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"Mobile Plate Hunter" Cameras Raise Questions 580

The Washington Post has a story on "Minority Report"-style license-plate scanners that mount on police cars. They are the size of softballs, cost $25K, and can scan and run thousands of plates a day through the local Motor Vehicle Administration database. The easy mission creep these devices encourage is summarized in the article: "Initially purchased to find stolen cars, a handful of so-called tag readers are in use across the Washington region to catch not just car thieves, but also drivers who neglected or failed their emissions inspections or let their insurance policies lapse. The District and Prince George's County use them to enforce parking rules... 'I just think it makes us a lot more effective and a lot more efficient in how our time is being used,' [a senior detective] said." The article doesn't mention what happens to the data on legal plates. Suppose the DHS decides it wants a permanent archive of who was where, when?
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"Mobile Plate Hunter" Cameras Raise Questions

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  • Poor analysis (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 02, 2008 @08:52PM (#24451973)

    The real mission creep isn't these cameras. It is the license plates themselves. They were initially designed only as proof that an owner of the vehicle paid the registration licensing fee, not as a mobile vehicle identification number. It is only logical that once the license plates were no longer used for strictly licensing purposes that things like this would occur.

    License plates should never have been designed. Their only purpose was to be a loophole for "unreasonable searches" since they are in public view. There is about as much justification to putting a license plate on a car as there is to putting one on your house to verify that you have paid your property taxes.

  • by thirty-seven ( 568076 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:07PM (#24452051)

    I don't see a problem with the current use of these camera systems, assuming it is implemented reasonably. By "reasonably", I mean something like the following: Each camera is connected to a database of the plates of known "offenders", such as stolen cars, fugitives, or more trivial things like cars with lapsed registration, insurance, or failed emissions tests. It scans all the licence plates it sees and checks them against the database - if there is a match, the police or Motor Vehicle Administration enforcement can take action. Otherwise, the scanned plate is not stored and certainly the time and place at which is was scanned is not stored.

    As I said, if the system is implemented in a reasonably way, like my scenario, then I have no problem with it being used to check for known infractions and offences - no matter how trivial.

  • Re:It's misnamed (Score:5, Interesting)

    by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:14PM (#24452095)

    Fine with me, since I keep insurance and don't want uninsured drivers (who cannot compensate me for any damage they do) on the roads.

  • by plasmacutter ( 901737 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:17PM (#24452117)

    How do I just look up a license plate number, without the fancy gizmos? Just an app or webpage that I can query with the plate number. Or the VIN. To get the owner's name, and hopefully their address.

    I'm tired of people driving like murderers, especially when I'm on my motorcycle. I usually get up close to them and snap their picture, and their plate. Which calms me down a little, especially when they start covering their face. (No, I don't care if that endangers them, and I only do it when I am fully safe to do it.) But if I could go home and look up their identity, I could drop by with a note reminding them that they can't just get away with it.

    Someday I'd love to send a video of these jerks driving recklessly direct to the cops, and get a call back from them with me bearing witness to the report. Then they can round up that jerk, and I can narrate the video to the judge, and really help get these homicidal drivers off the road.

    But in the meantime, how do I just look up their plate# or VIN?

    And i'm tired of motorcyclists thinking they own the road.

    Recently I was visiting my family in detroit and was rented a grand prix.

    So i'm driving down telegraph, check behind me, and change lanes.

    Suddenly, this motorcyclist is hitting my window.. he was hugging my blind spot (you can't check it, that's why it's called a "blind spot"), which is particularly large on the model i was driving.

    I tell him where to stick it, and he speeds off. Over the next 5 minutes, i watch him hug the blind spots of 3 more vehicles before I finally reached my turn.

    If so many people are near-missing you, maybe you're that guy!
    do you by chance drive a black crotch rocket in the detroit area?
    Accidents are a two-way affair.

    By the way, snapping people's pictures while at speed on a public road is a good way to get yourself, the other driver, and innocent third parties killed. Remember princess Dai?

  • Re:Efficiency. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by garcia ( 6573 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:17PM (#24452119)

    Boy, I sure am glad that those detectives won't be wasting their time tracking down those with lapsed insurance and emissions tests so that they can instead be freed up to work on important things instead.

