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November 2013

Learn what Is happening with motor vehicle & law enforcement agencies across the country.

 

Region I

New York busts commercial driving test cheaters

This past September, New York prosecutors arrested 19 people in connection with systematic cheating on the commercial driver’s license test. Those arrested ranged from commercial drivers to security guards to individuals facilitating the cheating.

In total, eight commercial drivers where charged with cheating, and 11 people, including three security guards, were charged with mail fraud conspiracy. State Inspector General Catherine Scott told CBS News that the cheating “undermined the system designed to ensure the security of our roads and communities.”

The cheaters used two methods to pass the test. With one, they colluded with security guards to get their tests out of the testing room, where someone who had the knowledge to pass the test filled out the answers. In the other method, the cheaters used specially marked pencils containing the answers.

Punishment for the cheaters, if convicted, could be as many as 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. According to CBS News, DMV officials are planning on completely eliminating paper tests in favor of computer-based exams, due in part to this incident.

New Jersey court recognizes duty to not text drivers

Although so far no one has been convicted for aiding and abetting a texting driver, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey recently recognized a duty to avoid sending text messages to drivers that would allow just that.

The court was looking at the case of Kyle Best and Shannon Colonna, two teenage friends who texted often. After getting off of work, Best texted Colonna and then proceeded to get in his car. Eight minutes later, Best was making a 911 phone call to report he had hit two people on a motorcycle.

The court looked at Best’s phone records and saw that in that eight-minute interim, Colonna had texted Best three times. Because the injured motorcyclists had already settled with Best, they sued Colonna for sending texts to Best.

In the end, the court ruled in Colonna’s favor, because while it did find a duty to avoid texting, it concluded that the duty only arises if the texter has a “special relationship,” like parent-child or employer-employee, with the driver.

Region II

Video series aims to reduce Georgia highway fatalities

As part of an educational outreach program, the Georgia Department of Education is releasing a series of videos aimed at reducing highway fatalities. This DriveSmart video series is the most recent project in the Georgia DOT’s Toward Zero Deaths initiative.

Videos instructing the public about the dangers that cause highway fatalities—including texting while driving, the importance of seat belts, work zone safety and more—will appear on the Georgia DOT’s website and its YouTube channel.

According to Georgia DOT officials, highway fatalities in the state have gone down each year since 2005. In that year, 1,748 people died on Georgia’s highways, and by 2012 the number had decreased to 1,199.

“We are gratified by the continuing progress being made in reducing fatal accidents on Georgia highways,” Georgia DOT Commissioner Keith Golden said in a statement. “One death is too many, however. This educational video outreach is part of our overall effort.”

Texas novelty plate sells for large sum

A special license plate sold for a record-winning $115,000 in Houston, Texas, this past September. The plate, emblazoned with Texas A&M colors and its logo, features the phrase 12THMAN as its license plate number.

The long-held tradition of referring to Texas A&M football fans as the “12th man” is the reason this particular plate became so pricey. The plate was purchased by Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, who told The Associated Press that he would be giving it to a friend, who is a veteran of the Iraq war.

My Plates, a Texas-based company that partners with the state to produce customized license plates, made and auctioned off the 12THMAN plate. Previously, the most expensive Texas plate sold said HOUSTON, and it went for $25,000. The 12THMAN plate was set to sell for $42,000 some 15 minutes before bidding ended, but a last minute frenzy boosted the price by over $70,000.

Region III

Nebraska receives Digital Government Achievement Award

The State of Nebraska’s Handicap Parking Permit Application and Management System was honored with a Digital Government Achievement Award for its outstanding performance. The Center for Digital Government, a research and advisory institute that examines best practices and policies for technology in government, gives the award.

According to a press release from the Center, the award “highlights outstanding agency and department websites and applications.” The Center chose the Nebraska Handicap Parking system due to its efficiency, functionality and ease of use. The system allows medical professionals to submit handicap permit applications directly through an online portal, in addition to giving permit holders the opportunity to renew their permits or perform other actions online.

“The online service saves applicants days and even weeks of waiting to receive their permit in the mail,” Rhonda K. Lahm, director of the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles, said in a press release. “We are so very proud of this service for Nebraskans.”

Ohio finds new use for driver’s license photos

Since June, Ohio law enforcement has been testing a system that allows officers to determine the identity of individuals in surveillance videos by comparing their faces to their driver’s license photos and mug shots.

Using technology similar to that which social networks employ to identify users’ friends in photos, the Ohio system is another tool law enforcement can use to identify criminals or generate stronger investigative leads.

“This is a step forward for law enforcement, but in many ways it’s just using the photographs that have been available to law enforcement in a more efficient way,” Superintendent of the Ohio Bureau of Investigation Tom Stickrath told WOUB News.

Although the technology is currently in the testing phase, it has been used successfully in investigations. Recently, investigators in northern Ohio used the system to find a family associated with an abandoned baby stroller. Ohio officials expect it to be especially useful for crimes like robbery, where a security camera often records the suspect.

Region IV

Utah Legislature raises speed limits

Through what Utah State Senator Scott Jenkins called “the coolest bill of the whole year,” the state of Utah is raising the speed limit on 289 miles of its highways to 80 mph. Engineers looking at the roads, which currently have a speed limit of 75 mph, found that most drivers are already on the road riding safely at 80–82 mph.

The state has been testing 80 mph zones for years, and it has found that no more fatal accidents occurred in those test zones due to the increased speed.

Although the new limit is reflecting a trend already occurring in drivers, not everyone is happy with the increase. A spokeswoman for AAA Utah expressed concern to the Salt Lake Tribune, saying it may increase accidents and insurance rates and that “high speeds bring more fatal crashes” due to the extra force.

As of now, Utah and Texas are the only states with speed limits of 80 mph or higher; however, a Utah Department of Transportation official told the Salt Lake Tribune that many states are reviewing speed limits.

California DMV reality show deal falls apart

A plan to make a reality show featuring the crew of a California Department of Motor Vehicles branch went sour, culminating with one of the show’s producers suing Ashton Kutcher’s Katalyst Media, which was a co-producer of the show.

The complaint comes from Heeda Muskat, who initially conceived the idea for the show based on experiences her daughter had with the DMV. Muskat claims that the DMV was wary about getting involved with Kutcher’s company due to its association with hidden-camera prank shows like “Punk’d.”

In the lawsuit, Muskat claims that due to this wariness, she was promised control of the show. The lawsuit states that Muskat alleges that after this promise of control, she was purposefully excluded from meetings regarding the project, and this eventually led to the DMV backing out of the deal. A separate suit filed by Katalyst Media against the DMV was settled privately.