Compulsory Insurance Cameras Coming to Tulsa in 2018
A first-of-its-kind system that uses cameras to enforce Oklahoma driving without insurance laws is set to start operations in Tulsa sometime in 2018. Cameras take pictures and license numbers of vehicles to match up with a database of insured vehicles.
Owners of vehicles not found in the database will be encouraged to join a diversion program in which they pay fees to prosecutors to avoid prosecution. The company operating the cameras gets a hefty cut of the fees, too.
After the first year, 26 cameras located around the state would read license plates and match license numbers with an insurance database. The first cameras will be located in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
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Where no matching insurance policy is found, a letter would be sent to the last known address of the registered vehicle owner. The nature and content of those letters remain uncertain until the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council finalizes program details. The letters will steer the vehicle owners toward the deferred prosecution program.
Whether the letters comprise a citation or merely threaten a citation, legislators who authorized the program in 2016 made clear they wanted images gathered by the cameras to be sufficient for prosecution.
The new law says a police officer can swear an affidavit based on camera images. That affidavit can serve as probable cause for prosecution.
The new law allows district attorneys to enroll those accused in no-insurance complaints to a two-year diversion program. There, drivers pay fees equivalent to a citation for the same offense but do not risk 30 days in jail or immediate license revocation.
The accused drivers – or vehicle owners who might not have been driving – would also agree to maintain insurance for the duration of a deferred prosecution agreement.
A citation for driving without insurance or not having insurance could cost drivers $184. Failure to pay the citation, or provide proof of insurance could result in suspension of driving privileges.
While the system could encourage some people to buy auto insurance, it could also add more backlog to a quagmire of drivers license revocation hearings at the Dept. of Public Safety, already swamped with years of unheard DUI revocation appeals.
The system is ostensibly designed to promote insured driving, but it could also prove to be a money maker for District Attorneys. Oklahoma DAs could net as much as $20 million a year from proceeds beyond operating costs.
District attorneys would profit after another $20 million goes the US subsidiary of a Swedish company that landed the Robocop contract. The Oklahoma District Attorney Council signed a contract with Gatso USA Inc. on Nov. 16, 2017. Gatso USA is a subsidiary of Sensys Gatso, a Swedish conglomerate and leading provider of traffic sensor services worldwide.
Gatso USA’s contract says the system could eventually generate 20,000 tickets a month, year after year. The company plans to launch in Tulsa and Oklahoma City metropolitan areas first. Initially, roaming vehicles equipped with cameras would scout those areas to gather data.
Within six months, cameras would be installed where they could be expected to generate the largest numbers of complaints. Another 10 fixed-location cameras would be added to 3 mobile cameras for a total of 39 cameras statewide when the program is in full swing.
Although the system might be expected to increase compliance with mandatory insurance laws, the automated enforcement at such a scale can be expected to create problems.
Enforcement that starts with a letter to a last known address can escalate to revocation of a drivers license. A driver whose license was revoked might, in turn, be cited and arrested for driving while revoked. Fines and court costs could then snowball, even though the driver might later able to prove the vehicle was insured at the time a camera spotted a vehicle that appeared to bear that license number.
As described in the 2016 law, the program would be administered by the statewide District Attorneys Council. That agency will collect fees from participating vehicle owners. The Council will then disperse fees for the operation of the program, with remaining proceeds distributed to district attorneys for routine operation of their offices.
The newly enacted Uninsured Vehicle Enforcement Program law, Okla. Stat. tit. 47 § 706 authorizes district attorneys statewide to establish local enforcement and diversion programs or to join a statewide program administered by the District Attorneys Council.
As the law reads, a vehicle owner’s entry into a diversion program would start with a criminal complaint. The law allows police officers to verify that photographs gathered by the system identify a particular vehicle. The new law says the officer’s affidavit may serve as probable cause for prosecution.
District attorneys will have the discretion to either prosecute the complaint or refer it to the diversion program. While the law stipulates prosecutors may decide between prosecution or diversion for motorists cited by the camera system, the design implies a high level of automation tilted toward the diversion program.
District Attorney Council Executive Coordinator Trent Baggett told Wirth Law Office each picture taken by the cameras used for a deferred prosecution complaint would be reviewed by an attorney at the statewide Council.
