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New App Helps Reckless Drivers Thumb Their Noses at City’s Speed Cameras

12:01 AM EDT on May 13, 2022

Motorists are seeking ingenious ways to defeat speed cameras such as this one. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Even as Albany lawmakers slow-walk the renewal of New York's speed camera system, a new cellphone app is helping reckless drivers avoid the devices entirely.

The NYC SpeedCamBuster, which launched last month, bills itself as "the Official Speed Camera Alert and Defense App for New York City" (although there is no such thing), touting what it says is "the most accurate NYC Speed Camera List." The app beeps when a driver approaches any of the hundreds of speed cameras and dozens of red-light cameras in New York, and claims it maintains a record of drivers' speeds so that the reckless school-zone speeder can dispute the camera readings afterwards — features that supposedly distinguish it from the direction-finding app Waze, which also maps speed-camera locations.

"Let’s face it … NYC is not the most affordable city to live in. With the cost of living on the rise year after year, it is getting harder & harder for every day New Yorkers to make ends meet," said the website for the app, which also echoes pro-speeding, anti-camera rhetoric of such groups as Staten Island Speed Cameras: "Mayor Bill DeBlasio [sic] and the City of New York started to implement one of the largest Speed Camera Programs in the country ... and possibly the world, which is considered an un-written tax for the good hard-working people of the city, raising the cost of living even more and having people question if the speed camera program was created for Revenue or for Safety!"

The app is only the latest attempt of motorists to neutralize the cameras and evade speed limits (which, of course, are posted); presumably, if they know the locations of the cameras and can slow down near them, they can feel better informed and thus freer to speed elsewhere — a scofflaw attitude that has fueled an orgy of speeding and roadway deaths across America.

That is also a concern of the NYPD, which spit bullets in 2019 when Google-owned Waze started issuing live warnings about the city's speed-camera locations — and even demanded that Google cease and desist.

“If people are speeding through areas that don’t have speed cameras because they are able to avoid areas that do, that is a significant public safety concern,” an NYPD spokesman said then (the agency did not respond to a request for comment on the new app on Thursday).

News of the app aggravated safe-streets activists, who immediately demanded more cameras.

“If drivers want to avoid speeding tickets, they simply should not speed," said Jacob deCastro, senior communications coordinator for Transportation Alternatives. "And if we want to save lives as traffic violence rises, we need state lawmakers to lift the limits on the speed safety camera program so they can protect New Yorkers 24/7 in more locations.”

Street-safety activist and software engineer Jehiah Czebotar emphasized that the cameras not only improve safety, they also tend to modify driver behavior; in fact, most drivers do not re-infract after they earn one speed-camera ticket, according to a city report on the program.

Moreover, improving technology can make cars themselves safer to operate — if our national lawmakers have the will to enact such standards.

"Any demand for notifications to help drivers avoid speed cameras is proof that actually enforcing the speed limit does change driver behavior for the better," Czebotar said. "Drivers would be better served with an app that reminds them to slow down any time they speed, and ultimately legislators need to require that vehicles themselves have limits on their maximum speed and adhere to posted speed limits."

Chart: DOT
Chart: DOT
Chart: DOT

The app, for its part, already has developed fans.

"Their App is pretty good. I think it's better than WAZE because the app Beeps when you pass the camera and the NYC Speed Camera Locations are pretty accurate," wrote a Streetsblog commenter who calls himself Frank. "WAZE doesnt Beep it just says 'speed camera reported ahead.' And you can Also Dispute Speed Camera Violations directly from the app which is pretty kool."

The manufacturer of NYCSpeedCamBuster did not respond to a detailed set of questions submitted through its website.

Since the advent of the cameras, an entire national industry has grown up advertising products, such as reflective or retractable license-plate covers, that obscure license plates from the cameras' all-seeing eyes. The products allow motorists to avoid tickets for speeding and ignoring red lights and even paying bridge and tunnel tolls. More brazenly, many motorists are simply defacing their plates to make them unreadable by machines. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority estimates that it loses $50 millions in tolls annually at its bridges and tunnels to such frauds.

The app arrives as the Adams administration has come up short in its drive to give New York City the sole power to regulate its speed and red-light cameras through a “home rule” resolution. City Hall had been lobbying Albany — which controls matters as mundane as the city's speed limits, not to mention the number and hours of operation of such cameras — to act so that the city cameras can operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week instead of merely 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays.

State Sen. Andrew Gounardes said in lieu of home rule, he will work on getting the cameras reauthorized for another three years. If his bill fails, cameras will go dark on July 1.

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