    Oh wait, they wouldn't have done it in the first place and now it's just made a nearly unnecessary job a lot easier to generate revenue for the city and headaches for people who are already short on cash for various real-world reasons. Awesome.

    Yay, America is safe from those horrendous evils and now officially sucks as bad as 1956 Russia.

  • Concerning (Score:4, Interesting)

    by EdIII ( 1114411 ) * on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:18PM (#24452121)

    They are the size of softballs, cost $25K

    So for just 3 or 4 of these "softballs" we can pay the salary for a police officer on the streets. That sounds really efficient.

    Ohhh, but let's be FAIR. How more effectively does this allow a police officer to play traffic cop?

    Initially purchased to find stolen cars

    Well, I got to admit it. That sounds really nice. Cops don't have to pay attention to stolen car reports anymore in the squad car. Just listen for the ding-ding-ding of their information systems indicating that the car in the left hand lane is reported stolen.

    but also drivers who neglected or failed their emissions inspections or let their insurance policies lapse.

    Ummm, how? This presumes that the databases are updated to reflect this in the first place. With emissions it is entirely possible that the person DID get it corrected, but the database was not updated. This is awfully dependent on a LOT of systems operating properly. I am not even aware that this data IS being transmitted to the DMV from the shops.

    Insurance? They must be smoking something. I myself, along with TWO other people, have had letters sent from the DMV indicating that our insurance has been dropped by the insurance agency and that we must rectify it immediately. Problem is, they were DEAD WRONG. Not only did we all have proof of insurance in our vehicles, but we all had proof of payments to our respective companies during the period we were covered.

    Both of this situations is going to get pretty ugly on the road. It puts the officers in the position of *trusting* the data in their information systems against the drivers who will probably have documentation to the contrary at least 1/3 of the time. Maybe more, I don't know. My own personal experience and the experience of others would seem to indicate it could be higher.

    I just think it makes us a lot more effective and a lot more efficient in how our time is being used,' [a senior detective] said

    I'm sorry I just read that as, "We don't have to do our jobs anymore and we can also think a heck of a lot less. Having blind trust in the pretty lights in the car makes it really us for to concentrate on driving and eating donuts".

    Maybe that was not fair, but I see it as the same situation as the new rifles that can choose between lethal and non-lethal. It is taking too much responsibility away from the officers to apply their judgment. I want officers to think and interact with their environment personally. I strongly support more training and higher salaries too.

    The last thing we need is a bunch of dumbasses in uniforms running around with PDA's going, "Uhhhhhh, doh... the smart box says I got to take you in since you is a suspicious looking person or something. Are you going to resist? Hehe.. I have not hit anything with my stick in like 3 days so please resist".

    The District and Prince George's County use them to enforce parking rules

    Now this just sounds outright ludicrous. How can a traveling squad car with a softball that recognizes license plates determine what the hell a parked car is doing?. I don't think it can. The only thing I can think of is recording the dates, times, and positions that a car may be in to apply some sort of rules about how long a particular car can be there. I can POKE a hole in that RIGHT NOW. I park my car there for X amount of hours during which a squad car records that I am there during the time I am parked. I leave, thereby resetting whatever time limit there was, and come back X amount of time later. During my second stay a whole different squad car can record my position and time I was there. WHen applying the rules how do they: 1) Know exactly when I parked and when I left? 2) Know that if my car was there the

  • Re:It's misnamed (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sssssss27 ( 1117705 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:19PM (#24452129)
    Couldn't you just put some sort of LCD cover over it and then capitalize on the fact that cameras have different refresh rates than human eyes? Kind of how you can see the scan lines on a CRT with a camera but you can't with the naked eye.
  • by plasmacutter ( 901737 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:21PM (#24452141)

    100% enforcement of outrageous laws which were passed under the assumption they would be difficult to enforce would eventually lead to the repeal of said laws.

    A little pain now means a lot less later.

  • by DaedalusHKX ( 660194 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:23PM (#24452151) Journal

    There is. But neither you, nor I, are willing to shed that much blood or die in the process of regaining that lost ground. Therefore it will likely not happen unless others, aside from the unwilling you and unwilling I, will have to dirty their hands.

