Recently I saw something I hadn’t seen in Massachusetts for a long time: another driver flashed to warn me of a speed trap.

I grew up in an area where flashing headlights meant “speed trap ahead.” Sometimes they meant “you’re an idiot”, but mostly they were a helpful warning.

When I started commuting in slow traffic near Boston I was confused by all the drivers insulting my driving, until I figured out the local dialect. Flashing headlights mean “it’s OK to go ahead of me.”

Driving through Upstate New York a few years ago I saw a motorcycle rider flashing his lights at oncoming, left-turning traffic at a traffic signal. In the Oneonta dialect he was saying “don’t hit me!” If he did that in Boston he’d be run over.

As for the speed trap, I’m not sure if it was one. The police car in the parking lot wasn’t running radar. Maybe it was just parked. On the other hand, it looks like the town recently lowered the speed limit. And a common reason for police to park near the road is revenue extraction or commuter deterrence.

Has headlight flashing gone the way of CB radio? Now we have apps for that.

During a recent trip along the Mass Pike my passenger had Waze running on her phone. With lots of other Waze users ahead we had warnings before all the speed traps. There were several in those 40 miles because Troop E is the revenue collection arm of the State Police and they only patrol the Turnpike.

Apps have some obvious advantages, like longer range communication and crowdsourcing.

They have disadvantages too.

They’re harder to use while driving. You need to set up the software, agree to let Google spy on you, mount your phone in a useful place, and still take your attention off the road. (Unless you have a heads up display — anybody reading this have a Waze integration with a HUD?) In states where you’re not allowed to touch an electronic device, you have to make sure no police are around before you warn people that police are around.

And more importantly, all it takes is one Google executive who wants to earn favor with police and all those reports are gone.

The Internet today runs on hatred. In both directions: “I hate you” and “If you don’t give me what I want you must hate me.” Police tried to get Waze to censor reports. They will keep playing the “you’re a cop-hating cop-killer” card, and one day it will work.

I’d say if police feel hated they should hang up their radar guns, refuse to make pretext stops, and wait for people to respect them again. But I don’t manage public relations for Google.

Or Apple.

The smartphone market is essentially down to two players. Do you want apps Google approves of or do you want apps Apple approves of? The Mayor of Leonia, New Jersey was able to remove his city from the map by convincing Google he was special. (I think he got to Apple too, but the Apple Maps user interface is so awful I couldn’t confirm.)

For a data sharing app, you need a service provider, which gets very expensive when a few people hate you. You might have your service terminated to appease political enemies or to appease criminal enemies. With enough money you can overcome these obstacles. Think Silicon Valley levels of money, not garage hobbyist levels of money.

And you have the same problem that startup dating services have. They’re only useful with a lot of users. Nobody wants to be the first customer of a dating site. Startups seed their systems with fake accounts to avoid this problem.

To solve that problem, maybe we can steal from their playbook. What’s the opposite of a police license plate scanner? A few property owners willing to host radio direction finders could track police radio and radar over a wide area.

Maybe I’ll buy a direction finder and write an app. What do you think the rejection message from the Apple App Store will say?

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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3 Responses to “Flashback”

  1. Tom McCarey says:

    Police cars have a myriad of electronic devices, many broadcasting various frequencies. Isn’t there a talented techie out there who could invent a detector to find these wavelengths thereby notifying a civilian of the presence of a cop car nearby? If I knew there was a cop nearby , that would stymie most speed traps wouldn’t it? Anyone?
    Tom McCarey NMA Member

    • Clair Oppriecht says:

      I have a very good radar detector that tells me if there are any signals (radar) emitting up to two plus miles away; it gives the direction in front to the side or behind me. Cops many times go silent so I get no warning; they wait until they actually see you and if you look to be speeding then they hit you instantly. You always need to be on guard and not to rely entirely on a radar detector, but it’s a great help. I was told that if you instantly brake and drop your speed when getting an instant warning, the cop can’t “get a lock” on your speed. I don’t know if this is true, but I’ve never gotten a speeding ticket with my detector. Whenever there MAY be a cop around I never go more than about 10 mph above the limit, and that excess is easily dropped by tapping your brakes.

  2. Clair Oppriecht says:

    After an encounter with a sheriff deputy which left me with two tickets worth $475 and seven points, I downloaded the Rules Of The Road State Statutes. I encourage everyone to do so; these are the laws you get ticketed and fined for violating, yet virtually no one has read them. To the point on headlight flashing: There is no legal use of doing so. Cars come with the ability to flash your high beams because in other countries they are used to signal slower drivers ahead to get out of the fast lane or to signal a pass. Not so in Wisconsin, that’s illegal. To pass a slower car you must BEEP YOUR HORN to give them a chance to speed up. If they fail to comply, then you may pass if safe to do so. Nobody does that! The statutes were written before most of us were born and they have not been updated to reflect changes in auto technology or driving norms. The some 40+ pages of these statutes have rules on how to pass someone on a horse at the side of the road, but nothing about the use of Winter tires which hadn’t been invented yet. Why are these actual laws so secret and why can’t they be brought into this century? BTW: they had to drop both my charges when I showed a copy of the statutes to the prosecutor. She (and the deputy) had not read them either and I had not violated them.