- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 6, 2002

HONOLULU (AP) Some Hawaii drivers mockingly call them the "Talivans," and radio disc jockeys take wicked delight in announcing the location of the vehicles.
The Hawaii Transportation Department has begun using van-mounted cameras to catch speeders in the act a practice some motorists consider so underhanded they are trying to subvert the system.
The cameras, introduced on Oahu two months ago and operated by a private company, are coupled with radar and automatically photograph a speeder's license plate. A ticket is then mailed to the car's owner.
The devices are supposed to catch violators the way red-light cameras have been doing for years, without the danger of a police chase. Proponents say that the system will save lives, and that it has already proved itself by slowing down traffic.
Drivers and civil liberties lawyers complain that the system unfairly assumes that the owner of the car was the person behind the wheel. They also say that the cameras are an invasion of privacy, and that the state is more interested in speeding-ticket revenue than safety.
"It's pretty crazy. Unless they can really identify you and everything, I think it's a pretty worthless situation," said 44-year-old John McGee, who beat his ticket on a technicality.
Even lawmakers who supported the project are having second thoughts. The state Senate this week is expected to vote to repeal the program, and House lawmakers on Friday voted to require clearer photographic evidence of who was driving.
Republican state Rep. Charles Djou called the program "an unreasonable intrusion by government into individual lives."
"Many of my constituents have complained to me that this photo enforcement system is sort of a 'gotcha' law enforcement," he said. "It is a high-tech bounty hunter system that captures not only the lawbreakers but also law-abiding citizens."
Many states and the District of Columbia use cameras to catch people running red lights. Only about a dozen communities in Hawaii, Arizona, California, Colorado and Oregon and the District are using the cameras to catch speeders, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
City officials in Denver last week suspended their program and dismissed all tickets after a judge ruled that the system illegally gave police powers to a private contractor. The judge also ruled that the program violated state law by appearing to compensate the contractor based on the volume of tickets issued.
Hawaii, which has only three short freeways, is the first state to pass a law allowing photo-enforced radar along state roads.
But about 200 tickets have been thrown out so far because of technical glitches and legal loopholes.
Many were dismissed because the tickets did not specifically state that the person issuing the ticket the camera operator was certified to run the radar equipment. That problem was later fixed. Last week, a judge threw out dozens more tickets, ruling that drivers going less than 10 mph over the speed limit should not be ticketed because doing so would conflict with Honolulu Police Department practice.
Some radio stations and newspaper Web sites have been gleefully broadcasting the location of vans. State officials, stung by accusations that they were not interested in safety, eventually responded by issuing a list of where the four vans might be at any given time.
KSSK morning disc jockeys Michael W. Perry and Larry Price on Thursday enlisted their audience and got the locations phoned in within a few minutes. "Four for four," announced Mr. Price, reviewing the location of each van for motorists.
Transportation Director Brian Minaai described the wrangling over the project as "all part of the learning experience."
"I think we all can admit that the pace of all the cars on the freeways are a lot slower, if not more in line with the speed limit," he said.
In Canada, deaths dropped 20 percent on roads where speed cameras were used, and in Britain, 28 percent fewer crashes involved injury, according to Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute. "The whole idea is to deter the offense," he said, "and that's what speed cameras do."
Brent White, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, said many people are worried about where this might lead.
"If the government can put up these cameras to catch people going a couple miles per hour over the speed limit, what's to keep them from putting up similar cameras to catch people doing other things, like jaywalking?" he said.


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