Speed Camera Pimping Game

Jacqui Cheng reports on a bizarre use of speeding cameras:

Whenever a new, relatively unpopular technology hits the streets, you can always count on teenagers to try and exploit it for their own gain. Such is the case with speed cameras, as high school students in Maryland have begun playing the “Speed Camera Pimping Game,” wherein they attempt to punk the not-so-accurate cameras by creating faux license plates that can be traced back to peers and teachers they have it out for. The trend has parents and law officials worried, and it raises even more questions about the cameras’ usefulness.

Students at Montgomery High School in Maryland have discovered that they can duplicate the license plates of their archenemies by printing a Maryland plate template on a sheet of glossy photo paper and digging up a handy license plate character font, according to a parent speaking to The Sentinel (via /.). This may sound like a janky craft project at first, but these cameras are not sensitive enough to pick up the differences between these paper license plates and the real things. The students then tape the faux plate over their own and purposefully speed in order to be caught by the speed camera, causing the real owner of the license plate to receive a $40 citation in the mail.

“This game is very disturbing,” the parent told the newspaper. “Especially since unsuspecting parents will also be victimized through receipt of unwarranted photo speed tickets. I hope the public at large will complain loudly enough that local Montgomery County government officials will change their policy of using these cameras for monetary gain. The practice of sending speeding tickets to faceless recipients without any type of verification is unwarranted and an exploitation of our rights.”

One presumes getting caught driving with a fake license plate carries significant penalties; but the chances of getting caught are negligible.

Given how hard it is to organize protests against theoretical infringements on rights and how profitable these cameras are, I wouldn’t hold my breath on waiting for their use to be curtailed.  As to the victims of this “game,” one presumes “This isn’t the car to which these plates are assigned” would be an effective defense.

FILED UNDER: Science & Technology, Uncategorized, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. raoul says:

    One can sign a sworn statement in the back of the ticket stating that one was not driving the vehicle at the time of the infraction and the fine is waived.

  2. rodney dill says:

    I’ve had 2 speeding tickets over the last 30 years, and when this has happened I’ve assessed my driving habits and slowed down. My only real fear in camera tickets is that you don’t find out about the ticket until later, and could end up with several tickets without the warning/lesson that an actual stop by an officer provides. Probably not a big concern if they become widespread as you’d alway assume they were there, but in the interrim it poses an issue with me.

  3. Bithead says:

    Glenn has made comments on the topic of Speed cameras as deployed in the UK, and recently, though I don’t have the link to hand, suggested that there’s a lot of people ripping the tings off lamp-posts, shooting them with slingshots, etc.

    As I suggested at my place the other day, I wonder what this says about how the various governments have been operating with these things; Guilty until proven innocent.

  4. Steve Plunk says:

    Bit’s comment is the core of the public’s disgust with speed cameras and red light cameras, guilty until proven innocent. While the entire concept of innocent until proven guilty is incorrect Americans are raised thinking it is how our system works. These photo enforcement tools run roughshod over that presumption. When the average citizen is the one being treated poorly by the authorities it undermines the trust we have in our government. The added insult of having private companies making money from this adds to our irritation. Throw in other facts like lengthening yellows to improve safety (studied and proven better than red light cameras), random errors that allow some to escape fines, and the hassles of fighting the bureaucracy to establish innocence and you can see why the public hates them so much.

  5. Floyd says:

    This is FUNNY!! Photo traffic enforcement is silly and adds little to traffic safety.

    It would seem that they would notice that [in most cases] the plate doesn’t match the vehicle, before issuing the ticket. At least this should cause some live human review??, or maybe they will need to upgrade recognition technology to include make model and color?
    Of course transponders & GPS systems will soon eliminate the need for the camera ticket and turn every car into a snitch, ratting on it’s owner at every turn!

    BTW: The assumption of guilt is law in Illinois traffic court, as is implied consent!

  6. Steve Verdon says:

    Start punking judges, DAs, mayors, and city councilmen, and police officers and I bet those cameras will disappear alot faster.

  7. Steve Verdon says:

    As to the victims of this “game,” one presumes “This isn’t the car to which these plates are assigned” would be an effective defense.

    James, James, James….logic? Do you know who you are talking about? You should Radley Balko’s story about the guy who noticed he wasn’t charged sales tax on a hardware store purchase. So he wrote out a check payable to the State of Florida (which ever department) and sent it in with a letter explaining things. The State of Florida demanded he pay $50 in fines for failing to pay sales taxes as a business. The guy sends another letter explaining he is a not a business, but was correcting for an oversight as a customer. A month later he gets another threatening letter this time demanding $650 dollars or face collections and criminal charges.


    Logic and government, the two are all to frequently mutually exclusive.

  8. Bithead says:

    I’ve been active in political discussions on line for the last twenty years. When I started, we were doing it at 300 baud.

    In all that time, I have been saying that 90% of the traffic laws, and specifically speed laws, have very little to do with public safety and everything to do with making money for the local governments. And in all that time, I’ve seen very little to counter that observation.

    I will suggest to you that a cup sitting in the middle of the freeway running radar is a bigger hazard to life than would be the drivers left to their natural and logical impulses.

    Most traffic enforcement is of a kindwith that kind of safeguarding we’ve seen out of the T. S. A., where the person is supposedly safeguarding our travelers from Islamic radicals with bombs, are instead spending most of their time removing oversized bottles of hairspray and toothpaste and the deodorant from the suitcases of 75 year old Irish grandmothers. It does very little to stop the real problem, but it does have the distinct quality of the government yet again being a major pain in the ass for people trying to get from point A to point B..

    And of course it also serves as a rather large monetary collection point .

    This now with the cameras were talking about, you don’t even need a police officer there to make money. The cameras are far cheaper. they work 24 hours a day without a break. So, as with manufacturing going to the robots, the government makes even more money.

    Forget about guilty or not guilty , if that camera goes off there can’t be any such thing as not guilty, after all. Forget about small things like the constitution. Forget the implications of big brother. forget about the fact that the justification for the law the camera supposedly is enforcing , particularly speed cameras, is questionable.

    I dare to propose to you that government as a whole loses its legitimacy to the direct degree that its laws are unreasonable. That process is accelerated, when its enforcement is unreasonable. Both those qualities, are present in this situation. The outcome, in the end, is quite predictable.

  9. Bithead says:

    Steve; I will note your comments. I’m not totally comfortable with Balko, frankly. I suggest to you that he has his own motivations which are more personal than they are constitutional. The degree of focus he exhibits on this topic lends credence to that idea.

    More, I am less than comfortable with the comparison between the situations that he pops up on the web seemingly on a weekly basis and the topic under discussion here. That’s because as screwed up as police forces get, at least there’s still a human being that you can point at , which is certainly not the case with the automated systems under discussion here.