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.

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Comments on “Oklahoma Looks To Clamp Down On Uninsured Driving With Traffic Cams And Perverse Incentives”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I wonder how this system will handle out-of-state registrations, in particular the varying grace periods that insurance companies allow tardy owners to renew their insurance without being hit with a penalty.

We can be sure the automated enforcement actions won’t end when the bill is mailed to the owner of an allegedly uninsured vehicle.

What happens when the ticket is not paid? ALPRs are already widely used to hunt down suspected ticket scofflaws, arrest the drivers and/or and impound their vehicles. In the “good old days” the DMV would simply tack on unpaid tickets whenever the car registration was renewed, but now there’s a big incentive to impound the car, charge outrageous storage fees, and then commandeer ownership of the car. It’s a very lucrative racket.

aerinai says:

Red Light Loopholes apply?

At least in my state, the mail you get for a red light or speeding ticket camera are just idle threats. You have to be served in person for these before you are obligated to pay the fine (which they tack on a $30 fee for the serving process). There is also a 90-day window in which they can serve these tickets. After that, they are null and void.

Will the same rules apply to these? I don’t see how you could reasonably expect ‘standard mail’ to be a good stand-in for proof-of-receipt.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: So susceptible to manipulation

This plan doesn’t make any sense either. If it’s the DA’s license plate on the car, and the DA has car insurance, it will look his plate up, determine he’s not driving uninsured and not send a ticket to anyone. The only thing this or the guy you replied to’s plan would do is open up the driver to driving with fake plates charges should a real cop see the fake plate.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: So susceptible to manipulation

Consider the larger implications of their plates showing up in “red zones”. These cameras aren’t just going to be insurance ticket makers, it’ll build a list of where they’ve been.
DA’s might have issues explaining why they were at strip clubs in the middle of the day or other unsavory places.

tweetiepooh (profile) says:

On this side of the pond

Driving without insurance will usually lead to your car being seized and maybe crushed. There is no grace period, you are insured or you are not. It is possible there is an error somewhere so you may get 7 days to produce the documents but you may still not be able to carry on driving.

And if your number plate isn’t readable (by the machine) that could also lead to a fine.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: There's a market opportunity here

This doesn’t make any sense. If some car insurance company could meet the minimum requirements for the law as far as what and for how much is covered, they’re already offering such a plan for about as cheap as they can. They still have to actually cover their costs on what they have to pay out when people make claims. The only way to bring down their own costs would be to cover less things or lower the payout maximum, but if it doesn’t meet legal requirements, then having that insurance means legally, you’re not insured and are still subject to fine.

Unless you’re suggesting that some really shady company who’s begging for a class action suit against them would sell insurance for that price that isn’t meeting legal requirements for the state and misleading customers that it does.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: There's a market opportunity here

It makes every bit as much sense as taxing the poor in this fashion. They already cannot afford the vehicle insurance. Fine them for driving uninsured, AND take away their means of getting to jobs (thus ensuring they lose said jobs) and you end up with people unable to pay the fines.

a) Jail them for failing to pay fines, that’ll raise state revenues for sure!

or b)put them on a supervised release program that they have to pay for, and they continue to accumulate they cannot discharge in bankruptcy. Debt peonage lives!


Re: Re: Re: There's a market opportunity here

This is kind of funny really. State mandated car insurance is one of the common arguments for the personal mandate in the ACA. Yet now it’s suddenly some sort of travesty now that it fits into the narrative du jour that way.

These state mandates exist because cars are dangerous machines that can cause a lot of harm to others. They aren’t a “tax”. They are an attempt to enforce personal responsibility.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 There's a market opportunity here

It is not funny at all. Automobile accidents used to be the number one killer in this country, what is funny about that?

Cars are dangerous and they cause lots of damage when not driven properly. Long time ago drivers ed was available for a reasonable price at the local public high school for students of the proper age, now one needs to pay hundreds of dollars for drivers ed – or you can wait till you are 18 and drive with no training, which is what I think a lot of people do – judging by their driving.