“That will not be delegated out,” Baggett told Wirth Law Office.
The online watchdog publication Oklahoma Watch alleged otherwise, stating that “citations will come from the company, not district attorneys.” According to Oklahoma Watch, information would only be forwarded to district attorneys if owners do not pay.
Baggett said details of the program remain under development as of November 2017.
The program as envisioned in Oklahoma law appears to be more of a pre-prosecution diversion program similar to the bad-checks diversion programs operated throughout Oklahoma.
Oklahoma law previously authorized a similar diversion program for some misdemeanor offenses. Both of Oklahoma’s other diversion programs involve payment of fees to district attorneys who agree to forego prosecution.
Even if the program operates as state law implies and as Baggett explained, the sheer volume of anticipated complaints raises a question of how carefully the images will be manually reviewed and matched with motor vehicle records by police and prosecutors.
The process implies two people – a police officer whose affidavit establishes probable cause, and a prosecutor exercising discretion – would review every image flagged for complaint. Each would be obligated to determine that the make and model of a vehicle in a picture matches the vehicle identified vehicle registrations. At a rate of 20,000 citations a month, that means about 115 photographs per hour – “year after year” as Gatso’s contract implies.
Mistakes in the identification process, letters sent to the wrong house, drivers who fail to comply with terms or fail to pay fees in the two-year diversion program and simply those drivers who simply choose to exercise their right to a day in court rather surrender their license could all add to the backlog of pending DPS hearings.
Oklahoma is reportedly the first state to roll out a semi-automated insurance enforcement program. The company that landed the contract, Gatso USA is otherwise a leading provider of red-light cameras. Those programs have been subject to various legal challenges in several states, including Iowa, Illinois, Florida, Texas and Ohio.
As of November 2017, Oklahoma was among 19 states that have no law approving or outlawing red light cameras, and among 25 states with no speed camera laws, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The same IIHS data says that, in addition to several cities and the District of Columbia, 22 states have adopted laws allowing red light cameras. As of 2016, Wikipedia cited 13 states that had imposed some form of restriction on red-light cameras.
More Policing for Profit
The company that operates the cameras obviously has financial incentive to ignore injustices courts might otherwise disallow. But so do district attorneys. Fines collected by the semi-automated system are split between the company and the state District Attorneys Council. Any money left over after the Council pays its own costs for administering the program are distributed among participating district attorneys.
From the place the company places cameras to the way district attorneys might streamline prosecutions, every decision is potentially influenced by a profit motive. For district attorneys, it is yet another in a growing list of enforcement initiatives where profit can inform decisions.
Statewide, district attorneys already administer pre-sentencing supervision of many people who accept plea deals rather than contest charges in court. Long lines form outside some district attorney offices as probationers line up to tender monthly checks to the DA. The checks ostensibly pay for “supervision fees” but supervision often amounts to little more than taking a check each month.
The system of DA supervision incentives prosecutors to overcharge people arrested for otherwise minor crimes, then accept a plea from low-income defendants who cannot be adequately defended against spurious charges by underbudgeted public defenders.
Policing for profit has become a virtual culture among police and prosecutors. Civil forfeiture laws already encourage police to act on dubious suspicions when they have a tip that could lead to a seizure of cash or other assets. Warrants served on the wrong house or the wrong vehicle can turn up thousands of dollars in cash. Anonymous tipsters – maybe from other agencies conducting illegal searches or unwarranted wiretaps – can prompt traffic stops that lead to cash seizures.
A system of cameras placed in low-income neighborhoods, photographs from which can be probable cause for arrest, only invites further abuse. The abuse might be casual indifference to systematic errors or it could take the form of deliberate tampering, perhaps sharing of camera data with other agencies in ways that skirt the edges of privacy protections allegedly built into the new law.
Free Consultation: Tulsa Traffic Ticket Lawyer
If you have questions about a charge for driving without insurance in Oklahoma, or a charge of allowing a vehicle to be operated without insurance, contact a Tulsa traffic ticket lawyer to learn what are your rights. If you are facing a drivers license revocation in Oklahoma, you might have a right to appeal. Call a Tulsa attorney to find out.
To set up your free consultation with a Wirth Law Office traffic ticket lawyer in Tulsa, call (198) 879-1681 or send your question using the form at the top of this page.