    I am willing to bet HUGE bucks nobody is willing to fight the level of ground war, globe wide, that would be required to put the insane super governments of today back in their place... "a bunch of bandits enter a village... they kill the elders, kill the hunters and rape the women. To their children later, they pass the power to kill anyone except each other, and tell everyone what to do. They become 'the kings of old' and their children become their heirs. Centuries later they are worshipped as those who 'gave us society and laws'... yep... the codified law... several hundred reasons why they can kill you, and why you're not allowed to kill them when they show up to do it. Fun huh?" Sure, the technologies and the groups of bandits have changed... over time, but its the same groups of bandits or their descendants being "elected" today. Violent bandits were replaced by con artists who employ violent bandits, called cops, but one way or another, its the same ancient scam being perpetuated. Ah well, another drink to their names! They "protect" us... probably only from freedom and true prosperity.

    Of course stopping voting en masse, would've been the miracle cure, but that is even less likely than a vast majority of honest citizens getting up in arms and teaching their overreaching governments to keep their hands off and not falling for the same trick the way they always do when they actually rebel... yeah... as if. I gave up hope for my fellow man a year or two ago. I feel better since I stopped caring... or it could just be the numb hopelessness kicking in. On the other hand since I've heavily invested in police state technologies some years ago when I was still stupid enough to employ Americans and bid for jobs and do all kinds of hard work that got taxed heavily, (no joke) and I'm at least making enough to have completely closed my business, quit working and stay at home. Now I'm bored, maybe I'll write a book about the wisdom of investing in the stupidity of mankind. Actually I think Warren Buffett already did. Or maybe I'll go fishing. Reading all this shit keeps confirming just how stupid humanity is. Almost as stupid as fish. "Hey look... worm swimming in the middle of a lake... on a shiny metal thing... quick, lets eat it before someone else does." Wow, that line sounds just like voting campaigns.

    Cue in the fucking aliens already, I'm sick of this show.

  • by mosb1000 ( 710161 ) <> on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:24PM (#24452155)

    I think I almost ran someone like you over the other day. I was merging across lanes to get to the fast lane, and I didn't see him. It's not that I wasn't looking, but motorcycles are so small, and he was in my blind spot. I felt bad until he got up next to my window and started yelling something at me. What a jerk! He must have though I did it on purpose. I just shrugged my shoulders at him.

    You must understand that a motorcycle is just not as safe as a full-sized car.

  • Re:Poor analysis (Score:3, Interesting)

    by darjen ( 879890 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:25PM (#24452157)

    You almost have it. It's not that license plates should never have been designed. It's that the state never should be granted the coercive monopoly power of vehicle registration. Forced state license registration is purely for revenue purposes.

  • by Cheerio Boy ( 82178 ) * on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:33PM (#24452223) Homepage Journal
    Over the next 5 minutes, i watch him hug the blind spots of 3 more vehicles before I finally reached my turn.

    That's not a motorcyclist - that's an organ donor waiting to happen.

    Please don't judge the rest of us on two wheels by his actions.
  • Re:Efficiency. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:35PM (#24452241)

    You've never been hit by someone without insurance. Guess what, you have to pay. Sucks, doesn't it. Particularly when you've got no legal recourse against them, because they're illegals. Driving is not a right (read your constitution again; you have the right to assembly, but not the right to drive). If we've got a way to get the cons off the road, I say do it. If you get picked up for your unpaid parking tickets, well, sucks to be you.

    Now, mind you, I see no justification, at all, for the government recording what plate was seen where. Perhaps we should start a petition to keep the government from collecting that data unless there's a search warrant.

  • by Animaether ( 411575 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:35PM (#24452245) Journal'd see a metric shit-ton of comments pointing out that -eeeeeeeeeeverybody- can take pictures of, and store into database the information relevant to, your license plates... how your car is out in public and you have no expectation of privacy there.. blablabla. No.. if Google did this, it'd be all good*. Heck, if an insurance company gave everybody who cooperated with their employees tracking their license plates in exchange for a 5% discount (that is.. raise the rates for everybody else), the vast majority would go for it.
    ( * okay, granted, there were actually a few people who felt Google was in the wrong with that private road thing (pending court decision, was it?).. but then the sheer number of comments saying that they should have made it gated if they didn't want anybody trespassing.. errrrr. )

    But I'm not here to rant on the topic of Big Government vs Big Corporation.

