Idea: TrashCam - A Car Mounted Camera to Catch Litterers and Road Accidents
The idea is for a camera system which can be attached to the front of any cars and used to catch other people littering (marketed at people who hate littering) and/or provide evidence for at-fault drivers in accidents (marketed to people/companies paranoid about accidents). Such a camera system would be similar to cameras used on some police cars, except they would be mounted discretely and synchronized with an online web server. With a push of a button the prior thirty seconds of video (the unit will record continuously while driving) can be saved and remotely uploaded to a central sever. At the server, an authorized person can review the footage, and if it clearly shows someone throwing litter/trash out their car window out on a public road, the owner of the car can be mailed a fine for littering, complete with a private URL where the persecutor can see the (anonymous) video as proof. This feature to save the last thirty seconds of footage can also provide evidence in case of road accidents and/or other dubious activities caught on tape.
The inspiration behind this idea is my own huge detest of littering. This definitely isn't a "money-motivate" idea: I don't want a dime... I want justice! Almost EVERY day, without fail, I see people throwing trash from their cars. It infuriates me. It's something you probably see everyday too - people thoughtlessly throwing cigarettes (a fire hazard in the woodland areas), food wrappers and other unsightly trash out the window - but we are all (currently) powerless to stop it. Depending where you live the fine for littering may be anywhere from $200 to $1000. This discouragement does not work; it may as well be written on toilet paper. How many people do you know have been fined for littering? Zero. Police don't see these littering events (since you have to be stupid to throw litter out your window with a police-car behind you) and even if they did see a littering offence I feel there's a good chance they'd ignore it. No-one very gets for convicted, and that frustrates the hell out of me! I was driving on a freeway near the Grand Canyon when I thought: well these days most mobile phone connects to internet and/or have a decent video camera. It might be tempting to release some kind of "vigilante application" for your phone, but of course that might encourage people to use their mobile phone while driving (which is really dangerous - and also illegal !) and is just asking for misuse. Instead you would want a system which is harder to tamper with, but makes it incredibly easy to catch people out without mucking around (i.e: logging onto a website to upload video).
How it Would Work
Such a unit I image would be installed discretely on the front of the rear-view mirror or disguised as a GPS (indeed some GSPs nowadays feature cameras) and plugged into the lighter plug for power. Using just a very small-and-cheap amount of memory (<500MB), the forward-facing digital camera could easily record over itself in a cycle such the previous 20-30 seconds worth of video was always stored, and when the user clicks a button on the device, it saves and timestamps (using a watermark) this to an SD card as a movie file and, if it contains footage of littering and/or some other illegal activity, has the option to submit this video to a central server as evidence or for review by the law. The ability to retrospectively save (without needing to know when to turn it on) 30 seconds of video would also make it useful for capturing many events too, such as any accidents you are in or witness ahead of you. The decision to securely submit videos to the server, or keep on their SD card as a record of their journey (since this could also capture interesting events such as scenery) is up the user. They may even remove the device from its mount to take photos of something interesting and/or the scene of a car accident they are in. If footage is submitted, an authorized reviewer will review the footage looking for (a) litter thrown from the window of another car and (b) the car's licence plate. If a littering event is clearly visible, the reviewer types in the car's registration plate and with a click of the button it will send out a letter to the car owner with the following message:
Dear Mr. Russell Messy,
A passenger or driver in your car (licence plate: "03-TRASH") has been caught littering on a public road on the date February 23, 2010 at 15:30. A law-endorsed secure camera has captured a video of this violation on tape and three frames from this video are show at the bottom of this page. You can review the full video at the following secure and private web address: "https://www.securecam.com/violation#47924384".
You are herby fined the amount of $30, which you can pay via the same web address or using the return address envelope (addressed to the traffic police). This fine is due by May 23, 2010. Failure to pay this fine by this date will result in a warning issued against you. The law takes littering very seriously and although this will not be added to your permanent record, it is treated the same way an unpaid parking fine. Even if you are not the litterer, state law makes you (the owner of the vehicle) responsible to pay this fine or to ensure that the offender pays the fine for you before the due date. Please refrain from littering in the future: in addition to being illegal in this state, it can harm wildlife and can incur on-the-spot littering fines of $200.
-- Californian Police.
NOTE: If you refute this video and/or fine (or if this is not your car), you are required to write a signed letter-of-appeal and mail it to the address provided at the back of this page before April 23, 2010. After your letter is reviewed you may be required to appear in a court to plead your case.
