License-plate spray foils traffic
By Steve Sexton
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Motorists have litigated against them, fired bullets at
them and thrown garbage on them — all to get back
at the traffic cameras that have caught them in the act
of running a red light or speeding.
Now they have a new weapon in their arsenal, and it comes
in a can for $29.99. A clear spray called Photoblocker can
be applied to license plates to make them hyper-reflective
and unreadable when the camera flashes.
The product, marketed by online merchant Phantom Plate
(www.phantomplate.com), defies laws that preclude motorists
from placing covers over their license plates but have no
provisions for a clear spray.
Joe Scott, the marketing director for Photoblocker, said
he knows of no jurisdictions that ban the spray. Most states
have laws against obscuring or distorting license plates,
but Photoblocker obscures the license plate only in a photo,
Mr. Scott said, making it legal or at least difficult for
police to detect with the naked eye.
The District, Maryland and Virginia all have laws permitting
the use of red-light cameras, and the Federal Highway Administration
says 21 states have red-light or speed-detection cameras
in place or are considering installing the devices.
Lt. Patrick Burke of the Metropolitan Police Department
said the spray isn't banned by any laws in the District,
but he has yet to see a spray that is effective.
The spray might slip through a loophole in state law, said
Steve Kholer, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol,
who said he had not heard of the product. Citations in California
can cost up to $275.
If the spray becomes a problem, Mr. Kholer said, the law
will catch up with it.
Critics of traffic cameras say the devices violate privacy
and enforce unfairly. Mr. Scott says use of the cameras
"Decent folks — law-abiding citizens —
are getting penalized left and right for clearing intersections
a little too late, or entering and then backing up,"
he said, adding that one client reported being ticketed
for a red-light violation when he was part of a police-escorted
He said thousands of cans of Photoblocker have been sold.
"The cameras were put in place just to raise revenue
and not to make things safer," Mr. Scott said.
The District has collected $21.6 million in fines since
August 1999 from its 39 red-light cameras. An additional
$29 million has been collected from speed cameras since
their installation in August 2001.
Roy Reyer, a former police officer, operates PhotoBuster.com,
a Web site that distributes a product similar to Photoblocker
called Photo Fog. He said anger with the "Big Brother
attitude" of governments has fueled the innovation.
Clear license plate covers preceded the spray. They deflect
light to make plates unreadable from the side and from above,
but not from directly behind a car. Some jurisdictions that
employ the camera-enforcement technology have banned these
That hasn't stopped Phantom Plate and other distributors
from selling the covers. Clear Covers advertises them online
as a "great way to protect your front license plate
from dust, dirt and bugs."
In a game of innovation to stay ahead of traffic enforcement,
the market has produced radar detectors and radar jammers
— now banned in some states — as well as a license
plate cover that deflects police radar.
Motorists aren't the only ones with clever tricks. Paradise
Valley, Ariz., considered hiding its radar cameras in cactus
plants along roadways, the Weekly Standard reported. Outrage
from residents forced officials to reconsider.