Monthly Archives: June 2008
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a weekly series on avoiding red light tickets here in Chicago–soon to be the red light camera capital of the world.
In the war against red light cameras, specialty aerosol sprays to coat your license plate was the initial skirmish of this long battle.
According to reports, many, if not most, red light cameras employ a very strong flash to photograph your license plate. Based on that theory, when sprayed on your license plate, these high-gloss sprays reflects the camera’s flash back toward the camera, overexposing the photo and thus, and theoretically, making your license plate unreadable to the camera.
The original anti-red light camera spray, Photostopper was created in an effort to defeat the red light camera’s ability to document vehicle license plate numbers. It costs $19.95 per can, and can cover six plates according to the sales information.
Another product is called Photo Fog, and comes in a spray pump. It claims to perform in the same way as these other aerosol sprays and sells for $23.00 per bottle.
Phantom Plate, the manufacturer of PhotoBlocker, is based in Harrisburg, PA, and produces several different anti-red light camera products. We will explore many of these other products in during the course of this series.
The spray costs $29.95 per can and can cover four plates. There are lot’s of testimonials and information at the PhotoBlocker website.
There doesn’t seem to be any consensus on whether these sprays work or not. There are testimonials provided by Phantom Plate, and news reports claiming it does work. On-Track, the manufacturer of Photostopper and Photo Fog also has a quiver of media reviews. But red light camera manufacturers and police enforcement, along with other news reports say this strategy does not work.
“We have had NO issues with reflective sprays,” laughed Brian Steele, spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Transportation.
Steele says these sprays don’t work on Chicago cameras because the flashes are mounted at angles, so the flash does not hit the car’s license plate head-on so this blinding effect the spray is supposed to inflict upon the camera, does not occur.
“I’ve never heard that before,” said a surprised Joe Scott, Marketing Director for PhotoBlocker, in respect to the way the flashes are angled. “It’s still a bright flash of light no matter where it comes from.”
“Of course they’re going to say that (the spray doesn’t work),” continued Scott. “We have 500,000 satisfied customers in the United States and internationally.”
The cops and the camera manufacturers say that their technology has improved with a higher and faster samplings of frames being shot, so the camera, if it is blinded for a milli-second, can still view the license plate before or after the flash.
Mr. Steele says that the cameras not only take two still photographs (an initial photo when the red light is blown and another 1.2 seconds later), but also takes video of the vehicle and event.
Although, the spray has been tested with some speed camera units and, according to one TV news report, seems to work well.
So, who really knows. Obviously the jury is out on this one. I’ve never tried it and I’m mildly skeptical of how well the spray concept works here in Chicago. My strategy has been to not blow through stop lights anymore and that has seemed to be working well for me.
I guess the only way to really know is to buy PhotoBlocker or Photostopper, spray it on and then blow through a few intersections with red light cameras and see what happens. Perhaps we should put a fund together to reimburse someone to buy the spray and run a few red lights.
The only other spray I’ve seen is something called Sprayonmud. It was allegedly developed for people to easily make their SUV look like it’s been actually four-wheeling out in the hinterlands, without going through the effort of doing so. A secondary use has been to spray the product on the back of your vehicle, making it look like you “accidentally” partially covered your license plate in mud. Therefore, red light cameras couldn’t record your full license plate number if you went through a red light and therefore, wouldn’t receive a ticket. Obviously, covering or obscuring your license plate is illegal.
However, the Sprayonmud website is down and I can’t seem to find it for sale anywhere and get the feeling the company is defunct.
But, here’s a story from Wired Magazine on the product: Spray-On Mud Makes A Splash.
So, when it comes to license plate sprays, my advice is caveat emptor, it might be best to save your money and just don’t blow through the red light.
Attention procrastinators and/or professional scofflaws.
Tomorrow, Monday, June 30th is the last day to buy your vehicle sticker.
Get your ass in gear downtown or one of the other city clerk’s offices, to a Dept. of Revenue payment location or hit up a local currency exchange.
Here’s all the city sticker information including costs, and payment locations.
You can also purchase city stickers at participating Jewel stores, Dominick’s, banks and your alderman’s office.
