Seattle drivers downloading controversial app that helps dodge tickets



Posted on March 23, 2011 at 8:21 AM

Updated Friday, Apr 1 at 12:02 PM

SEATTLE -- Four U.S. Senators are targeting applications, like Phantom Alert, which lets drivers know where DUI checkpoints are located.

Senators Harry Reid of Nevada, Charles Schumer of New York, Tom Udall of New Mexico, and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey sent a letter Tuesday to Apple, Inc. and others, asking that they alter or quit selling the downloadable app. The senators call an application that helps drunk drivers evade police "harmful to public safety."

“If the Senators really understood what we are doing and aim to achieve they would actually support us,” Phantom Alert CEO Joseph Scott responded in an email. “When drivers get alerts for DUI checkpoints on their smart phones and GPS, they will think twice about drinking and driving."

Washington is among the states that do not have DUI checkpoints, but people here are still downloading the app so they can find where red light cameras and traffic enforcement areas are located. 

According to Phantom Alert's CEO, more than 109,000 people in the Seattle area have this application on their GPS device or smart phone to help avoid tickets at intersections with red light cameras.

One fan of Phantom Alert is Mike Cheney of Seattle. Cheney said he's had Phantom Alert on his phone for a year and uses it daily. The company's slogan is "see them before they see you” and costs $10 a month.

Cheney said he made the purchase with safety in mind, but acknowledges some drivers might use it to avoid traffic cameras and continue dangerous driving habits.

"People are going to do what they're going to do. The majority of the people I have talked to and that I know that actually have this, use it strictly to be aware, to be safe, and to be a more responsible citizen," said Cheney.

Some law enforcement agencies have said it could encourage people to continue poor driving habits without feeling the sting of a ticket.

The City of Bellevue’s red light cameras have been operating for about a year. In that time, police say roughly 23,000 tickets were issued.

Officer Carla Iafrate with the Bellevue Police Department said she has no problem with an app that helps alert people to the city's safety programs.

"I think it is good news. That way people's driving habit awareness and safety awareness has gone up, and if that's what this application does, more power to it," said Iafrate.

The Phantom Alert application does work off some user information. When people see a new red light camera or traffic enforcement area, they notify Phantom Alert. The company's website states that Phantom Alert works to verify the user traffic tips.