Want to Know How Often That Driver Gets Caught Speeding? Ask @HowsMyDrivingNY.

The Twitter bot lets anyone look up the parking, speeding, and red light violations associated with a specific license plate.

A tweet to @HowsMyDrivingNY turned up 28 violations associated with this license plate, including two each for parking in a crosswalk, parking in front of a fire hydrant, and speeding in school zone.  Photo: casio_juarez/Twitter
A tweet to @HowsMyDrivingNY turned up 28 violations associated with this license plate, including two each for parking in a crosswalk, parking in front of a fire hydrant, and speeding in school zone. Photo: casio_juarez/Twitter

Ever watch a driver blow by you at twice the speed limit and wonder how often they get busted? Or maybe you keep running across the same illegally parked vehicle and think to yourself, “If this person can get away with this stuff, what else do they try to do?”

Well, now you can find out in a matter of seconds thanks to @HowsMyDrivingNY, a Twitter bot created by Brooklyn resident Brian Howald.

All you have to do is tag @HowsMyDrivingNY in a tweet with the license plate information, and — presto! — the car’s record of parking violations and camera tickets pops up a few second later in a response.

Take the driver in the photograph above, who parked in the sidewalk on Rogers Avenue at Bergen Street. That wasn’t his first rodeo:

There’s a growing awareness of the risk posed by drivers who habitually speed and run red lights. Using the city’s open data portal, advocates discovered that Dorothy Bruns, who killed two young children with her car earlier this month, had a long history of speeding and red light running.

Howald himself was accosted in a bike lane by State Senator Marty Golden, who’s racked up several speeding and red light violations in the past few years, and who ran over and killed a woman in his district in 2005.

The bot makes this information easier for people to look up than the city’s open data interface, Howald said. Unlike the city’s portal, you can use the bot with a mobile device, and you don’t need any specialized knowledge of how to query a database.

“Anyone can go to the city’s open data website and search for a plate, but I think that’s kind of cumbersome,” he said. “You have to be at least a little savvy about data to know how to use to database to find what you’re searching for.”

With @HowsMyDrivingNY, all you need is a Twitter account to pull up a car’s record in a matter of seconds.

  • Ken Dodd

    That is irrelevant when compared to the key finding of the study – that 60% of fatalities occurred as a result of the driver breaking the law. If a driver kills someone as a result of breaking the law, it doesn’t matter if the victim was intoxicated, the fact remains that had the driver obeyed the law, the pedestrian would still be alive. Even counting pedestrian intoxication among the “driver not at fault” numbers, it doesn’t change the fact that the majority of deaths are as a result of illegal driving.

  • Ken Dodd

    But at the same time, you’re quite confident to assert that speed cameras are NOT effective, presumably basing that information on studies or reports that WE would find “biased” (like ones published by alliances of drivers, for instance). And it doesn’t seem like you’ve factored in the things I mentioned, like the financial cost of accidents and the cost in police manpower.

  • jcwconsult

    If the drunk pedestrian had not stumbled into the road, they would still be alive. Safety is a TWO way process with pedestrians and cyclists. Studies I have seen from NHTSA are a lot more balanced with less of an agenda.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Ken Dodd

    If the car had not been speeding, the collision would have resulted in an injury rather than a fatality. The fact remains that collisions that happen at 25mph or slower rarely result in a fatality. If the car had not blown the red light or stop sign, it would not matter that the drunk had stumbled into the road because the collision would not have occured. If the driver had slowed down to yield instead of taking a corner without slowing down, it would not matter if the pedestrian was drunk, on drugs, texting or walking with his eyes closed. The salient fact is that even given pedestrian or cyclist error, the overwhelming factor for collisions being fatal as opposed to injurious is driver speed.

  • dr2chase

    Public ways are public, and it hardly makes sense to cede them to cars, given how inefficiently cars use that space and how dangerous they are to pedestrians compared to the alternatives. In Montana, sure, but in dense cities?

  • jcwconsult

    It is very easy to make speed cameras effective to reduce speeds to whatever speed you want. Put up enough cameras and enough warning about the cameras that almost no one speeds. But at about $3,000 per month per camera, they will become a massive cost element in the city budget – an element that the city officials will find unacceptable. Speed cameras are used ONLY where they can produce enough tickets to turn a profit.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    If speeds of XX mph are required for whatever reason, the only effective way to reduce speeds to that level is to degrade the roadway environment so that 85% of the drivers now feel safe and comfortable only at speeds up to about XX mph. It is expensive, cannot be used as a profit-making racket, and may have other negative effects the city finds unacceptable.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    The two ideas can mix very well. Pedestrian/cyclist precincts of multiple square blocks with adequate adjacent parking, approached by free flowing collectors and arterials.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • qrt145

    It is not a racket to fine reckless drivers who can’t be bothered to look at road signs and speedometers. It is not rocket science to comply with a speed limit; the only reason nobody does is that they can get away with it.