Supposedly, even though this is the official deadline, there is a 15-day grace period, which means you have until July 15th to get your sticker and slap it on the inside of your windshield before the cops start ticketing.
It also costs more to purchase your city sticker after July 15th, costing you an additional $40 bucks.
What are you waiting for?!?
UPDATE: I was just out for a walk that took me past the local 24 hour currency exchange. “Why the hell is this place so jammed on a Sunday evening,” I asked myself observing the mass of humanity standing in line.
As soon as the words left my mouth I realized they were all rushing to get their city sticker.
Get out and take care of this as soon as you can. I think Monday is going to suck for you if you still need to get your city sticker.
You’ve already received your ticket and decided to fight it.
The next step is to request a hearing.
Actually, you have three options with your ticket or Notice of Violation. Pay the ticket, contest by mail or request in-person hearing.
Of course, we discourage you opting to pay your ticket–at least not until you have tried fighting it first.
You can contest by mail, but that means you need to be prepared, when you send in your ticket or Notice of Violation with that request, to send in a letter arguing your case along with any documentation, evidence, etc.
We are not going to discuss that today as it requires it’s own chapter.
What we are going to concentrate on today is simply, how to request an in-person hearing.
After receiving a parking ticket, according to the instructions on the violation, you have 7 days to pay it, contest by mail or request an in-person hearing.
To request a hearing via your ticket, you do this.
Flip your ticket over and look at the back.
Near the bottom, you will see three check boxes.
Check the box “Request For In-Person Hearing.”
Then, on the two lines below, write the address of where the vehicle is registered.
If you have your car registered at the folk’s house in the suburbs but you are living downtown somewhere, make sure you write in the correct registration address of your vehicle.
Also, write in your daytime phone number as instructed on the ticket.
Now, on the front of the painfully bright orange envelope, in the return address in the upper left-hand corner, again, write your name and address where your car is registered.
Then, directly to the right of the return address, check the box that says “Request For In-Person Hearing.”
Now, slap a postage stamp on the envelope.
But wait! Before you slip the ticket/hearing request into the envelope, I would suggest making a copy of the front and back of the ticket showing it filled out and also make a copy of the return envelope filled out and with the stamp on it.
Keep these copies on file just in case the wonderfully efficient U.S. postal service and/or the well organized Dept. of Revenue “misplaces” your hearing request so you have proof that you DID actually request a hearing.
It’s also good to have a copy of your ticket for reference when preparing your defense for your hearing.
Notice of Violation
If you don’t respond within 7 days when you receive the original ticket, don’t despair.
The reality is, Illinois state law requires the city to send you a Notice of Violation in the mail.
According to this notice, you have 14 days to pay your violation(s), contest by mail or request an in-person hearing.
On the bottom portion of your Notice of Violation will be one, or more, violations listed.
Check the circle(s) under “In-Person Hearing” of the violations you want to contest (which should be ALL of them).
All your personal information (name, address, license plate number, etc.) is already printed on this form so there is nothing more to fill out before you slip it into the envelope and mail it out.As with the tickets, I encourage you to make a photocopy of the request, front and back, along with a copy of your stamped envelope, just for your records and just in case you need to prove you actually requested a hearing.
In fact, just for insurance, take the envelope down to the U.S. Post Office and fill out a Certified Letter form. It costs a total of $3.12 to mail a certified letter. It’s just an additional $2.70 over the cost of normal postage.
This extra few bucks gives you absolute dated proof that you sent in your hearing request by mail. You can actually track the letter via the USPS website. Keep this certified receipt on file somewhere safe just in case the city loses your request.
Unfortunately, I have heard too many stories of the city losing, or “never receiving” the hearing request. To me, it’s worth the extra cash.
You can go into any of Chicago’s five Parking Ticket Payment Centers to request your hearing too. When you go in, go to hearing reception desk where you would check in, if you had a hearing that day. You can give one of those people your ticket or Notice of Violation and they can schedule your hearing. Make sure they give you a receipt, which is usually date stamped on the bottom of your ticket or the violation notice.
If you don’t have your documentation, they can look up your ticket and schedule it as well.
Again, keep your hearing request receipt on file somewhere for your records and to prove that you actually requested a hearing if the question comes up.
There are two options to do this by phone.
This can be done only from 8 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday.
