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License-plate spray foils traffic camerasBy Steve Sexton
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Motorists have litigated against them, fired bullets at them and thrown garbage on them — all to get back at the traffic cameras that have caught them in the act of running a red light or speeding.
Now they have a new weapon in their arsenal, and it comes in a can for $29.99. A clear spray called Photoblocker can be applied to license plates to make them hyper-reflective and unreadable when the camera flashes.
The product, marketed by online merchant Phantom Plate (www.phantomplate.com), defies laws that preclude motorists from placing covers over their license plates but have no provisions for a clear spray.
The marketing director for Photoblocker, said he knows of no jurisdictions that ban the spray. Most states have laws against obscuring or distorting license plates, but Photoblocker obscures the license plate only in a photo, Mr. Scott said, making it legal or at least difficult for police to detect with the naked eye.
The District, Maryland and Virginia all have laws permitting the use of red-light cameras, and the Federal Highway Administration says 21 states have red-light or speed-detection cameras in place or are considering installing the devices.
Lt. Patrick Burke of the Metropolitan Police Department said the spray isn't banned by any laws in the District, but he has yet to see a spray that is effective.
The spray might slip through a loophole in state law, said Steve Kholer, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol, who said he had not heard of the product. Citations in California can cost up to $275.
If the spray becomes a problem, Mr. Kholer said, the law will catch up with it.
Critics of traffic cameras say the devices violate privacy and enforce unfairly. Mr. Scott says use of the cameras constitutes entrapment.
"Decent folks — law-abiding citizens — are getting penalized left and right for clearing intersections a little too late, or entering and then backing up," he said, adding that one client reported being ticketed for a red-light violation when he was part of a police-escorted funeral procession.
He said thousands of cans of Photoblocker have been sold.
"The cameras were put in place just to raise revenue and not to make things safer," Mr. Scott said.
The District has collected $21.6 million in fines since August 1999 from its 39 red-light cameras. An additional $29 million has been collected from speed cameras since their installation in August 2001.
Roy Reyer, a former police officer, operates PhotoBuster.com, a Web site that distributes a product similar to Photoblocker called Photo Fog. He said anger with the "Big Brother attitude" of governments has fueled the innovation.
Clear license plate covers preceded the spray. They deflect light to make plates unreadable from the side and from above, but not from directly behind a car. Some jurisdictions that employ the camera-enforcement technology have banned these products.
That hasn't stopped Phantom Plate and other distributors from selling the covers. Clear Covers advertises them online as a "great way to protect your front license plate from dust, dirt and bugs."
In a game of innovation to stay ahead of traffic enforcement, the market has produced radar detectors and radar jammers — now banned in some states — as well as a license plate cover that deflects police radar.
Motorists aren't the only ones with clever tricks. Paradise Valley, Ariz., considered hiding its radar cameras in cactus plants along roadways, the Weekly Standard reported. Outrage from residents forced officials to reconsider.
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