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  1. #1
    Power User
    Join Date
    Feb 2007

    Default Case pits police radar against GPS in teen's car

    Shaun Malone was livid when his parents installed a global positioning device in his sports car to monitor his whereabouts and how fast he drives.

    But now the Windsor High School junior hopes to beat a potentially expensive speeding ticket using data from the device.

    The case represents the first time anyone has contested a speeding ticket in Sonoma County courts using a global positioning system, which pinpoints speed and location using lightning-fast calculations and satellites.

    GPS is gaining widespread use in vehicles to help motorists with driving directions, for emergency roadside assistance, or in Malone's case, so that his parents can encourage better driving habits.

    Such data, which can be downloaded onto computers and saved, increasingly is being used as evidence in court, although challenges to a speeding ticket using GPS remain rare.

    The problem is that nobody seems to know what to make of the information gathered by such rapidly developing technology, which, unlike more time-tested tools such as radar, has yet to come under any standard of use in civil and criminal cases.

    "There's no legislation now that deals with the use of GPS," said Commissioner Stephany Joy, who for five years oversaw Sonoma County's traffic court.

    All GPS systems installed in vehicles calculate speed and location, but the tracking device in Malone's 2000 Toyota Celica GTS downloads the information to his parent's computer.

    The family says, based on the data, that Malone was going the posted speed limit of 45 mph on Lakeville Highway the morning of July 4 at virtually the same time and location where a Petaluma motorcycle officer used radar to cite the teen for going 62 mph.

    Both Malone and his stepfather, Roger Rude, a retired Sonoma County sheriff's lieutenant, filed affidavits with the court, saying the officer erred and that the GPS exonerates the teen.

    It's an unusual position for Rude, whose career was spent defending the law.

    "It's all about the truth," he said. "I'm a firm believer in the justice system and not just individual officers, because human beings are fallible."

    He and Karen Kahn, Malone's mother, stress that the goal of the GPS tracker is not to help the teen beat a ticket but to make him a safer driver.

    The system sends out a data signal every 30 seconds that reports the car's speed, location and direction. It's designed so that if the teen driver ever hits 70 mph, his parents receive an e-mail alert.

    That happened once this summer and resulted in Malone losing his driving privileges for two weeks.

    Rude said he promised his stepson he would help him contest a speeding ticket if the GPS pointed out any discrepancies. He said he hopes publicity of the case will encourage other parents to invest in the technology, which he said can save lives.

    Malone declined to be interviewed, but in an earlier story said he loathed the GPS system, which he considers an unnecessary invasion of his privacy.

    A B-average student, Malone works part time to pay for gas, insurance and other car-related expenses. Should he lose in court, he also will be on the hook for the ticket, his parents said.

    "It sounds harsh, but when he got his car, we said it was going to be a cop magnet," Rude said.

    Malone was stopped on Lakeville Highway as he was on his way to Infineon Raceway to participate in legal drag races.

    Petaluma police were conducting stepped-up speed enforcement on the highway near the extension of South McDowell Boulevard, an area notorious for speeding as motorists heading east out of the city jockey for position where two lanes merge into one.

    The citation issued to Malone by motorcycle Officer Steve Johnson noted that the violation occurred at 7:45 a.m. at Lakeville and South McDowell and that the teen was going 62 mph.

    The time and location are approximations. In his notes, Johnson noted a spot 400 feet west of South McDowell -- but it's unclear whether that is where he started tracking the car or where he pulled the trigger on the radar gun, said Sgt. Tim Lyons, who oversees the traffic unit.

    Officers are supposed to visually track a vehicle before noting speed with radar, which is supposed to confirm those observations.

    Malone's GPS tracker, timed to record his location every half-minute, reported he was going 45 mph at 7:43 a.m.

    The latitude and longitude coordinates placed the Celica about 300 feet west of South McDowell, a difference of 100 feet as noted in the officer's written description of the encounter.

    Rude said it would have been impossible for his stepson to accelerate or slow 17 mph to equal 62 mph over that short distance.

    In his affidavit, the former lawman offers several possibilities for the discrepancy in the two accounts, including that the radar gun's calibration may have been off or that another vehicle may have been caught in the radar's sights.

    He also suggests Johnson may have been in a hurry.

    Carl Fors, president of Speed Measurement Laboratories Inc., a Fort Worth, Texas-based company that specializes in radar technology, trains police around the country in the use of radar. He said it is subject to both human and technical error.

    In one notable example, he said an officer he observed using radar clocked a rock going 72 mph. The error was caused by the heater fan blowing air inside the officer's car.

    Commissioner Joy said the CHP was forced to dismiss a case every few months because the calibrations on the radar gun were off.

    "I used to have situations where officers in part of the county would pull two or three cars over at once, and it would be difficult for them to sort out who did what to whom," she said.

    Some law enforcement agencies now use laser speed detectors, which are more accurate and can reach longer distances. Fors said some models also can take photos to match the targeted vehicle.

    Lyons, however, said Johnson has been handling traffic cases for six years and is trained on how to use radar.

    "He knows how to work traffic and write speeding tickets. I would trust his judgment," Lyons said.

    Lyons also questioned the GPS's accuracy.

    GPS can be hampered by cloud cover, power lines, tall trees -- almost anything that blocks the signal from the satellites. And there's nothing to say that the person using it hasn't tampered with the device.

    But so long as the sky is clear and the device is working properly, GPS trackers are accurate within 1 mph, said Rick Fry, chief information officer for Rocky Mountain Tracking Inc., a Colorado-based company that supplied Malone's unit.

    He said the company's system is the same the Air Force uses to fly drones.

    The case has been submitted to Commissioner Carla Bonilla, who will issue a ruling. Malone can appeal that decision.

    Beyond that, Joy said it's time for state lawmakers to set standards for the technology the same way they did with radar.

    "I cannot imagine that the Legislature would not take up the issue of GPS and do just like they did for radar, and hold hearings, talk to scientific people and make some rulings," Joy said.

    There have been isolated cases where GPS has resulted in tickets getting thrown out of court.

    Jeff Tomlinson, a sales associate for Rocky Mountain Tracking, said a Colorado judge dismissed a speeding ticket against him after Tomlinson produced his GPS history showing he was obeying speed laws.

    Other cases have been reported in Australia.

    Kahn said win or lose, the GPS tracker will stay in her son's car.

    "It has trained him," she said. "He's used to driving the speed limit."

    You can reach Staff Writer Derek J. Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.


  2. #2
    Old Timer
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    New Jersey


    id be pissed if my parents installed a gps thing on my car



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