Motorists have creative ways to beat red light cameras

7 On Your Side took a look at how some motorists are trying to beat those controversial red light cameras around the Bay Area.
April 25, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
Red light cameras are coming under increased scrutiny about their effectiveness and reliability. Three Bay Area cities have already abandoned these controversial programs and South San Francisco will end theirs in August. But now more people are coming up with unusual ways to beat the cameras.

San Rafael, Belmont and Hayward all recently cancelled their red light camera programs. On top of that, some motorists are turning to creative ways to both avoid and beat the cameras.

Sherry Gendelman recalls the moment she drove her vehicle through the intersection on Howard and 9th in San Francisco on October 23. She says her car had just entered the intersection when she saw the flash of one of the red light cameras and knew she would get a ticket.

"It doesn't mean that the technology was reliable or that I actually had crossed the limit line prior to the light turning yellow. It doesn't mean that I was driving the vehicle at that time," said San Francisco resident Sherry Gendelman.

Gendelman happens to be a defense attorney who takes quite a lot of traffic cases. Andrew Kochevar knows a lot about red light cameras too. He's the photo enforcement manager at the South San Francisco Police Department.

"I'm able to see the wheels turning. I'm able to see the brake lights and the photos are very high quality too. I can see distinguishable traits on each face," said Kochevar.

There is video of various red light cameras with red light violators getting into accidents across the country. It's from American Traffic Solutions -- a major red light camera provider in the United States. The video shows the cameras can capture quite a lot.

This month, the South San Francisco City Council went against the recommendation of the police department. It voted to discontinue use of red light cameras when the contract expires in August.

"They felt that the accident rates had not been impacted by the installation of the camera program," said SSF Chief of Police Michael Massoni.

Not all evidence from red light cameras is clear. 7 On Your Side took a look at the photos captured by the red light camera in Gendelman's case.

"You could not identify the driver. It was either a man or a woman. It was incredibly blurry," said Gendelman.

A judge dismissed the case and Gendelman won't have to pay her $500 fine. Her case was fairly straight forward, but some motorists will go to extreme measures to beat a red light ticket.

"I have a guy that comes through as a mime. And put his hands off the wheel and paints his face as a mime," said Kochevar.

Others have resorted to other trickery. We found an ad in Popular Science Magazine. The Photo Mask Cover promises to obscure at least part of your plate from red light cameras. They are illegal in California. Still we were curious to see if these really worked.

7 On Your Side took a look at the photo plate cover installed on a vehicle. If you're looking at the license plate directly on, you can read the numbers just fine. However, if the camera is to the side of the vehicle the numbers are blurred. Therefore, it would be tough to get a ticket with a red light camera with the photo plate cover on.

So we decided to put the photo plate to the test. We set up a camera atop one of our live trucks using specifications provided to us by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. I got into a vehicle and drove by the camera to see what it could capture. The camera could make out everything in our license plate, except the last digit.

The folks at Photo Mask Cover said they considered our test a success. They say at least one letter will always be covered and police agencies are not supposed to guess. As we said, it's illegal to use photo plate covers in the state of California. Violators could get a fix it ticket and have to pay an administrative fine of about $25. Retailers could be fined up to $250 for each one they sell.

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