Rhode Island considers highway surveillance cameras to automatically ticket drivers

Rhode Island considers highway surveillance cameras to automatically ticket drivers
A bill that allows private companies to set up a network of optical license plate readers along highways is moving ahead in Rhode Island. Uninsured drivers would be detected by a national police database and fined automatically.

HB 5531, also known as the Rhode Island Electronic Confirmation and Compliance System Act, passed through the state House Corporations Committee by a 7-2 vote Tuesday. 

Sponsored by state Rep. Robert Jacquard (D-Cranston), the measure would authorize private for-profit contractors to build and run a system of automated license plate readers (ALPRs) at the company’s expense. The ALPRs would check the status of the driver’s insurance and registration and penalize those who are not complying. 

"It's no different than a red light camera. It's just looking for a different violation," Jacquard told Ars Technica.

The proposal states that high-speed cameras would be able to capture license plate images in two seconds or less and run the information through several databases. A Rhode Island police officer could issue a summons based on the video evidence obtained from the license plate readers within seven days.

Individuals found driving without insurance would be issued a civil fine of up to $120, which would be evenly split between the private company and the state. Even if the owner of the vehicle was not driving at the time, they would still be held liable.

Jacquard estimates that the state will collect “upwards of $15 million” a year from the license plate readers, according to the Providence Journal.

If the ALPRs do not find proof that the vehicle is in noncompliance, the bill states that the record would be erased within a minute. However, similar proposed legislation have previously failed to pass due to privacy concerns. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island testified in February against the legislation, saying it only “benefits the private corporation owning the cameras.”

“We believe it is inappropriate for a private company to receive half of the revenues gained from insurance penalties, as it provides an incentive to encourage penalties instead of minimizing their occurrence,” the ACLU said.

The ACLU cites a failed program in the state that installed cameras on school buses. The program collected $1.2 million in fines, but the state only saw $164,111 of that money. The rest went to the private corporation that owned the cameras, according to the ACLU, which added that the cameras did not make the town any safer.

The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) also opposed the bill, tweeting on Thursday that it would “promote unproven, unworkable + unnecessary license plate scanning.” They also said there was “ZERO need” for the measure since Rhode Island already has an effective system to police uninsured motorists.

Frank O’Brien, vice president of state government relations for PCI, told the Providence Journal that the state has already passed legislation that requires insurance companies to report drivers who have lapsed policies.

Jacquard conceded that the current system does verify driver’s insurance status, but, he told the Providence Journal, “it doesn’t know whether you are operating on the road or not.”

The bill would prevent ALPRs cameras from being attached to moving objects, like police cars. It would also prohibit them from being used to collect tolls.