This has little to do with trumpcare other than exposing the greed in politics

Not sure how you force your so called personal responsibility, which is a misnomer at best and more likely a dog whistle.

Jed says:

abolish License-Plates

> ” — although the solution has its own issues, like the mass collection of plate/location data. The problem is the incentives. “

…No, the solution is easy — abolish vehicle License-Plates.

The primary purpose of License-Plates has always been government tracking of vehicles, but Plates are totally unnecessary otherwise.

Plates merely show that a vehicle is properly registered for use on government roads, but that purpose is also met by the vehicle-registration form (that all vehicles must carry) and the vehicle-identification-number (VIN) (readily visible to anyone thru the windshield). A non-unique decal or plate would also easily fulfill the registration requirement — without creating “surveillance” problems.

Americans are so used to being serfs… they can’t even imagine living/driving with fewer government shackles.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: abolish License-Plates

“Americans are so used to being serfs… they can’t even imagine living/driving with fewer government shackles.”

It’s called Stockholm syndrome. If government is not in control they think they have no protections. But they still have the nerve to bitch about their pathetic lives after giving up their liberties for theatrical safety.

People just want to FEEL safe, it does not matter if they are safe or not in actuality.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

And there is no way someone will sell the information of where plates were spotted to anyone willing to pay.
I mean a whole network of cameras you could track citizens around the whole area & build profiles of who goes where.
Query the database to track someone you think is a drug dealer or banging your ex-wife.

Of course there is no incentive to make sure the insurance payment records are updated quickly in the system, because the fine is small enough most people will just pay.

This sounds like a wonderful program, and I hope the citizens get their pitchforks polished before heading out.

idearat (profile) says:

Re: compliance

I think this is referred to in the original article. Part of the “problem” is less revenue from bounced-check fines. So less people writing bad checks meant less money for the DA. In anything besides a gov’t job this would mean less work for the DAs which would reduce their costs. If reduced fines did not mean reduced workload then those check fines were a cash cow and not reasonable fees that represented the work involved. So what happens when your cash cow is killed? You get another one.

Ed Hurst (user link) says:

Not as bad as it looks on the surface

I’m not defending this, just offering a bigger picture. I’m an Okie by birth and have worked in law enforcement and technology fields, and taught social sciences in this state, but it’s still just my opinion.

I’m glad someone is shining the light on this from outside the state. Given how Oklahoma government works, this is probably not as bad as it seems. We still have a pretty strong element of public accountability on issues of this nature, and the extra attention helps. The DAs won’t get away with much, and our state’s budget really is hurting (like many other states). I think a much bigger worry is the deal with Gatso itself, because it smells like some kind of backroom favoritism. This is a typical folly of OK government. On the other hand, we frankly lack the expertise in-house to do it better, and I’m not sure Gatso should be ranked good or bad among likely competitors.

I won’t be surprised if some enterprising soul tries to come up with a website that tracks where these cameras are placed, and maybe even codes a smartphone app for it. You can bet the resistance to this program will be very loud.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Hire a lawyer to fight a $184 ticket? . . . . . . . . and it will be your problem to fix their problem at your expense.”

Yet again I am drawn to the proposal that the government pays for your (reasonable) court costs if they loose. That will give them an incentive to do a reality check every time a ticket is disputed

idearat (profile) says:

Re: Incorrect ticket: collect $184

It could be really simple, though I don’t like the idea of putting more pigs at the trough. If you get a ticket in error, sending in the proof should get you $184, the same “fee” someone without insurance would have paid. But going through the process takes time and knowledge, even though we’d now be talking about a difference of $368 (from minus $184 to plus $184). This then creates an opportunity for a company that only exists to handle these cases for you. If you get the incorrect notice you snap a photo of it and your insurance card and they’ll do the process in the naturally over-complicated method the OK DAs require. They get $100 of the mistake fee, you get the rest. If that happened, anyone would be happy to get an improper notice in the mail as it meant “free” money.

