Accuracy of Radar Guns to Play Out in Court
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Okay, so just how accurate are those radar guns? A retired sheriff's deputy in Windsor, California may have an answer. A little while back, he installed a GPS tracking device in his stepson's car in order to monitor his driving. Now that same device could prove police were wrong when they recently pulled over the teen for speeding.
NPR's John McChesney reports.
JOHN McCHESNEY: Roger Rude is on a mission, and he wants to make clear at the outset, that mission is to not overturn his stepson Shaun's speeding ticket. That wasn't why Rude installed the tracker in Shaun's car.
Mr. ROGER RUDE (Retired Deputy, Windsor, California): What's important is that parents of teens understand this technology is out there. The tragedies that are taking place due to the teen driving and speed are now becoming needless.
McCHESNEY: Rude takes me to his computer and logs on to the Web site for the GPS company keeping track of the device installed in his stepson's car.
Mr. RUDE: After entering a password, it displays a map that will show Shaun's vehicle's current location. He's at work at his job, Valley Tire and Break, in Pine Road in Santa Rosa. And I know how long he's been there, and I will know when he leaves.
McCHESNEY: On the map is a blue automobile icon indicating Shaun's car. The map also shows his route, and Roger Rude can click anywhere along that road and get a time and speed check. If Shaun drives faster than 70 miles an hour, his parents will get an automatic e-mail indicating where and when that happened. It did happen once.
Mr. RUDE: And for that event, he lost his keys for 10 days.
McCHESNEY: But the same device that got him in trouble back then may save him now. The police recently wrote him a ticket for going 62 in a 45-mile-an-hour zone, but the GPS tracker shows he was going the speed limit. The question now is whether the GPS will trump the radar gun.
Mr. RUDE: Radar guns are a long way from being infallible. They can make a lot of errors.
McCHESNEY: Jim Baxter, president of the National Motorist Association, says the most common radar error is tracking the wrong vehicle. And what about the accuracy of GPS?
Mr. JIM BAXTER (President, National Motorist Association): GPS readings in terms of measuring speed are generally quite accurate and can measure down the one-tenth of a mile per hour.
McCHESNEY: As a former public relations officer for the Sonoma County sheriff, Roger Rude is media savvy. And as publicized, Shaun's tracker is part of his campaign to get more parents to use one, and that's why you won't be hearing from Shaun in this report - not after teachers at his school assigned his class to write papers about his tracker.
Mr. RUDE: That didn't go over very well for Shaun at school, so he's a little allergic to media exposure at this point and has steadfastly not wanted it in his vehicle.
McCHESNEY: And you won't be hearing from the police who issued the ticket, either. They didn't return our phone calls. So has Shaun changed his attitude about that tracker?
Mr. RUDE: When we were sitting in the hallway at court, I asked him - I said I know, Shaun, if you had your choice it'd be out with your car right now, and you don't want it in your car. However, just for today, as we're sitting here in the hallway about to go on the court, are you glad it was in your car? And he went, yeah, I am.
McCHESNEY: Shaun and his stepfather faced a few more hurdles. The first is to raise a reasonable doubt about the radar gun so they can take the matter to a higher court. But even if Shaun wins, there's still a reasonable doubt that he will ever love his tracker.
John McChesney, NPR News, San Francisco.
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