Wednesday, November 21, 2007

GPS versus the fuzz

Okay, not strictly racing, but certainly to do with cars going fast, and of importance to any of us who drive on public streets...

A traffic commissioner in Santa Rosa, about 50 miles north of us in San Francisco, has upheld a speeding ticket despite evidence from the driver's car's GPS unit that showed him obeying the limit within 100 feet of where he was zapped with radar.

The driver in question, a 17-year-old, had a GPS installed by his parents who wanted to keep track of his driving, fearing that his interest in racing would spill over into anti-social driving habits.

The data from that unit, which checks the cars speed and location every thirty seconds, indicated he was doing 45mph at the exact location where the police officer allegedly measured his speed with radar, which was determined to be 62mph. The limit was 45mph.

The controversy about this in my mind is two fold. Firstly, the officer was not able to categorically state where the car was when he pulled the trigger on the radar gun, so the speed could have been measured plus or minus 100 feet from where the GPS reported the driver was doing 45mph. I think it's pretty likely that if the zap was 100 feet earlier, he could have been doing 62mph at that point, which is probably why the citation was upheld. A 17mph deceleration is achievable within 100 feet. However, surely the GPS data introduces sufficient reasonable doubt to nullify the ticket.

Secondly, and more importantly, if this GPS data had been used by the court to overturn the case it would set an exceptionally dangerous precedent. If a civilian can use that data to defend against a citation, it's not beyond the realms of reason for authorities to use it to prosecute a case. When that day comes, every single one of us will have lost a significant piece of personal freedom. The next step would be mandatory tracking devices in cars and on bikes that report real time position and speed data. Quite worrying....

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