I live in an area where they have added several Gatso automated photo radar sites. They have a mix of fixed red light cams that also clock for speed, some fixed speed cameras on the highway, and a mobile vehicle that they move around to police speeders.
Just so you know, I know this city well and have followed the install and testing of these closely, performing some "tests" using my trusty V1 and some other methods.
Since I know where they are and what the vehicle looks like (Red Jeep Cherokee with strobe light bar) avoiding them has not been a problem. I'm not a leadfoot in my stock Honda, and I never run red lights, I just like to know when big brother is watching.
So, I was surprised when a speeding ticket arrived in the mail showing what looked like my car, especially when it showed the car heading the opposite direction north of where I should be at that time during my daily commute.
Immediately I knew I would be protesting this ticket. Maybe a mistake was made? Either way, they weren't getting my money that easy.
The ticket was for 67 in a 55 zone, the minimum trigger for that camera. Checking the list of tickets you notice there are none issued for 66 MPH. Police won't comment on that, but it's assumed that they would not be able to process the flood of people who drive 1-11 MPH over the speed limit or factor in for faulty speedometers, weird tires, uncalibrated radar, etc.
Looking at the photo I was looking at identifying factors besides the license plate. Yes, the plate picture was pretty grainy, but there wasn't any characters that could be another character really. One thing that stood out was the 2 rust marks from the mounting bolts and slight rust trails down from there. Another obvious identifier was the big dent in my bumper from last winter that I hadn't repaired.
This brought to mind a story a realtor had told me recently where he had beaten a ticket in the same city by using a "similar state plate" defense. Basically he had said that our states plate was generic enough that it could have been any similar state plate since the detail wasn't visible on the photo.
My plate didn't have enough clarity to read the state or the county name on it, so I thought I would use this defense.
I filed the protest and was given a "hearing" date. I began work on finding simlar looking state plates and was able to find pictures of 18 other state plates that had the same numbering format, similar colors and layout. Considering that the photos were in black and white, this made even more sense now. I arranged them all in a random grid, one in color and one in black and white. I was going to present this as an example of how this could have been a mistake.
While waiting for the hearing, my car was involved in a 3 car pileup that damaged my rear and front bumper. Since I was not at fault, the other persons insurance was paying to repair the bumper. I figured that while the car was in the shop, I would pay out of pocket to have the dent repaired that was in the photo also.
I also made sure before the hearing to take my plate off and remove the rust stains from the plate. The day of the hearing came and I went to the police station. I was sent to a conference room where there was an "independant 3rd party civilian arbitrator" and a police officer. The arbitrator explained he is there to make sure everything is handled fair, which seemed somewhat true despite him being quite friendly with the officer.
The first thing they did was pull up the photo of the car on the ticket and put it on a wall projector screen. It was the same B&W photo I had only now it was on the screen. He asked what type of car I drove and then what plate number I had. Both seemed to match what was in the photo, so he asked why do I think that isn't me? I presented my similar state plate sheet and explained that it could have been a similar car from any of those other 18 states and the fact that it made no sense that I was in that location at that time when I would be coming home in an entirely different location. I said that of course there's no way to prove that I wasn't there however.
The arbitrator immediately discarded the similar state defense and said "No, this obviously is our state plate, but you are right that the county name isn't visible on this" he asked what county is on my plate and I told him. It's also one of the longest named counties in the state, totally opposite our local county which is one of the shortest. He started thinking, and was discussing with the officer how they had recently seen a case where someone in the state was issued a duplicate plate number even though that isn't supposed to happen.
He then asked me if my car had a dent in the rear bumper. I truthfully said no, it doesn't. The arbitrator then started discussing with the officer if the mark on the bumper was a dent or if it was just glare. I kept quiet and they decided it looked more like sun glare than a dent.
I then suggested that if they wanted to look at the car in the photo, it was parked outside and they could see it themselves. The arbitrator said "A field trip? We've never done that before, let's go and see!" So, we walked out the side door and the officer held the door open since it was a locking security door while the arbitrator and I walked out to the car.
He looked at the bumper and noted there were no dents, asked if this is normally how my car looks, any bumper stickers, any window stickers, scraper in the window, etc., etc. He then told me "Actually, when I came out here I was looking for 2 large rust marks on the plate, but I don't see any, so I'm actually thinking that this isn't the car in the photo."
When I heard that I had a hard time containing my happiness. I still had to play it cool. Walking in the door past the officer, he told the officer, "You know, I wouldn't have believed it, but I don't think that car is the same one in the photo."
We get back to the conference room, and he takes one last look at the photo and groans. "Guess what?" he says, "You're busted." He explains, "Look here, you see that behind the rear headrests - it's that window scraper I just saw out in the parking lot." "The fine is $75."
I think at that moment the bottom of my gut was about to fall out of my big toe. I didn't protest at all since the giant yellow window scraper was clearly visible in the same location it had been for months.
Lesson learned: Always keep your car cleaned inside and out.
Sorry about the misleading title, but I wanted the end of the story to be as much of a surprise for you as it was for me.