    "They [...] cost $25K". So two of those could employ an additional actual flesh and blood cop. Or two depending on just how bad their pay is. I'd go for the two additional cops.

    Then again...
    "and can scan and run thousands of plates a day through the local Motor Vehicle Administration database."

    If that means they catch more people who break the law* and that ends up in a net positive exceeding the 25k (presumably a one-time purchase, but who am I kidding) by a healthy margin, maybe they could also afford an additional copper or two. If nothing else, they might not have to send rookies out to collect on some fine and put those rookies to work patrolling the streets instead, and seasoned cops don't have to waste time in their patrols doing 'quick' checks on plates in the area that seem out of place.
    ( * I understand some laws are unjust - so get 'm changed. Guess what.. everybody speeding 5mph hasn't upped the speed limits on a large scale officially.. unofficially officers probably don't care much as long as you go with the flow of traffic.. unless they're having a bad day or have to meet a quota. Sucks to be you when that is the case. )

    "The easy mission creep these devices encourage is summarized in the article"
    mission creep... well we all know what the mission is supposed to be (peace and safety and order and all that) and what the mission tends to be (revenue, statistics, making the mayor look good, blabla), but let's err on the side of the benign and try the next sentence...

    "Initially purchased to find stolen cars, a handful of so-called tag readers are in use across the Washington region to catch not just car thieves, but also drivers who neglected or failed their emissions inspections or let their insurance policies lapse."
    In other words... initially purchased to [help uphold the law], but [some now] also [help uphold the law] and [help uphold the law].
    Yeah, I can see how that is evil.

    I'm far more worried about explicit -and- implicit loss of privacy than the throwing of the "now the cops can tell, with near-zero effort, that I let my insurance lapse! It's not fair! *stomps feet*" tantrums. I hate the "I've got nothing to hide" argument, relevant to the privacy issue, but I hate it when people who know they broke the law and then get all huffy when they get caught by a machine rather than a human even more.

    Anyway - you want scary.. go to The Netherlands come 2012-2016. Apparently we are all to drive around with government-monitored GPS on-board by then. To have us pay road use taxes based on the hour of the day, which road it was, etc. I'm sure being able to track whoever they want from a Lay-Z Boy is just an added perk they'll reveal when the tech is entrenched in use and they've got a high profile case (a murderer, perhaps a pedophile, being arrested) to demonstrate that being able to track everybody is a Good Thing(TM). Ba-a-a-a-a, bleated the population, as their road use taxes were lowered ( not really - they're making up for it with a wide margin in the 'provincial tax'... which will apply to -all- citizens, not just those who actually drive cars.)
    But that, too, is another rant.

  • Re:Concerning (Score:3, Interesting)

    by EdIII ( 1114411 ) * on Saturday August 02, 2008 @09:52PM (#24452361)

    only residents are allowed to be parked in certain areas - if they look up the tag and it's NOT for a resident then

    My car breaks down and I borrow a friends. Heck, I am not driving my car for any one of thousands of reasons. They cite the car I am driving.

    I am clearly not guilty, nor is the owner of the car. How do we both go about challenging the ticket and proving our innocence?

    In Las Vegas, I had a parking ticket in which I even showed documents to an ignorant malcontent that the ticket was unwarranted for registration and she rudely refused to tear up the ticket. After dealing with the appropriate department they had the audacity to agree that I was innocent but not completely eliminate the fine. They still wanted 25$.

    My lawsuit with the city is now 4 YEARS old regarding this.

    This will just be a revenue stream for them. The administration is banking on the fact that not everybody is like me. A person that will actually die before paying a fine for something I am innocent of. Wait, PROVEN BEYOND ALL DOUBT to be innocent of. Most people will just accept the gentle butt raping by the government.

