AZ to Ban Red Light and DUI Checkpoint Apps?

Using technology to defeat technology sounds like something from a science fiction movie. But in Arizona, phone applications that alert drivers to red light cameras, speed cameras and radar van locations are now available and in demand.

These apps work by using satellites to spot the camera and the radar, then alert the driver as he or she approaches it. This advises the driver regarding what is ahead, and gives the driver an opportunity to make decisions on how to proceed.

The apps are not without limitations, though. For instance, information about the speed traps and red light cameras needs to be input by other users, so the app can only warn of a camera and speed trap locations that have already been identified. The applications also only give a short period of warning before the driver reaches the camera or speed trap.

Police don’t seem to mind the phone apps warning of red light or speed cameras. In fact, Tucson Police Sergeant Timothy Beam believes anything that causes drivers to slow down or stop for a red light makes the streets safer. What does concern law enforcement is the fact that drivers might be constantly looking at their phone apps to avoid the traps as opposed to paying attention to their driving, possibly making the roads more dangerous.

One type of traffic app that has a group of U.S. Senators in an uproar, however, warns motorists about DWI checkpoints. Senators Chuck Schumer, Frank Lautenberg, Tom Udall and Harry Reid have called upon Apple to reconsider the dangers of their DUI checkpoint app. The Senators recently sent identical letters to Google and RIM executives, causing RIM to pull the apps from its app store.

One of the alerts that Senators focused on was PhantomAlert. Using GPS data from the driver’s phone, PhantomAlert points out the same cameras and radar as other apps but points out DWI checkpoints as well.

PhantomAlert CEO Joe Scott believes the Senators would support the company and the app if they understood what PhantomAlert is trying to accomplish. Scott presumably is referring to improved safety while driving, as the apps also point out school zones, accidents, railroad tracks, speed bumps, dangerous curves and intersections. Knowing about these in advance could potentially help drivers avoid accidents.