Drivers have grudgingly gotten used to traffic cameras, those watchful little lenses perched atop stoplights or keeping watch over your speed. But now drivers in Oklahoma will have another set of eyes watching over them next year — cameras that will scan license plates and automatically fine drivers who are uninsured.
It’s the first program of its kind in the U.S., and will involve setting up high-speed cameras on highways across the state, which will automatically scan drivers’ license plates and check them against a database with the plates of all insured vehicles, according to KGOU.
If the plate comes up as uninsured, an automatic fine of $184 will be mailed to the owner’s house, the station reported. The network will include around 40 plate readers, made by the traffic-camera company Gatso USA, which are expected to send out as many as 20,000 citations per month, reported KOCO. It’s not clear exactly when the first citations will be issued.
The plans for the program began materializing in 2016, after lawmakers worked to address the fact that about a quarter of Oklahoma drivers were not insured, according to News 4. “We all know somebody or has been somebody who has been in an accident with someone who doesn't have insurance,” State Sen. Corey Brooks told News 4 in 2016. “It causes a lot of issues, plus it raises everybody's insurance rates around the country.”
Drivers who pay the $184 fine will not have the charge of driving without insurance added to their permanent record. If they don’t pay the fine, their information will be sent to the District Attorney’s office, which could then decide to prosecute, reported News 4. The program will be run by the District Attorneys Council, not by police.
The problem it’s trying to address is a major one, and not just in Oklahoma. According to research from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Insurance Research Council, about one in every 10 drivers in the U.S. is not insured. Depending on your plan and your state, being hit by an uninsured driver could mean you would not be reimbursed for damage to your car, property, or medical expenses - unless you added an extra plan that covers being hit by someone without insurance, according to NOLO.
Still, some groups are wary of the technology. Notably, the American Civil Liberties Union has raised concerns about the potential danger of the government using traffic cameras to track motorists’ whereabouts. “Enormous databases of innocent motorists’ location information are growing rapidly,” the ACLU wrote on their website. “This information is often retained for years, or even indefinitely, with few or no restrictions to protect privacy rights.”
According to the text of the bill authorizing the cameras in Oklahoma, license plate information will be destroyed if it is no longer being used as evidence of a violation, and cannot be sold or given out in open-records requests.