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.”
“We’re not really concerned whether it (sprays) work or not,” says Jennifer Martinez, spokesperson for Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC). “We don’t have an opinion either way. Our issue is safety and making sure people stop at red lights. Our vendor has done some testing and they say it (spray) doesn’t work.
“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.