John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The noPhoto is a license-plate frame that promises to get you out of traffic tickets.
How many times have red-light cameras zapped Jonathan Dandrow? The guy's so P.O.ed about them that he's gone and built a gizmo that neutralizes them with pulses of blinding light.
The noPhoto device is a license-plate frame that is embedded with small but powerful lights. When it senses the photo flash from a traffic camera preparing to take a picture, it does a lightning-quick series of calculations and sends out its own well-timed flash. The result is that the noPhoto floods the license plate with light at the moment that the camera is taking its picture, creating an overexposure that makes the plate look wiped clean of letters and numbers.
Dandrow isn't the only one staging technological war against the machines that patrol our careless driving habits. He's joined by a league of supporters who have donated more than $20,000 on his Indiegogo page (now removed) to make noPhoto a reality. Already, he's overcome the problem of police sirens (and at one point, even the sun) setting off the gadget's flashes. Here's footage that Dandrow put out as proof that it works:
But disregarding its functionality, is this device legal? Could it attract more tickets when an annoyed police officer discovers it?
I contacted the authorities in my home state of Virginia about the noPhoto, and here's how that went: A spokesperson for the DMV sent me to an agency website stating that it "is illegal to mount license plates frames, colored glass, plastic or any other type of covering on your license plates that alters or obscures the letters, numbers, decals or the state where the vehicle is registered, and when the registration expires." That didn't exactly address light-based obfuscations, so she directed me to the state police.
A state police representative wondered if it's more of a question for legislators, before saying it's not in their bailiwick because they deal mostly with red-light-free highways. A spokesman for Arlington County, which has red-light cams on local streets, did not get back to me. That left a representative of the automated-traffic industry to speak out against the noPhoto. Charles Territo of American Traffic Solutions, which has installed more than 2,900 camera systems in the U.S. and Canada, sent me this statement:
"This technology and technology similar to it have been around for years. The best countermeasure for avoiding getting caught by a road-safety camera is now and has always been depressing the brake pedal and stopping on red."
But he skirted a query about its legality. So is the noPhoto okay to put on your car? The answer is a resounding, Maybe!