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.
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?
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