Naughty speed camera prank

Some high school students in Maryland are reportedly taping fake license plates to their cars, then speeding past speed cameras so that owners of the cars with the real license plates get fined.
Students from Richard Montgomery High School dubbed the prank the Speed Camera "Pimping" game, according to a parent of a student enrolled at one of the high schools.

Originating from Wootton High School, the parent said, students duplicate the license plates by printing plate numbers on glossy photo paper, using fonts from certain websites that "mimic" those on Maryland license plates. They tape the duplicate plate over the existing plate on the back of their car and purposefully speed through a speed camera, the parent said. The victim then receives a citation in the mail days later.

Students are even obtaining vehicles from their friends that are similar or identical to the make and model of the car owned by the targeted victim, according to the parent.

Local teens claim pranks on county's Speed Cams (Via The Agitator)


  1. I’ve posted stories that were a year old, five years old, or even older. If all you want is breaking news, don’t come here!

  2. Unscrupulous drivers in the UK have been doing this for ages. The perp finds a car which is the same make, model as his own, notes down the registration number, and gets a local parts shop to make up a number plate with the same registration, after which he can avoid speeding fines, congestion charges and parking tickets, with all the tickets going to the hapless owner of the ringed car, who will then have great difficulty persuading the authorities what has happened.

    The government passed legislation (in England and Wales at least) which required anyone purchasing a number plate to provide car registration documents to the seller.

    Needless to say, because legislators are so stupid that they probably have difficulty tying their own shoelaces, this legislation was totally ineffective, it taking approximately 4.8 nanoseconds for miscreants to realise that (1) they can purchase the plates and the numbers/letters separately (totally legally) and make up the plates themselves; or (2) they can buy professionally made up number plates from any number of vendors without any questions. Such vendors can easily be found by googling “number plates”. Many of these vendors are based in the Isle of Man (and, I think Northern Ireland) where this trade is perfectly legal.

  3. HAHA! Regardless of how old the story is, it’s a great one… and to think, when I was in high school our only car pranks were to stuff the tailpipes of cars with zucchini (popped in really well with a rubber mallot) to make them stall out when attempted to be started…

  4. Wait, you mean taking out the human element of decision-making from law enforcement makes it easier to screw with the system? I never would have guessed.

  5. The pranks are actually a great subversive way to show that automated speeding ticketing system should not be used, are easy to fool, and that a witnessing police officer should perform the arrest and issue the citation and later serve to give testimony if the ticket is disputed. These are all things an automated system cannot do.

  6. Oh Montgomery County – home to some of the best-educated kids in the country and thus the best prepared to commit ingenious crimes. Wonder if these are in the International Baccalaureate program at Richard Montgomery, cuz this is some seriously ingenious (if fucked up) shit.

  7. I’m torn.

    I hate speeding cameras, so I sort of approve of screwing with them.

    I hate hurting innocents, so I sort of disapprove of screwing with them this way.

    Since I doubt it’ll change anything other than the balance of some innocent people’s wallets I think I’m coming down on the disapprove side in the end.

    -abs likes screwing the system, he just isn’t sure the collateral damage is appropriate in this circumstance due the unliklihood of this making any difference whatsoever in the use of speeding cameras

  8. @rick

    Depends on the jurisdiction, I think. But even with that being the case, the falsely accused would still have to go through the hassle of protesting the ticket. Forcing someone to deal with a bureaucracy? Diabolical.

  9. More importantly, it provides an automatic counter-argument for people who are caught by those cameras, if their face isn’t on the camera.

  10. Great concept/project for all you Boinger/Maker types out there! Kinda jimmy Bond but using small LCD displays or summut like that….GO! INVENT!

  11. I remember hearing a few years back in London of bikers whom when badly cut up by a car/bus/truck would get a plate made of the offending number plate and flash a few cameras…

  12. @GRIMC

    Yes, but the upshot of the hassle is that the public view of the automated systems is an unreliable system. Someone seeking public office in that county would do well with the popular vote by capitalizing on a platform of abolishing this system and running against sheriffs and judges that support it.