Call 312-744-PARK (7275) . After you dial, follow the robotic teleprompts. If you’re not sure or to speed things up after the first prompt (For English press 1, Spanish press 2), you can just hit ’0′, and that will get you to a customer service person.
It may take some time on hold to get through to a live person. But be patient. It is best NOT to call between 11 AM and 1 PM as it’s their busiest time.
Once a live person comes on the line, they will identify themselves by a name and operator number. Write down both for your records, along with the time and date.
Give them your ticket violation number or your license plate. They will take your request and explain it will be 3-4 weeks before a date is scheduled.
You can actually request a hearing 24 hours a day via the robot operator.
Call 312-744-PARK (7275) and just follow the prompts.
1-English, 2 Spanish
Select 4 to “Request A Hearing”
Select 1 to “Schedule An In-Person Hearing”
Enter Your 10 digit Violation Number followed by the # key
According to the Dept. of Revenue, it will take approximately 3-4 weeks for the hearing to be scheduled.
If you DON’T get a letter from the city with your hearing date(s) within this 3-4 week period, call back or check the city parking ticket website to obtain your date.
INTERNET?: The city currently doesn’t offer a way for you to request a hearing via their website.
REMINDER: Don’t forget, whether you request your hearing in-person, by phone or by mail, you still need to request your hearing within the time frame outlined on the ticket and/or the Notice of Violation. This is essentially 21 days from when you received your ticket (7 days from the ticket date plus 14 days from when the Notice of Violation was mailed).
Usually, there is a bit more time to request your hearing because of the time it takes to process the ticket, mailing notices, etc., but don’t procrastinate! Request your hearing sooner than later.
Receiving Your Hearing Date
Look for a letter from the city, printed in royal blue ink that says “Notice Of In-Person Hearing.”
The notice will give you a hearing date that is several weeks or even a month or so in the future.
Review the violations and check them against your records to make sure you received hearing dates for ALL the violations you requested hearings.
If you requested hearings for more than one violation, you may have multiple violations being heard at the same time.
The notice will give you the expanse of a full week to come into one of the City hearing centers to fight your ticket.
Parking Ticket Geek Super Secret Tip#1: If you somehow miss your hearing the week it is scheduled, you can still go in the week after and receive your hearing.
For some reason, the Dept. of Revenue does not immediately change the status of the violations to Determination of Liability because you missed your hearing the week it was initially scheduled. Whatever the reason, I think it’s cool you still get an extra week if you screw up, get sick, are out of town, etc. So if you miss your initial date, get your butt down there the following week and have your hearing.
Make a note on your calendar, daytimer or in your electronic organizer so you don’t miss your hearing date. Put the Notice of In-Person Hearing on the front of the refrigerator or somewhere you are reminded of your hearing.
Parking Ticket Geek Super Secret Tip#2: In fact, you can come in early and fight your ticket, once your hearing is officially scheduled. One time I had hearings scheduled for a week I was going to be out of town. I came down to a hearing center to see what I could do to reschedule and they told me I could have it heard at anytime before the officially scheduled week.
Sometimes, if you come in for a hearing(s) and you already have another hearing scheduled a few weeks in the future, a cool hearing officer will let you contest that or those early if they are not too busy. Just make sure you are prepared.
IMPORTANT: If you don’t receive your hearing notice in the mail from the city regarding your hearing in 3-4 weeks, check back with the city via phone, or their website to make sure they received it and are scheduling your hearing.
NOTE: Remember, the hearing notice will be mailed to the address registered with the Illinois Secretary of State or the DMV of the state where your car is registered. So pay attention and make proper arrangements if you are vehicle is not registered at your current residence.
It makes real good sense to check the city parking ticket search site to check status on ALL your vehicles and tickets.
Now, with all the time that exists between requesting your hearing and the actual hearing date, you should have PLENTY of time to get ready for your hearing.
In the near future class, we will get you ready for your hearing by helping you prepare your defense.
Dear Parking Ticket Geek-
I just got my new City Sticker and replaced it on my car yesterday (June 2nd). On June 3rd I woke up with a $120 ticket on my car. Did I put it on too soon????? What the heck?
