estimates were provided.
Why would this go to DAs? Maybe it’s the state is throwing the DAs Council a bone to shut it up.
District attorneys have complained that their revenue sources are diminishing because of state budget cuts and the drop in bounced-check fines.
I guess the DAs Council is already counting on this system to make up for lost income. There’s not much worse than a tool like this in the hands of a government entity that firmly believes it will return it to its former, cash-heavy glory. The state’s DAs appear to be ready to rely heavily on a revenue stream/camera system sold as a foolproof, cost-effective remedy. But the history of automatic plate readers and traffic cams is littered with tech failures. As Scott Greenfield points out, there’s a good chance the DA (and Gatso) will still get paid, even if the tech is error-prone.
Tech fails all the time because we have unwarranted faith in it even though it lets us down constantly. Dirt on a plate, a cover, a bent plate, or just random errors, could turn that miraculous scanner into a weapon for the unwary. And Gatso, not to mention the cops, has a huge incentive to collect as much money as possible, because money is good.
What to do? Hire a lawyer to fight a $184 ticket? Lose a day of work, maybe lose a job because you lost a day of work, fighting city hall? The innocent will be swept into the mix along with the guilty, and it will be your problem to fix their problem at your expense.
And if a driver doesn’t pay Gatso fast enough (the company issues the tickets and collects the fines), the ticket — right or wrong — heads to the DA’s office for prosecution. Given the statements made by the DAs Council, offices will have every incentive to pursue non-payers vigorously and tack on as many additional fees and fines as possible.
A better solution would be to pay for the system upfront, releasing the state from worrying about contract breaches or mission creep pressure should the cameras fail to deliver millions of dollars to Gatso USA. And the fines should go into a general fund, rather than directly to an office with the power to prosecute. Once you strip out the perverted incentives, it’s a cost-effective deterrent for uninsured drivers, give or take the system’s margin of error.