  13. It is the DRIVER who is ticketed, not the car. So people should be able to get out of these tickets pretty easily, but they’ll have to go through the time and trouble to fight it.

    I have a friend who drove his father’s car, ran a red light, and got one of these tickets. But since the driver in the picture was not the father, and father refused to tattle on his son, the ticket was dismissed. So I’m not sure how this prank works unless their obscuring their faces as well.

  14. It’s terrific that these kids are exposing the folly of the system. I hope it leads to the end of “speed cameras” altogether.

  15. To avoid inconveniencing innocents, the speeders should should use the license plate numbers of cops and local politicians, people who might actually work to change the law (when the law suddenly inconveniences them).

  16. @#4 I’d say the big difference about this story and what you are describing in the UK is that personal gain is only a bonus here and simply screwing with people (the victims and the courts) is the primary goal.

    @#10 Your comment implies a sort of randomness to the prank/crime. In the full piece it does at least to be more revenge oriented.

    My favorite quote is from the county council president: “It will cause potential problems for the Speed Camera Program in terms of the confidence in it.” Yes it will, yes it will.

  17. Red light cameras here (North Carolina, USA) do not photograph the driver, only the car and the license plate. I’ve seen the series of shots that gets taken. The citation gets mailed to whoever the registered owner of the car is.

    One town here says the following on its website:

    Vehicle owners are responsible for violations unless they can show that someone else was in the “care, custody or control” of the vehicle when the violation occurred. The owner must provide this information, including an affidavit, within 30 days of receiving notice of the citation.

    So the responsibility lies with the registered owner to prove they were not driving the car, within 30 days, or else they are responsible for paying.

    I’m sure this varies by jurisdiction, of course. But at the very least, spoofing someone’s license plate this way leads to a huge headache for them, having to submit paperwork and evidence that it wasn’t them.

  18. operator: oppisit sex/race of owner, hat, big sunglasses, scarf, and other non obvious obscuring adornements.

    vehicle: three vehicles at geographically seperate locations at the exact time with the same plates.

  19. I remember watching an episode of Top Gear where they were testing some kind of hand made Subaru super beast in Japan, and good old Jeremy Clarkson was tearing it along the motorway well in excess of the speed limit, every time he came to sped camera he’d hold a mask of Bill Oddie over his face.

  20. operator: differnet sex/race with hat, scarf, big sunglasses etc.

    vehicle: three vehicles at the same time at seperate locations

  21. Because it’s funny to force innocent people to pay expensive tickets! And to screw up their insurance! Because I don’t like them! Haw haw!

    Geez, guys. Yeah, red-light cameras suck because they’re counterproductive to safe driving and often abused. But “gaming the system” would require doing something clever. Like maybe making up nonexistent plates that fail a check because they don’t conform to the state’s numbering standards. Or at very least explicitly making sure that your car does not match the actual vehicle in any way, so as to easily disprove the speeding charge.

    There’s absolutely nothing clever or original about using stolen or fake plates on your car. The stupidest of criminals mastered that trick years ago without the benefit of a Montgomery County education. This is just malicious and lame.

  22. @lucifer

    Don’t get me wrong–I approve of the monkey wrenching. Hell, I have to admit I even approve of the prank, largely because I don’t live in Maryland.


    Good idea, but those people already use their positions to get out of inconvenient traffic tickets, anyway.

  23. The only way to either get rid of the cameras or (if this is not possible) to make the use of them better is for innocent people to be hurt. And it’s not as if people are actually being hurt physically or anything.

  24. @#9 You might prefer a variation reported a long time ago, perhaps in the UK, where they had set up a van with a speed camera in it that they could park anywhere and catch the speeders that way. As the story goes, enterprising miscreants removed the plates from that van, put them on their own car, and then whiled away the afternoon speeding past the van again and again, running up multiple tickets for the van (and thus the municipality).

  25. