January 31, 2007
Metro's HOV crackdown
I see that Metro is cracking down on HOV violators.
Metro police officer Scott Ashmore parked his motorcycle at the top of the T-shaped ramp of the Northwest Freeway HOV lane at Dacoma and waited. But not for long.
A woman in a silver Hyundai topped the ramp and slowed down to make the sharp turn as Ashmore -- one of 10 Metropolitan Transit Authority motorcycle officers who enforce occupancy rules on the lanes -- waved her over to the shoulder.
The driver, in a brief conversation through the window, explained that she was pregnant.
"But the state of Texas doesn't count you as an individual until you're born," Ashmore said. He issued her a citation.
Minutes later it was a black SUV. The driver "said she had been late to work twice already and she didn't want it to happen again," Ashmore said.
Metro police took the news media along this morning to show how they enforce the lane regulations, and some of the problems they encounter.
A rough count showed about two out of three vehicles that passed Ashmore appeared to have no more than one occupant. The Northwest HOV requires three or more riders from 6:45 a.m. to 8 a.m., and two or more at other times. Fines average $125 and can be as steep as $200, Metro says.
Metro gets none of this revenue, which goes to the city or county, depending on location. "Our goal is to get compliance," said Metro Police Chief Tom Lambert.
Just curious here: At what point does this sort of thing become a "revenue grab"? Actual cops are involved, so it would seem to pass the Michael Kubosh test
. Can Metro cops do this forever without suffering the slings and arrows of snarky bloggers? Or is there some magic threshhold at which it becomes a bad thing? Help me out here.
Police allow some to slip past because they're busy issuing someone else a ticket. And officers don't want to create a jam at the HOV exit, since that can cause accidents as motorists crest the rise and encounter the stopped traffic.
Some single-occupant vehicles are driven by on-duty law officers and others who can ride the lanes alone, and others have toddlers in car seats in the back, hard to spot unless the window is opened.
"Without tinted glass and kids my job would be easier," Ashmore said.
So even with a cop staking out the HOV lane, a single-occupancy car can escape punishment by sheer luck and the need to avoid bottlenecks. The cop also has to make guesses about which cars to pull over. If only there were some kind of technology that would optimize the task of identifying lawbreakers while avoiding issues of snarling traffic and risking collisions...
OK, I'm not really advocating cameras here. I'd have the same concerns about data privacy that I have with red light cameras - even more so, since by definition you'd need images that could fully capture each vehicle's interior. I'm simply noting that for all their flaws, cameras do ensure that the law is applied universally rather than by fate, and that there is a side benefit of enhanced officer safety. I don't think either of those points really gets discussed when red light cameras are the subject. Houstonist has more.
Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 31, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
Speaking of cameras, we have software to see through tinted windows which could count kids...
It's ironic that you mention cameras. The current legislature has no less than 5 bills introduced to reign in cities in their use. I just finished a blog entry on my site about them.
On the subject of cameras, there is a fundemental difference in the way that cameras are used in inforcing speed, toll jumpers or red light stops and occupancy rules on the HOV lanes. In the former cases there is a measurable action - speed threshold exceeded, no toll tag registered, vehicle entering the intersection after the red light - which serves as a trigger to activate the camera and record the violation.
In the case of HOV lane occupancy enforcement, there practical issues like tinted windows, camera angles to allow you to see not only the driver but inside the back seat cars from compacts to SUVs, and even if you do detect a car seat how can you with a camera determine if it is occupied? But even more troublesome to me is that in order to use cameras for this purpose, there is no measurable violation to triger activation of the camera. They would have to be "always on" recording every vehicle for review. In terms of civil rights, that's a big Rubicon sized river to me.
We could eliminate these concerns about cameras and privacy rights of HOV drivers by doing away with the HOV lanes altogether. HOV lanes have always seemed to me to be an expensive and inefficient frill that benefits very few drivers.
Recent developments in video technology permit cameras to see people through tinted glass. Two heat sources, two people. The event to record rather than not-record is "did a vehicle pass this point with less than the required number of body-shaped heat sources in the passenger compartment?"
Technology wise, it's pretty simple, with the fusion and picture quality/stabilization reliability pieces being the cool part of the tech.
Always on? I doubt that the red light cameras actually go off. That's expensive and slow. They just don't save an image unless they're triggered. Same with this.
Not convinced it smart, but it's far from difficult.
I don't doubt that there is technology out there that could assist in HOV enforcement, I'm just unconvinced that we should do it for a variety of reasons.
"Advanced" technology is almost always subject to relatively simple methods of undermining once you understand the basic principles. Defeating heat source detection would be easy. Get an electric blanket, roll it up and plug it in to your cigarette lighter. Or easier yet, just take your dog with you.
I'm now beyond the areas I can comment on and keep my job. :)
When I was living in Seattle I remember some woman got busted for an HOV violation because the cops happened to notice that 2 of the passengers in her car were actually mannequins sitting in the passenger seats. Apparently she had been using e HOV lanes on her daily commute for the past month that way. People were definitely not ammused.
I'm now beyond the areas I can comment on and keep my job. :)
I'm a former AF intell officer. I know the feeling. :-)