    This country was founded partly in response to taxation without representation. Well I don't know what the hell to call this, but it's far worse.

  • Re:It's misnamed (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bluelip ( 123578 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @10:19PM (#24452501) Homepage Journal

    It's easier, just put IR LEDs around your plate and blind the camera.

  • Re:It's misnamed (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @10:30PM (#24452561) Journal
    Modded funny, but... here in the Netherlands fines have become just that: a revenue generator. A few years ago fines were still counted as "extra" revenue, then a controversial change in policy made them part of the general budget of the national government, then annual targets for revenues from fines were introduced ("Don't go to the Zeeland bailiwick, they aren't meeting their fine target this year so they'll do you for as little as a smudged reariew mirror!"). And now fines are being earmarked for specific purposes. When another idiotic plan was announced last year (free textbooks for schoolgoing children), the minister informed us that these books were to be paid for by increased traffic fines.

    By the same token, the new mandatory ID law serves as a nice "fine doubler": if you get stopped for anything fine-worthy and fail to show an ID, they slap on another 50 Euro. Maybe that's why they want RFID chips in ID cards, so that thet can drive around in a manner similar to the one in the article, and round up everyone not carrying ID.

    Sometimes I feel like I am living in a novel that's a bad mix of Ayn Rand and George Orwell.
  • Re:It's misnamed (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Torvaun ( 1040898 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @10:48PM (#24452667)

    I'd expect cameras for use at night to include IR illumination, and no filters. Same way security cameras do.

  • Re:It's misnamed (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:21PM (#24452903)

    I know; my first thought was, 25K? The police got ripped off again. I mean, an algorithm that recognizes car plates isn't all that hard; that plus some cheap CCD camera along with a small flash drive, some cheap microprocessor....25K? That thing better be plated with platinum!

  • I got caught... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Datamonstar ( 845886 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:23PM (#24452925)
    ... on camera going through an intersection on a red that I either did not see or acknowledge and I got sent a "ticket" in the mail. It's only a "ticket" because it actually says on the back of the ticket that no driving record marks or arrest warrants would result from the non-payment of the citation. And it's from a third party company, NOT the local or state government. You can be sure I was pissed when I discovered that some company I never heard of was handling this instead of law enforcement. The only real official figment it bore was the name of the policeman who is handling the citation. That must be one hell of an easy job.

    To go to court and and fight it would cost 100$, but the citation itself is only 75$. I thought about taking it to court and fighting it on the grounds that the burden of proof rests upon the company who maintains the camera and data to PROVE that the data had not been altered. I'd basically argue that without that proof, once my car had been photographed just once there would be little that could be done to stop the company from photoshopping my car into an intersection during a red light whenever they wanted to and claiming that it was me who ran the red light. I'm sure there's some violation of rights existing somewhere in the laws that govern this, I just don't have 175$ or the desire to go to court and try to find it. Besides it doesn't matter because the ONLY repercussion that will result in not paying the "ticket" is that the price goes up by 25$ once and then it goes against my credit rating. How the hell can they do that to begin with? That's yet another WTF.

    I'd really like to see this sort of thing busted wide open as unconstitutional until there's some checks to make sure the ones handling the data is responsible.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:45PM (#24453069)

    They are the size of softballs, cost $25K, and can scan and run thousands of plates a day

    When they cost $99, then everyone can have them in their cars. You can scan for police cars, and upload your data to a common web site that will pool the data and produce a real-time map of their locations.

    Or you can log all the drivers you pass by, pool the results with other drivers, and data-mine the results. Cross-referencing with other public databases will eventually allow you to map the owners to many of the plates.

    Then we need another $99 softball-sized sous-veillance device that transmits real-time video of your drive to your own remote storage. Including the driver who cuts you off, or the hopped-up steroidal cop who threatens you during a routine traffic stop.

  • Re:It's misnamed (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 03, 2008 @12:10AM (#24453183)

    The trouble is...there is really no way to mandate what 'else' can be done with this information.

    I'm happy for them to do absolutely anything with it - provided that all the license plate tracking information, including that of politicians and off-duty police, is a matter of public record.