I have the new 2008 sticker on my car. I took the 2007 sticker off yesterday and replaced it with the 08 sticker. Am I required to have both of them on until mid June or something I am not a new resident. I’ve been a Chicago resident for twelve years and have always complied with the sticker rules (or so I thought). I almost wonder of the officer just didn’t realize that was the new sticker.
Let me know what you think and thanks a ton for your reply. And of course I threw out the old sticker. It was destroyed after taking it off the windshield.
I made a few inquiries on this and the consensus seems to be whomever wrote you the ticket is just stupid. Most likely, they didn’t recognize the new sticker. Typical.
You did nothing wrong.
You need to fight this.
Here’s what I would do.
1-Request the hearing.
2-Photograph your sticker on the windshield. Take a few photos including a closeup, a medium shot of the car with the sticker and try to get your front license plate in the photo.
3-When you go into the hearing, bring in the photos. Also bring all the sticker documentation for the new sticker, and if you can find it, the documentation for last year’s sticker.
4-Explain to the hearing officer exactly what happened (how you removed the old, replaced it with the new, etc.). Insist as strongly as possible that the new sticker was on your vehicle and either the person writing the ticket missed it, or did not recognize the new sticker since it was so early in the month.
Show the photos of the sticker on your car and present the sticker documentation from this year and last year (if you can locate it).
It’s basically your word against the ticket. But your testimony, photos and sticker paperwork showing you purchased the new city sticker BEFORE the ticket. Now remember, the ticket is for failure to display. Just because you purchased it doesn’t necessarily prove that you actually had it on the car. But YOU know you did and it’s your job to convey this to the hearing officer.
Also, you purchased last year’s sticker and it was on the vehicle until you put the new one on. So again, be firm about how it was on the vehicle. Repeat this over and over again so this point will get through to even the most dense of hearing officers.
Good luck with it and keep us posted.
Very truly yours,
The Parking Ticket Geek
If you have a question for The Parking Ticket Geek, please e-mail the Geek at: firstname.lastname@example.org
If we publish your question, you get an Expired Meter T-shirt–FREE!
West suburban town Western Springs jumps on the red light camera bandwagon according to the Chicago Tribune.
Village President Jack Lynch broke a tie vote Monday night to allow the village to install cameras to help catch motorists who run red lights at two intersections along Wolf Road in Western Springs.
Trustees Janet Dahl, Roger Hendrick and James Maragos voted against the plan to install cameras along Wolf at 55th Street and at Ogden Avenue. Trustees John Madell, William Rodeghier and Marcia Buell voted for it.
Dahl said the cameras will divert traffic to other streets and might cause more accidents if drivers stop suddenly at the intersections, causing motorists behind them to hit them.
Hendrick urged that the camera installations be revisited in six months to see if they had in fact reduced accidents.
Police Chief Pam Church said after Monday night’s Village Board meeting that it will be several months before the cameras are installed, in part because it will take Lombard-based RedSpeed Illinois that long to get state permits for the cameras.
Criminal defense attorney James Dimeas, according to the blog The Legal Defenders, was able to help a client beat a red light camera violation from Rolling Meadows.
Mr. Dimeas bitch slapped Rolling Meadows by raising an innovative defense that not only exposed a flaw in the local ordinance, but ultimately let his client beat the ticket.
Great job Mr. Dimeas! We are awarding you The Expired Meter Hero of the Month!
There’s no monetary award or prize or anything. We just wanted to give you a well deserved pat on the back. Hopefully, your good work will inspire others to fight their tickets whenever and however they can.
Here’s the story below.
Chicago criminal defense attorney, James G. Dimeas, succeeded in having a ticket issued by the Village of Rolling Meadows for failing to stop for a traffic light at an intersection where cameras were set up to record vehicles that failed to stop for the red light.
Chicago criminal defense attorney, James G. Dimeas, was representing an individual who received a traffic citation in the mail from the Village of Rolling Meadows containing a photograph of his client’s vehicle at the intersection of Rohlwing Road and Kirchoff Road which purported to show the vehicle failing to stop at the red light. The ticket also contained a photograph of the license plate of the client’s vehicle.
