Have you ever gotten a ticket from a red light camera? If so, you know that it’s frustrating. The idea of some camera watching a spot, waiting for you to just barely miss the yellow light is aggravating for motorists. But if you think that’s frustrating, just wait until you see the plans that law enforcement have for uninsured drivers.
Back in September, I wrote a story on how the Supreme Court of California issued a ruling against the Los Angeles Police Department regarding the use of license plate scanners that store all plate data that is taken in by the readers. The ruling cited privacy concerns, and also the secrecy of the program.
Despite that ruling, police in the state of Oklahoma are now planning to use license plate readers to track down uninsured motorists and issue tickets accordingly. According to KFOR, the readers would take in plate data from any license plate that comes within its scanning radius, and check the data against the insurance database.
Studies estimate that nearly one in four drivers in Oklahoma are uninsured, which is a criminal act. The state is now attempting to use the plate reader technology to crack down.
“It affects everybody one way or another,” Tyler Loughlin, chief of operations at the Oklahoma Insurance Department, told News 4 back in 2016. “If you get in a wreck, how are you going to get compensated for the medical expenses you incur?”
Indeed, that’s a valid concern. (And even if vehicle insurance was not legally mandated, it would still be a good idea to have a policy.)
Last year, lawmakers approved a measure that would allow law enforcement agencies to use automated license plate readers to crack down on uninsured drivers. The license plate readers would compare their tags with a list provided by the Oklahoma Insurance Department.
“We all know somebody or has been somebody who has been in an accident with someone who doesn’t have insurance,” Senator Corey Brooks said. “It causes a lot of issues, plus it raises everybody’s insurance rates around the country.”
The plate readers, made by Gatso USA, will take in the information and determine if the vehicle is insured. If it is not, the owner of the vehicle will be sent a $184 fine. If one pays the fine, prosecution will not be pursued. However, not paying the fine will result in the case being forwarded to the district attorney.
Executives for Gatso USA estimate that the readers could issue up to 20,000 citations a month, starting next year.
The company will receive $80 of each fine for the first two years, but that will then drop to $74, according to a contract approved by the state. The company will receive $68 of every fine after five years of use.
The program will be overseen by the District Attorneys Council rather than police departments, and the district attorneys’ offices are expected to receive millions in revenue from the citations.
There are some pretty big concerns here, most notably among them privacy rights. Just as the California Supreme Court noted in the aforementioned case, the idea that the police can constantly be taking in this information on innocent people is disconcerting.
I see a pretty big possible Fourth Amendment issue at hand, namely the fact that there is no probable cause to conduct these searches (yes, it is a search; they are looking for a crime). If a car passes through the plate reader’s sights, that information will be searched regardless of whether or not there is reason to search that information.
Where is the due process of law? Especially given that this is a criminal issue (driving uninsured is a criminal offense), the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure apply (yes, on the roads while traveling in a vehicle, one does not forfeit their rights against unreasonable searches).
I don’t want my information just being searched in such a way, without respect to my rights against such searches and in violation of due process of law. The police need to have a reason to suspect that a vehicle is uninsured, they cannot just carry out en masse searches in such a fashion.
I anticipate that there will be a lawsuit against this program not long after it is enacted.