Do Not Question The System, Tovarich!

Sometime early next year the state plans to fully deploy a system for checking the validity of insurance cards.  The data will be available to police when they run a license-plate check.

Under the system, insurance information will pop up on the in-car computers of police officers when they check license-plate numbers. The state will pay for the $3.5 million-per-year system through a $1 fee on vehicle registrations. Motorists will still be required to carry their insurance card.

The first thing that came to my mind is that some poor schmucks are going to get hurt badly by this if they happen to be unlucky enough to be the victim of poor data in the system, especially in those jurisdictions where they impound your vehicle on the spot for failing to have insurance.  It appears I’m not alone, because it’s happened already in other states.

“The system has many flaws in other states where [it] has been enacted. Motorists with valid insurance have been pulled over, fined, or sometime had their cars impounded because the [correct] data does not match what the state has” in the database.

—Sandra Helin, spokeswoman for the Southwestern Insurance Information Service, an industry group

The state claims that there will be a “data clean-up phase” conducted before the system will go online.  But it doesn’t inspire confidence that the system provides no way for you to verify your own data.  You just have to hope that your insurance company correctly spots any inconsistencies before it goes online.

What peeves me the most about these sorts of systems is that there is never any accountability for screw-ups.  The onus is put on the victim (guilty until proven innocent) to prove that the system was wrong.  And in some cases, they just don’t care.  I’m reminded of the case where a woman was issued two (duplicate) tickets by the City of Garland from a red-light camera because she ran a red light.  The only problem with the citation was that she ran the light because an officer was blocking it to let her pass.  She was driving in a funeral procession.  In fact, it was her own mother’s funeral.  It took multiple attempts to get in touch with anyone at the city who could help, and when they did find someone they demanded a copy of the obituary.  But once the obituary was sent, she couldn’t get any information out of the city as to whether the tickets were really dismissed.  Worried that perhaps these tickets might cause warrants to be issued for her, she finally called Saul Garza at Fox 4 News.  Interestingly enough, the city managed to dig up someone who was helpful once a reporter started digging.

I’d like to see some real penalties for the people running the system if they cause an innocent person to be fined or have their vehicle impounded.  A system like this, if it can result in any sort of penalty against a person must be as close to 100% accurate as possible.  There also have to be safeguards and checks-and-balances so that people aren’t bounced between the vendor and the state when they try to get answers.  The red light cameras have really brought these issues to light recently, with people being fined for crossing an imaginary stop line or for vehicles they don’t own.  Unfortunately, in most cases, when attempting to correct the problem the victim gets bounced between the camera vendor/operator and the city and no one will step up and own the problem.  Perhaps if the city, state, and/or vendor in these cases would have to pay a hefty fine for each uncorrected mistake, they’d be more inclined to take responsibility instead of pointing fingers.  It shouldn’t require calling an investigative reporter to get problems fixed.


  1. Phelps says:

    We are getting dangerously close to where the only penalties for the people running the system are the ones the founders envisioned in the Second Amendment.

  2. Mike says:

    Second ammendment time.  We’re getting closer every day.  Unfortunately, our little .45 caliber guns are too small to defeat this government.

  3. Mike says:

    Oh the joy of comment spam.

  4. I see you’ve noticed our persistent visitor. 

    The spammers have adapted to all of the automated spam blocking features by *manually* spamming older entries.  The pattern I’ve noticed is that they will hit one or two older entries shortly after I’ve posted something new.  I think they are using the aggregator sites to watch for new blog updates, then finding older articles that still have comments enabled.  They also only use a URL for a short time, which makes filtering nearly impossible.

    Given the above it would be very difficult to stop the spamming, short of *requiring* registration to comment (but then I also get spammers registering, so they’d probably just register). However, I always delete the comments within about 12 hours, so they are failing in their primary goal, which is to improve their Google rankings. 

    I’m not sure whether this counts as a victory over comment spam or not, but it’s at least reduced my server load (I’ve also noticed a drop in referrer spam attempts).

  5. Mike says:

    What I finally did on my site(s) is to enable CAPTCHA for comments.  That killed 99% of it overnight. 

    Of course, now spammers are hiring kids in China for $1 a day to manually SPAM, so I’m not sure how long even that will work.

    Maybe if we just made it legal to slit spammers necks… I’d become a bounty hunter.

  6. That’s the problem here, in that I’m pretty sure this spam is manually entered, so a CAPTCHA is useless.

    But, even if it weren’t, I probably wouldn’t use one, because they are a usability problem.  I know that I’ve had at least one blind reader in the past, and CAPTCHA’s don’t work for the visually impaired.

    If I were going to do such a test, I’d probably use a textually based human test (something like “What is the color of an orange?”).  That sort of thing is difficult for a machine to parse, but it’s textual and the answer is easy for a human.