I’ve been witnessing firsthand the increased use of license plate reader (LPR) technology in Maryland. Lately, it seems that more and more of my clients’ serious traffic cases, the kind of traffic cases that can send someone to jail, begin with a LPR stop.
What is License Plate Reader technology?
For those unfamiliar with this technology, LPR rapidly collects license plate information by using digital cameras mounted on police cars. Then, by means of optical character recognition (OCR), the system extracts license plate data from photo images. That data is used to access current MVA records for the vehicle. All of this is done in the blink of an eye. LPR technology allows the operator to scan literally thousands of plates in an hour. The LPR operator is instantly alerted to the presence of a wide range of violations. The systems in place routinely provide information about stolen vehicles, mismatched plates, and unpaid fines. However, by assuming that the driver is the registered owner of the vehicle, LPR technology is also able to give the police personal information about the driver of the vehicle! This information includes criminal history, driving record, suspension status, and whether or not the driver has any open warrants.
License Plate Reader technology justifies traffic stops.
From a legal perspective, LPR technology provides instant probable cause for the police to make a traffic stop. Before this technology was in use, the police were able to make traffic stops if and only if they witnessed the driver committing a moving violation –or on the off chance that the driver’s license plate was checked manually. From a civil rights perspective, LPR technology has drastically reduced our ability to move anonymously when we take the wheel of motor vehicle. Deciding the the proper use for this technology should raise some important philosophical questions. More immediately, and for practical reasons, everyone needs to understand that we no longer have any secrets when we’re driving. Our paperwork is being checked constantly and without our knowing about it.
Protect yourself from LPR stops!
There is only one way to protect yourself from being stopped based on LPR: keep your papers in order at all times. Ultimately, LPR technology has eliminated the possibility that paperwork mistakes will go unnoticed. This means you must pay very careful attention to your mail. It’s critically important that the MVA has your correct mailing address. Insurance policies must be kept current. Your license and your registration need to be kept up to date. Any fines or fees need to be paid quickly –and then receipt of payment needs to be confirmed. It’s important to understand that paperwork mistakes can provide the basis for a number of serious traffic charges, including Driving Suspended and Driving Uninsured. Beyond traffic violations, LPR stops can also provide the police with the opportunity to conduct criminal investigations unrelated to traffic laws.
Matthew Baum is a defense attorney with offices in Baltimore and in Columbia, Maryland. He handles serious Maryland traffic cases such as DUI, DWI, Driving Suspended, Driving Revoked, and others. If you have been charged with a serious traffic offense and you need help, please call (410) 929-3435 to schedule a free consultation.