Several Ministers of Justice in the U.S. warn of smartphone apps that guides drivers to drive around police check-points. RIM has already responded, but Apple and Google are hesitating to ban applications from there App Stores.
A Saskatchewan text message service that warns drivers about the location of police radar and checkstops to dodge pricey tickets is growing increasingly popular in the province’s two major cities.
The free service, launched by Regina resident Doug Machan two years ago, is nearing 9,000 subscribers provincewide and is expanding to Alberta and British Columbia.
The alert system has thus far avoided the controversy surrounding similar programs in the United States and has even drawn support from local police agencies.
“As sneaky as it sounds it actually slows people down and makes them more aware that police are out there doing their job,” Machan said in an interview Friday.
“It’s a covert way of doing it, I guess.” The idea started three years ago when Machan, 49, sent text messages to a number of friends on their way to his house warning of a police radar trap nearby. A conversation about the idea began and Machan, who works as a train conductor and is a motorcycle enthusiast, soon realized the idea had potential to grow.
Machan said he’s motivated to help people avoid pricey tickets, which he says have become a money grab and a way to pump up government coffers.
“If someone is speeding they should be punished,” he said. “But now it’s moved into a situation where it’s a source of revenue -it’s not a punishment anymore.”
Machan started a group for his close friends and within a year had more than 1,200 subscribers.
His BlackBerry only allowed text messages to be sent to a maximum of 1,200 people, crashing his phone when the limit was surpassed.
He now hosts the bulk-text service on a server.
The real-time alert system works by pooling information from drivers and subscribers -3,200 in Saskatoon and 5,500 in Regina -who send him text messages with information on police radar, road closures, checkstops or other traffic-related news.
He tries to verify the information or waits for multiple reports before letting the group know.
The service typically sends out 10 or more warnings per day.
False reports are typically corrected by other users, he said, and subscribers who report bad information are flagged. A number of police officers have joined the list, several of whom report information on collisions.
“I screen the (reports) to make sure they’re legit,” he said. “Otherwise you’d be hearing about the unicorns on (Regina’s) Albert Street.”
Sgt. Tim Korchinski with the Saskatoon police traffic division said he’s supportive of the warning system as long as drivers aren’t checking the text message warnings while behind the wheel. Saskatoon police post radar and check point locations on their website already, he said.
“We don’t have any problems with people messaging each other or letting people know about locations,” Korchinski said. “It actually builds up awareness of traffic safety. The more people that talk about it the more it’s going to be on the forefront and people will say, ‘Hey, we’ve gotta slow down.’ But with regards to getting text messages while they’re driving or texting while they’re driving, that’s the part we’re not crazy about.”
The Star Phoenix