Chicago criminal defense attorney, James G. Dimeas, obtained a copy of the Village Ordinance. Article IV, entitled “Automated Traffic Law Enforcement System” contains all the requirements for issuing tickets by camera. Section 3-70(k) of the ordinance provides that “the date, time and place of the administrative hearing at which the charge may be contested on its merits, a date that shall be no less than 15 nor more than 40 days from the mailing or other service of the notice of violation.”
The violation date on the ticket was April 4, 2008. The hearing was being held on June 19, 2008. The date between the violation date and the hearing date far exceeded the 40 day time limit spelled out in the Village Ordinance.
As a result, the Hearing Officer dismissed the citation for violating the time limits contained in the ordinance.
In doing so, Chicago criminal defense attorney, James G. Dimeas, exposed a serious flaw in the Village of Rolling Meadows Ordinance which will probably result in the Village of Rolling Meadows having to rewrite the ordinance. Most of the people who appeared before Chicago criminal defense attorney, James G. Dimeas’s case was called had been issued citations around the same time as his client. However, Chicago criminal defense attorney, James G. Dimeas, was the only one to raise this defense.
For more information about the Chicago criminal defense attorneys at Legal Defenders, P.C., visit us at www.thelegaldefenders.com or call us anytime at 1-800-228-7295.
Check out The Parking Ticket Geek’s guest appearance on the podcast of last Friday’s Outside The Loop Radio on WLUW 88.7 FM.
It is my sincerest wish that my annoying, nasally voice doesn’t drive you insane.
Outside The Loop Radio Episode #91
To my mind, the best way to not get a red light camera ticket is…to not blow through a red light.
The easiest and best way to do this is be more careful at intersections, slow down to a stop on the yellow, don’t try to beat the light, etc. This is the most obvious way to not get ticketed. But I have a few more suggestions to further insure you never receive those $100 red light camera tickets.
First, know where the red light intersections are located. Watch out for them in the towns, areas and neighborhoods you drive. Memorize them. Make note of them.
Here’s the current, most up-to-date list of red light cameras in Chicago.
Second, learn to watch out for the “Photo-Enforced” signs and for the cameras themselves in neighborhoods you only drive infrequently.
Third, assume ALL intersections have red light cameras. That way, you will always drive more carefully and be more watchful at traffic lights.
The rules of the red light camera
Finally, you need to know about how the cameras work so you interact with them correctly. In other words, “know your enemy.”
The other day, I spent time learning the details of red light cameras with Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) spokesperson Brian Steele. Back in 2003, CDOT originated the red light camera program and Mr. Steele was intimately involved with the program. These days, Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management handles the red light camera program. So, Mr. Steele knows quite a bit about how these damn cameras work.
Steele explained that red light cameras are not running continuously. They are triggered by an under pavement sensor, located at the white stop bar markings, before the entrance of the intersection. This sensor only becomes active when the traffic light turns red. NOT yellow, but full on red.
So, if you are already within the intersection when the light changes from yellow to red, you are safe–no ticket.
The red light camera does not trigger if you are already within the intersection when the light turns red.
Even if just your front wheels are past the white stop bar on the pavement, you are still safe as you are technically within the intersection, and can proceed to clear the intersection without being ticketed.
The under pavement sensor will only activate AFTER the light turns red.
This means, make sure you get your butt into the intersection while the light is either green or still yellow. Even if it’s just the very front of the car.
Or…stop at the entrance to the intersection BEFORE the light turns red.
“There is no gray area here,” according to Steele. “When you cross the stop bar (on the pavement) after the light turns red, the camera is triggered.”
Three seconds…only three seconds?
It’s important that you realize that the yellow light on all Chicago traffic lights have only a 3 second duration. Seriously, according to both Steele at CDOT and OEM, it’s only 3 seconds. This is not a long time. Think about that and drive accordingly.
Right on red
Steele also warned to be careful when making a right on red. He says many people get red light tickets and think the tickets are erroneous because they didn’t actually go through the intersection, but turned right on red. But according to Steele many people fail to actually stop first before turning right on the red. “As you know, Illinois law requires you to make a complete stop before turning right on red,” emphasized Steele.
So make sure you come to a complete stop before turning right on red, or you’ll get a red light camera ticket in the mail.
I fought the law…but the law won
Based on the details of the system and understanding how the red light cameras work, it’s not surprising that very few people ever beat a red light camera ticket. In most cases, when you get that letter with the bright red heading, you are guilty.