    (And I don't mean "Pay us $150 for processing and we'll mail you a partial copy of one intersection's tracking records.". I mean "Information from these cameras is posted immediately to a website with several independent mirrors, in an unambiguous format. In fact, this is the same website from which the police obtain this information.".)

  • Re:It's misnamed (Score:2, Interesting)

    by FatdogHaiku ( 978357 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @01:52AM (#24453695)
    $150 a month for minimum legal coverage, really? In AZ it's about $40 a month... and I used to spend more than that on cigarettes (I dropped that habit due to illness, best coma that ever happened to me, I woke up a non-smoker). I was simply relating my own experience in this area, not implying that each unlawful motorist is also a drug or alcohol addict. Maybe it would be better if the insurance was built into the cost of fuel. While coverage would be less avoidable, that is also less palatable to me personally. In any case I still don't have a problem with seeking illegal cars and drivers with technology... mainly because it is unrealistic to expect people to not use the tools in front of them, no matter who they work for.
  • It's also convenient (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @02:16AM (#24453803)

    While I'm sure the grandparent is basking in his environmental superiority I'll have to burst his bubble because I'm one of those people who bikes to work. I also live in walking distance of a great many things I need. All in all adds up to a fill up maybe once every 3-4 months or so. However, despite that, I still own a car. Why? It's convenient. There are various places and times I wish to drive somewhere and I can. I don't drive much, but for me the convenience is worth the cost.

    I like conveniences in my life, and thus I'm willing to pay for them. I don't need a dishwasher either, I suppose, I could do it by hand. Well guess what? I don't want to. I don't believe in earning money for it's own sake, I believe in earning it to live a happy, fulfilling life and part of that is having conveniences. If I cut everything down to a minimum yes, I could die with a lot more cash. However it turns out that, as they say, you can't take it with you.

    Also even if I didn't have a car, I'd still have to have insurance as I'm required to drive for work occasionally. Liability for you with no car is probably cheaper than with a car, but it isn't going to be free.

  • Compare to the UK... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Beowulf878 ( 1304661 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @05:01AM (#24454459)
    I live in London, and its hilarious to compare the level of spying.

    Here, We have "congestion charge cameras" that record every single car's numberplate in every single street (where there is no "congestion charge" they call them "autoreaders" - they are on all the motorwars, bridges, & who knows where else...): apart from this, all of central London and most public places within the M25 are covered - very extensively - by CCTV.

    Furthermore, the public transport is paid for by using a ticket in the form of an electronic, registered-to-your-home-address "oyster card" which again monitors everywhere you go.

    The mobile phones you carry have - by law - every single phone-call and text recorded for the government: this same law covers email and the data is available not just to MI5 & MI6, not even just to the police - but "social workers" and "local government workers" have access to it.

    In short, depending on the study you choose the average Londoner is recorded on CCTV 200-450 times per day, their mobile is continously tapped (remember when people used to need a warrant? haha...) and their car is under observation all of the time...

    Compare that with only when a police car is passing...
  • Re:Especially since (Score:4, Interesting)

    by porpnorber ( 851345 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @02:08PM (#24457563)

    The thing that baffles me is that Americans think sprawl is a natural phenomenon. It is not. It is the result of bone-headed urban 'planning.' Zoning laws require that you live and work and buy your food in different places. Planning priorities allow highways to break footpaths, take roads across rail lines without building bridges, create entire suburbs with no sidewalks and with fences to prohibit walking other than on the road itself. Not having a car is not an option in the minds of the policymakers.

    And as to the scale of things, I believe you are simply mistaken. The USA is a federation of states. The European Union is a federation of states. In both cases, these states contain cities of widely varying sizes. European cities have, by and large, better transit systems than American cities. This is not about scale (what, you think London is small?). European states have, by and large, better transportation systems than American ones. Feel free to compare large, wealthy US states with Germany. Hell, feel free to compare small, wealthy US states with Germany. Europe as a whole has a better ground transportation network than the US, and their sizes are of the same order.

    I'm not saying there's no difference; the US has only a quarter of the population density of Europe. The again, the US has twice the per-capita GDP with which to build infrastructure.

    No, the real difference is just that America hates infrastructure. And looooooves concrete.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.