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Print and Web Reviews

Cleveland, OH

Spray may fool city's candid camera
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Regina Brett, Plain Dealer Columnist

I was zipping along Chester Avenue on my way to work when suddenly . . .


What was that? Lightning? A giant flash bulb? A heavenly visitor?

Oh, no. One of those new traffic cameras just took a picture.

But the traffic light was yellow and I was going the speed limit. Honest. Actually, I was going under the speed limit. That's how paranoid those cameras have made me.

I swear it was the guy behind me in the snazzy red sports car. He was three car lengths behind me and flew through the light after it turned red.

When I glanced over, he looked so calm and innocent. What if he triggered the camera but I end up getting the ticket?

I hate these new traffic cameras. When Cleveland first installed them to catch people running red lights, a friend sent me an e-mail list of every intersection. I planned to memorize it, but it was too long.

Then I decided to enlarge it and tape it to the dashboard.

Then I came to my senses and figured I could just stop at every red light like you're supposed to.

Only it wasn't so simple. If you're near the light as it turns yellow, do you hit the gas and risk a speeding ticket or slam on the brakes and risk getting rear-ended?

A friend offered another solution: The Phantom Plate. For $29.99 you can make your license plate vanish in a flash.

PhotoBlocker looks like a normal aerosol can. The clear high-gloss spray coats the plate. When the cop-in-a-box flashes to take a picture, the plate reflects the light so the plate shows white in the photo.

The spray gives new meaning to the words "photo finish."

PhantomPlate, Inc. in D.C., has sold more than 2,500 cans to folks in the Cleveland area.

Get this a few local cops have bought it.

Joseph Scott, the marketing director for the company, said police buy PhotoBlocker because the cameras could cost them their jobs if they get too many off-duty tickets.

If a cop pulls over a cop, he usually lets him go, but the camera doesn't care who you are.

"You could be the mayor. You could be the city council member who voted them in," Scott said of the cameras. "The camera can't tell the reckless driver from a grandma who never got a ticket."

Police in Denver gave the spray a boost when they contacted the company to test the product and found out that it works. The media ran with the story.

Some states have banned the spray. License-plate coverings are illegal in Maryland, California, Illinois, Virginia and New York.

Scott corrected me.

"Illegal to use," he said, "not illegal to buy, not illegal to sell."

Each can coats four plates with the reflective finish. Simply remove the plate, clean it, spray it with three to four coats. It forms a clear shell over the plate for life.

"If they can't read the license plate, they can't give you a ticket," he said.

Scott says he's not encouraging anyone to break the law. A license plate has to be visible, not photogenic, he said.

Besides, if it saves you one ticket, it pays for itself, he said.

"Everybody becomes a believer once they get a ticket," he said.

I haven't decided whether to log onto and buy a can.

But if I open the mail and find a ticket, I will.

After all, it was that snazzy red sports car speeding. Not me.


To reach this Plain Dealer columnist:, 216-999-6328

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