  • dr2chase

    In Boston, and in NYC, arterials and collectors are rarely free-flowing, and our experiment with putting roads underground was hilariously expensive (everyone in every other mode thinks that they should receive a proportional amount of money for *their* boondoggle — and commuter rail carries 42% of rush traffic into Boston from suburbs, so that’s not peanuts). Cars waste that valuable space, can’t push more than about 1800 per hour per lane, and far less once two routes intersect.

  • jcwconsult

    Putting up some speed cameras in locations the city knows for certain will not significantly affect the actual speeds because not enough cameras are used to be effective on speeds, but will collect far more money than their high costs is a for-profit racket.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • qrt145

    It is not a racket to “profit” from criminals.

  • jcwconsult

    In some very large cities, speed cameras produce profits ONLY when the traffic is free flowing such as well after business hours. During the business day, as you note, traffic is not usually free flowing because of too much congestion. So the cameras make money only in some hours of the day when it is possible for traffic to flow freely. I just surveyed a Florida city considering red light cameras and that will be the case there. The yellow intervals are too short for very free flowing traffic; during the day traffic is not free flowing; thus the cameras will produce their profits on split second violations when traffic is light and free-flowing. The for-profit camera companies are EXPERT in surveying and confirming those areas to suggest locating their cameras to be certain both the city and the for-profit camera company will indeed make reliable profits.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    It is a racket when the city falsely claims it is about safety.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • reasonableexplanation

    I reread the comments above, and… not really. The guy actually cites sources to back up all his views. You may not like it, but your responses consist of “well things shouldn’t be this way.” That’s fine, but he’s telling you how things are.

    My issue with you here though aren’t your views (though I do disagree with a lot of them), it’s that your responses are the opposite of respectful, and for no reason.

    I don’t know what your goals are here. If it’s to make you feel better in an echo chamber, you’re on the right track. That route means your only allies are people deep into your way of thinking already. If you think you can institute meaningful change of how our cities are laid out with just that group, that’s your prerogative.

    My personal opinion, for what it’s worth, is that streets advocates need a big tent to get anything done. And if that’s true, I’d argue you’re working against your own interests.

  • The “sources” that this person cites are presented as scientific analyses of conditions; but in fact baked into them are the results of many (horrible) policy decisions, as drivers’ interests were the only ones that were taken into account in their creation. To use these sources without an understanding of their flaws could be an honest mistake on the part of a naive person. But to use them while intentionally mischaracterising their nature is an act of disinformation.

    You are correct when you talk of a “big tent”. Advocates for complete streets have the responsibility to make the argument very clearly that all measures that they propose are in fact in the interest of everyone, including drivers. For instance, low speed limits and aggressive enforcement against speeding reduce the likelihood that a driver will be seriously injured or killed in a crash, reduce the likelihood of a driver killing someone else, and minimise the driver’s repair costs when a crash does occur. Every other aspect of complete streets, from designs that are meant explicitly as traffic-calming measures, to policies such as bus lanes or bike lanes which have traffic calming as a side effect, ought to be promoted by means of a similar appeal to the common interest, hence to drivers’ interests as well.

    Unfortunately, that line of argument is ineffective when dealing with a troll. Indeed, any line of reasoning is futile against a troll, because a troll does not engage in honest debate, but rather in a game designed to evade honest debate. This particular troll’s practice consists of a fundamental denial of the legitimacy of speed limits, as well as a repeated assertion that the most effective enforcement technique possible, speed cameras, is nothing but a money-making scam.

    Understand that this is not an exchange amongst holders of different viewpoints; it is in fact an attack on such exchanges. It is a strategic attempt to shift the debate by undermining what ordinarily would be a principle commonly held by all sides, namely, the right of a community to set policy and to govern itself.

    In addition to the dishonest tactics on the discussions around policy, this person simply restates prevailing orthodoxies, such as the idea of the street being primarily a place for cars, and the imaginary responsibility on the part of the most vulnerable road users to see to their own safety by staying clear of cars. This adds nothing productive to any conversation, as it is dogma which every one of us is already painfully aware of. The very purpose of a site like Streetsblog, and of the complete streets movement in general, is to counter that dogma.

