Keep your eyes peeled for this one in 2009: a California teenager is trying to get out of a speeding ticket by convincing a court to admit data from his GPS unit. Shaun Malone was pulled over on July 4, 2007, after a radar gun clocked him going 62 in a 45 mph zone. Little did the police officer know that Malone’s parents had equipped his car with a state-of-the-art GPS unit that recorded his speed and position every thirty seconds and alerted his parents whenever he exceeded the speed limit. Malone’s stepfather, a retired police officer, had promised him that they would help him fight a speeding ticket if his GPS said he wasn’t speeding, and fight they have.

After a judge ruled against him in a trial by affidavit, Malone appealed. The result so far has been a two-year-long series of expert testimony and continuances, seemingly with no resolution in sight. Quite an expensive battle for a $190 ticket.

In the end, all U.S. drivers might owe the Malone family big. At present, courts are hesitant to admit GPS data in such cases– even courts that follow the Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals standard that is supposed to determine admissibility of new technology on a case-by-case basis. Data from radar guns, however, is admitted routinely, despite the fact that radar guns are still prone to human error more than fifty years after their first use. This leaves drivers with no ammunition against a ticket that could easily have been the product of human error or, worse, a deliberate move to raise revenue for the local government. Courts should admit data from reliable GPS units.

–Liz Kelly

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3 Responses to Teenager Contests Speeding Ticket with GPS Data

  1. Forrest says:

    I’ve never had or used a car navigation system. Do these work like my Garmin Oregon ( hand-held GPS made for hiking and kayaking ), in that a person can download the track logs to a computer, edit them, and upload them back to the device? I imagine that’s something a court would be interested in…

    On the other hand, I’ve had to edit my track logs a few times, and it’s not easy. While my Oregon unit would allow me to cheat, I’m not sure my math skills are quite up to it … you have only latitude, longitude, and time data available; speed is reconstructed from a series of these points.

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  3. hb says:

    I find myself strangely caught between sides here: on the one hand, it’s about time technology allows the ordinary person the ability to fight the police, who ALWAYS have the presumption of a properly working RD in their favor, even when it’s often giving erroneous readings, or worse, read falsely by a distracted officer…the word of whom is never doubted by a court.

    On the other hand, most people always convince themselves that they’re NEVER at fault, that they would NEVER speed, that they haven’t exceeded the speed limit since the Truman administration. And quite frankly, the vast majority of teenagers wouldn’t know a speed limit unless it was on MySpace or Facebook.

    Given the overwhelmingly base nature of human beings, and our propensity to alter the truth to suit our own needs, I’ll side with the radar gun here, especially since it was a teen driver. Quite simply, people lie for the easiest of reasons. (Yes, cops are people too, but most radar guns actually do work properly. Statistically, it’s more likely than not, that the reading is accurate).