Anonymous Coward says:

Have any of the “leaders” in the great state of Oklahoma ever asked why there are so many driving without insurance?

My guess is they do not care.

In addition, I imagine many of them drive because they have to get to their minimum wage jobs on time or get fired (notice the plural) and public transportation does not do it. Note, those who make minimum wage can barely put food on the table much less afford outrageous insurance rates.

So, their answer is wholly inadequate, does not address the underlying problem while putting “offenders” in debtors prison – which is supposed to be illegal or something.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Well there's your/everyone's problem...

District attorneys have complained that their revenue sources are diminishing because of state budget cuts and the drop in bounced-check fines.

So basically they’re whining that they don’t have as much money in part because people are obeying the law better. Law enforcement should never be profit-focused, as when you link how much money a department gets with how many ‘criminals’ they catch the incentives are all but guaranteed to shift from preventing crimes to profiting from them, with the definition of ‘crime’ becoming wider and wider over time.

tom (profile) says:

Okie here. An article in the local paper said the DA’s Council is playing a word game by claiming the Letter and accompanying $184 bill was NOT a citation, getting around the problem of a private company that isn’t a deputized law enforcement agency issuing a legal summons. The Council further muddies the waters by claiming they are merely comparing your license plate to a list of properly insured plates and sending you a advisory letter if your plate isn’t on the list. The question is raised about what happens if someone doesn’t pay the “not a fine” bill of $184 issued by a company the recipient has no business relationship with.

Might be time to stock up on popcorn.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Can’t have it both ways, though I imagine they’ll certainly try.

If it’s not a legal citation and is instead just an ‘advisory letter’ then it would seem people can just ignore it, and if it is then sounds like the law prevents a private company from sending them out.

Looks like they were so eager for an easy source of money that they decided to play fast and loose with what the law actually says, which is totally the kind of mindset that you want to see in district attorneys.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 1 month..

Nope, Drivers will get smart any start buying plastic license plate covers that prevent the camera from getting their license plate number.

I use those on my car whenever I drive into Mexico, becauase of the number plate readers that US Customs and Border Protection have at the border to record the license numbers of vehicles exiting the United States. As long as I am not doing anything illegal, I feel that CBP has no damn business recording my license number as I cross the border on I-5 going into Mexico.

This way, when they review the tapes, they get nothing. My plate is not recorded and stored in CBP’s computers, and they are never the wiser.

Looks like the companies that sell these covers are about to see a big boom in business from Oklahoma.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: 1 month..

Another thing about this will be Mexican Americans who regularly travel and and from Mexico by car.

Those who are in the know, and that know Mexican cops carry a screwdriver and remove the license plates of illegally parked cars in Mexico, never keep their license plates in the frame. They keep them taped up in their windows where the the cops in Mexico cannot get to them.

So, all the Mexican AMericans who keep their plates in their windows instead of in the frame will be invisible to the cameras.

Anonymous Coward says:

Rememeber, this is the state that invented the ERAD device to allow cops to suck all the money from your bank account using your ATM card.

At least one bank is fighting back. Wells Fargo now allows you to activate and de-activate your ATM whenever you want, using their website.

Any Wells Fargo customer can “turn off” their ATM card from their computer or smartphone, and then turn it on again later. This is that when the cop goes to use his ERAD machine, the card will come back as invalid.

ECA (profile) says:


How many of you know the concept that:
ONLY when you are doing something illegal, SHOULD you be stopped?

MOST of the persons I know, that do NOT carry Insurance, TEND to drive VERY WELL.. They do not want to be Caught.

Police have access to your Lic plate number Already
They have access to the Insurance company AND can ask if you have insurance.
YOU REGISTERED your address with the police, ALREADY…

Why do you need another machine to TELL THEM YOU DONT HAVE INSURANCE?? AND if the state, GAVE YOU the insurance(insted of a 3rd party) they would know the EXACT DAY you lost your insurance, but paying 1 years ins, along with registration..Would be a burden to many.

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