    Not everyone whom one disagrees with is a troll; grasping the distinction is essential. The person in question is a troll. While honest discussion with people of differing viewpoints is often illuminating and usually leads to some type of learning, any engagement with a troll is a total loss and constitutes an utter waste of energy. Worse, it encourages the troll to carry on, and so to further degrade the quality of discussion in the forum.

  • jcwconsult

    Let me try a bit further explanation, so people understand why speed cameras – the way they are ACTUALLY used – are a for-profit racket. An area posted at 25 mph with 85th percentile speeds of about 35 mph has 10 cameras that cost $3,000 per month each, and they produce an average of $5,000 each in paid tickets, for a net profit of $2,000 per month per camera or $24,000 per month for the group or $240,000 a year net profit. The posted limits are typically 10 mph below the 35 mph point they would be set with 85th percentile methods. The city could correct the limits to 35 mph with 85th speeds remaining 35 mph plus or minus 1 or 2 mph, or could re-engineer the streets so that 85% of the cars now feel safe and comfortable only at speed up to about 25 mph. Either action would drastically reduce the revenue to an average of perhaps $1,000 per month per camera. That would change the finances of program from a $240,000 annual profit to a $240,000 annual loss or cost.

    Guess how strong the motivations are to never fix the problem. Speed and red light cameras produce profits only when the streets and traffic engineering parameters are deliberately done or left improperly designed. The city has a perverse and very profitable incentive to never fix the problems. The mere introduction of for-profit ticket cameras virtually guarantees the engineering issues will never be fixed because it would cost the city too much money to ever fix them.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • fdtutf

    Did I say that was my real goal? No. What I am saying is that, based on your description of motorist behavior, motorists have no right to drive in cities, because they refuse to obey the law, and they endanger pedestrians with their disobedience. I don’t see any reason to allow such depraved people to endanger others.

  • jcwconsult

    So what is your solution – one that is practical and works?
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • fdtutf

    I’m not sure there is one at this point. Which says a great deal about our society none of it good

  • Joe R.

    There is a solution. On urban streets govern vehicles to the speed limit. The technology already exists for that. You just need to retrofit existing vehicles, and mandate it in new vehicles. Do that and you can post the speed limit at whatever you want. It won’t cost local governments anything to implement, either.

  • Joe R.

    As an engineer I can tell you he’s spot on that road design is pretty much the sole determinant of driving speed. Where he’s wrong is that he hasn’t taken into account new technology which can force drivers to obey speed limits set lower than the 85th percentile. That technology didn’t exist until recently. Now cars can read speed limit signs, and govern themselves to the speed limit.

    His other argument is that even if we can affect perfect enforcement of slower speeds either via road redesign or other means that there might be detrimental effects. Perhaps there are, but those would be mainly to motorists who want to do fast trips on local urban streets. I submit the needs of other street users for safer streets trump the needs of a minority of motorists (at least in NYC).

    He’s also ignoring another thing. If you reduce speeds enough, you no longer need traffic signals or stop signs to keep cars from colliding with each other. Generally, this means speeds of 20 mph or less. If you can drive 20 mph but only need to slow or stop occasionally, you might get where you’re going faster than if you go 35 or 40 mph but are stopped half the time for red lights. You’ll also have a much smoother ride, instead of starting and stopping constantly. That’s one benefit I can think of for motorists if we can actually get compliance with reduced speed limits. However, as I said, it doesn’t matter if motorists benefit or are hurt by lower speed limits. In areas where they are a minority of street users their needs should be secondary to the needs of cyclists and pedestrians.

  • Joe R.

    Better yet just require new cars to have technology which governs them to the speed limit, at least on urban streets. And retrofit existing cars whenever possible. There is so much negative press and controversy surrounding speed cameras that to me it’s a non-solution. At best the cameras work where they are located and when they’re on. Governing cars to the speed limit works 100% of the time. And you don’t need local politicians to get on board for it. It would take the form of a federal equipment mandate much like seat belts.

  • Joe R.

    Require cars to be governed to the speed limit. It would work 100% of the time, and it would hardly cost anything, perhaps a few hundred tops added to the price of a new vehicle. That might be offset by reduced insurance premiums for any vehicle equipped with speed-governing technology.

    Or as an alternate put up speed cameras, but don’t fine speeding drivers (that gets rid of your “for-profit” argument). Instead, send the info on any cars caught speeding to the insurance companies. When habitual speeders see their premiums skyrocket they might slow down.

  • dr2chase

    I think you’re working a little too fast on your replies — twice now you’ve “replied” to me with something from some other thread. I hope you drive more carefully than that.