Fighting these tickets is nearly impossible. The video and photographic evidence is nealy impeachable. In addition, the success rate at red light camera hearings is not quite 2%. As opposed to 50-70% for regular parking tickets.
“Over the two years I was involved with the program, I only saw 4-5 errors during that time,” says Steele. “And it wasn’t a system malfunction but human error.”
That’s 4-5 errors out of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of tickets that were issued. That’s pretty amazing.
Part of this success rate is because every instance that a red light camera is triggered, a human being reviews the incident and will only issue a ticket, when, according to Steele, “there is incontrovertible proof that a vehicle has gone through the intersection on a red light.”
We will get into details on how to contest red light camera citations and the few and only defenses that work in beating red light camera tickets in the future.
Special thanks to CDOT’s very kind Brian Steele who allowed me to waste nearly 45 minutes of his valuable time last week in researching this piece.
NEXT WEEK: Do license sprays protect you from red light camera tickets?
With the ink barely dry on the ordinance to install six new red light cameras in Hammond, the law is already facing two possible legal challenges. One being the Indiana Supreme Court and the other being the Indiana State Board of Accounts.
This should slow the red light camera express in Indiana, at least for a little while.
The Northwest Indiana Herald reports below.
BY SUSAN BROWN
HAMMOND | The State Board of Accounts and the Indiana Supreme Court will be putting the new red light camera ordinance under the legal microscope.
State Board of Accounts supervisor Charles Pride said his office received a copy of the ordinance June 9 while he was en route to Evansville to attend the annual conference of Indiana’s clerks and treasurers.
Cameras take digital photos of vehicles running red lights and their license plate numbers. Tickets are issued through the mail by the private company operating the system after a review by police. By ordinance, fines of $100 will be assessed and initially treated like parking tickets unless contested, when they become moving violations.
“We are just back from the conference,” Pride said Monday. “The information will be given to our attorney to be researched, and it also will probably go before our three-member board before issuing our audit position on it. It’s a first for us, and we want to make sure we do our homework on it.”
Pride said he already knows something of the ordinance because of questions posed by Hammond City Clerk Robert Golec during a conference session. “One of the things we are questioning is that those cases will never go to court,” Pride said. The city wants the violations to be treated as infractions like a parking ticket payable through the city clerk’s office.
“It seems to us to be a moving violation,” he said. “If you’re going through a red light, you’re operating a vehicle. That’s one of the main things we’re going to be looking at.”
Golec on Monday said Pride questioned the ordinance’s legality as did Mary DePrez, director and counsel of trial court technology for the Indiana Supreme Court. “She immediately wanted a copy to review with the Supreme Court,” he said. “She did not think it was possible either. And it did not sit well with the BMV.”
Golec said the Bureau of Motor Vehicles was not happy with the thought it would not have a way of tracking truckers who run red lights, paying only a $100 fine.
Golec also is troubled by an omission in the body of the ordinance.
“I still have not been able to find anywhere in the ordinance where (running a red light) is made a non-moving violation,” he said.
“I’m going to let the legal people work all this out,” Golec said of his many open questions.
Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. last week told a group of Hessville residents the city will be proceeding slowly, installing one light at time, the first likely at 165th Street and Hohman Avenue.
Police had identified six likely locations, three in Hessville. They are 169th Street and Kennedy Avenue; 173rd Street and Kennedy; 165th and Hohman; 165th and Columbia Avenue; Gostlin Avenue and Hohman; and 169th and Grand Avenue.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is a re-posting from several months ago, when my server took a major dump and crapped out about 15 posts.
The wonderful and lovely Pam Zekman, and queen of the investigative journalism in Chicago, did a very interesting piece on what’s wrong with the parking ticket system in Chicago. And as we all know, there is much wrong with the system.
Zekman’s piece claims there are many, many bogus parking ticket issued in Chicago. While I enjoyed the reporting, it’s kind of a huge DUH!
To me, the most revealing part of her report is when she interviews a former Administrative Hearing Officer. The former hearing officer basically says what I have been saying for years–that hearing officers are not trained well and many do not know what they are doing.
Check out the full video report here courtesy of CBS-2 Chicago.