While most littering fines are hundreds of dollars, I'd suggest that people caught on video like this are fined a much smaller amount (like $20-30). If the amount is too high they are more likely to complain, and thus place a burden on the legal system, but if the amount is around thirty dollars I believe most people will pay the fine online rather than go through the trouble of writing and posting a signed letter-of-appeal. By including a few photos (3-5 time-stamped images which show something flying out the window) and also a hyperlink where they can see the video, I believe most people will pay the fine and this will have a dual effect:
- (1) The state government will get extra revenue with little labour required (since it only takes 30 seconds to review each video). and/or
- (2) People who litter will have some sense knocked into them and be less likely to do it again.
What excites me most is that FINALLY we'll start hearing stories about people who actually get penalized by littering... and people who detest littering as much as me will finally have a way they can help keep the roads clean.
When I blurted out this idea on a road-trip, my step father immediately pointed out its (fairly obvious) flaws. Those potential problems are:
- (1) Any system supporting vigilantes is highly controversial.
- (2) People seen using this system could be targeted for revenge.
- (3) It may be possible to tamper with the system and incriminate the wrong people.
- (4) Many legal systems are funny about video evidence and even videotaping in the first place - you're not supposed to just tape anyone/anywhere without permission.
In response to these problems:
- (1) It is true that this is controversial, but also true that if governments are serious about cracking down on public littering they'll need to take strong action. Alternatively instead of selling these units to the public, what might work well is deploying these units to certain types of organizations and/or cars... for example, government/council cars, ambulances, fire trucks, ambulances, public buses or even taxis.
- (2) People seeking revenge is always a problem, but so long as the unit is not obviously labelled I think it's extremely unlikely anyone who receive letters of infringement will seek revenge: after all what are the chances they can remember (let alone find) the exact same car driving behind them a week ago on "February 23, 2010 at 15:30".
- (3) Tampering with video is a possibility in any system, but if the system is implemented correctly in hardware, I think it's unlikely anyone will take the system apart and seamlessly modify a licence plate number over hundreds of frames in an attempt to make an enemy pay $30!
- (4) While there are laws against videos of/in private residence, most roads are definitely public property! Consider also that Google Maps has an unprecedented quantity of road footage which is completely public (and yes, within these images people sometimes find illegal actives), and every day people are uploading thousands of videos to youtube and facebook for the public too see. This system however is designed to submit videos securely and privately. Based on this I think it's not too farfetched that videos which are clearly untempered, and clearly taken on a public road can be used as evidence for a minor fine of this nature. I also think these videos will hold up well in cases where someone may make a false claim (e.g. a hit causing injury) against the driver... and if the driver removes the unit and takes photos of his car after an accident, this should be valid as evidence for the law and/or insurance companies too.
As I was typing this up I actually noticed some amazing products called "Smart Witness" Journey System.
"SmartWitness SVC100GPS Vehicle Journey and Accident Camera and Recorder with Built-in GPS Logging a Black Box for your Vehicle SD Card Slot - GPS allows the unit to record the speed, direction of travel and location" here.
The existence of such products gives me hope that such a system to prevent littering might work. Clearly here they are marketing more toward people paranoid about accidents, and the units themselves are ingenious in that they have a "3G shock sense" built in so they are activate at the moment of impact. Clearly this won't help capture someone littering though - different target market. Probably a bigger market, but there is a reason I have labelled this entry as "TrashCam". I REALLY hate littering and wish that some government in the world actually deployed a system which worked! They have effective CCTV cameras in inner London (whereby people watch live and can tell of people behaving badly via loudspeakers) - but my proposed system here is designed at keeping the roads clean. The name of such product would be up to you. Just a very quick brainstorm:
- TrashCam - current favourite, because it sounds like "trash can". You could also say the "trash" represents when someone trashes your car... although that's a bit of a stretch.
- GreenCam - try to appeal to environmentalists (like myself) - and more a positive spin where you remind people they can use the unit to video scenery for themselves too!
- Anti-Litter System - bit formal.
- RubbishWitness - sounds a bit childish, and in America they don't regularly use/like the word rubbish.
I wrote this idea up mostly for fun really. I am well aware that it has flaws, but hey - I REALLY hate littering and I REALLY believe it's time governments took stronger action to prevent it! The system we currently have is a joke - I see people litter almost every day (especially out of car windows), and yet I'm willing to bet money that you (like me) don't know of a single person who's ever been fined for this offence. Just because the idea/system I propose system may not work in Australia (where we have pretty tight privacy laws against video-taping whatever/wherever), doesn't mean there's not some other country where someone reads this and thinks: "hey we could put these on taxis". If you like this idea I'd love to hear feedback, and if you are able to do something with this idea you have my full encouragement/support! :-)
- I'd like to thank Jerry who has tried out a LOREX RW2S unit - an ~$200 system which has GPS and two wide-angled cameras and used primarily for security and trip-recording. Unfortunately wide-angled cameras make it hard to see small things like cigarette butts being thrown from a car window. Jerry calls these people "butt tossers" (which I found amusing) and is hopefully of capturing one on tape.