  • jcwconsult

    I think you would find this impossible to get passed.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    My last crash was in 1989 when an SUV ran a stop sign from my left from a minor road to cross the main arterial I was on. It happened too close to prevent the crash, but I was able to angle our car to the right to make it a less damaging angle crash – rather than a t-bone.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association
    PS: It is unusual to be able to change the minds of the debate partners, but it is possible to educate those that are watching to the realities of the issues.

  • Joe R.

    It’s happening regardless. AVs will be programmed not to exceed the speed limit, at least on urban streets. Once a significant fraction of the vehicles are AVs, which will happen within a few years, it’ll be harder and harder for cars driven manually to exceed the speed limit. Also, doing so will interfere with smooth traffic flow, so there will be an impetus from those who use AVs to also limit the speed of manually driven vehicles.

    And yes, it has a good chance of being passed. How exactly will politicians who are against this defend their position? Are they going to defend the “right” of drivers to break the law? That would be like defending the “right” of someone to rape another person because maybe that person gave them a hard on.

    What might happen in a society where speed limits are rigorously enforced is saner speed limits. That seems to be something you want to happen. Now if we want drivers to go 30 mph we have to set the speed limit to 20 mph because “speed limit” in the minds of most drivers means “you must go at least this speed, and if it’s possible you’re free to go 10 to 15 mph over it”. In a world where cars can’t physically exceed the speed limit you can use the actual speed you want traffic to move at.

  • jcwconsult

    I agree most AVs will be programmed to comply with speed limits. As long as they are a small percentage of the vehicle mix, that will mean they sometimes become moving traffic hazards at 10+ mph below the prevailing speeds in some places. Some AV makers have allowed their vehicles to go above the posted limit when smoothly & safely going along with the traffic flow requires that failure to comply.

    The notion that “everyone goes 10 over” is simply false. When limits are set at the 85th percentile, compliance rates are about 85% – and the speeds themselves don’t change by more than 3 mph when limits are corrected to the 85th.

    The best freeway example is Texas Highway 130 posted at 85 mph between Austin and San Antonio, the highest posted limit in the USA. I got the 85th speed data from TxDOT and the 85th speeds are 86 mph. Local to me, two 4 lane collector street segments of Business Route I-94 had 85th speeds of 40 and 47 when posted at 30 and 35 (and they were heavily enforced for profits), with compliance rates less than 10%. Limits were corrected to 40 and 45 and the 85th speeds remained exactly the same at 40 and 47 (and I have not seen even one enforcement action on those segments since the limits were corrected in April 2008).

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • LinuxGuy

    How about a bot for the pedestrians, joggers, and bicyclists who break the rules?

  • jcwconsult

    As reasonableexplantion points out, I am just stating what are the facts about drivers behavior as shown in 75+ years of traffic safety engineering research, and what it takes to change that behavior. Speed limits set well below the actual 85th percentile speeds and any level of enforcement that cities will actually use have little or no effect on the actual 85th percentile speeds, +/- 1 or 2 mph – or occasionally 3 mph. Re-engineering roadways is the only effective way to decrease or increase the actual 85th percentile travel speeds.

    People drive to what they can see and feel. If drivers perceive they can see the distance needed for an emergency stop or swerve to avoid a crash and the width plus needed deviations from straight ahead are OK at their chosen speed, that determines their safe and comfortable speed range. For a really stark example, the actual 85th percentile speeds on most midwestern rural highways varies from the low 60 mph range to about 70. On rural Missouri highways researched by the National Safety Council, the 85th percentile speed was 62.5 mph – SEVENTY EIGHT YEARS AGO in 1940. On most of them it won’t be over 70 today – even in vastly improved cars. WHY? Because the layout and basic design of most rural 2 lane highways has not changed very much since they were first built. The sight distances and nature of the curves today are pretty much the same as they were in 1940 – and so are the speeds.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • fdtutf

    There’s nothing *impractical* about banning private automobiles from urban areas that have significant numbers of pedestrians; the problems are, rather, *political*.

    There is probably no solution that is politically viable, which says a great deal about U.S. society, none of it good.

  • jcwconsult

    I agree there is no political viable solution to banning cars from large urban areas with significant numbers of pedestrians in the USA. We COULD create some pedestrian precincts that are for example maybe a half-mile on a side. This is done a lot in Europe with adequate parking garages along the main arterials and collectors beside or between the precincts. They are VERY pleasant and safe to use for shopping, restaurants, entertainment, offices, libraries, government offices, etc. But they are also very accessible by car for people that do not live on a transit route that goes to the area. Commercial supply vehicles are restricted to early AM and late PM hours – outside of the business day.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

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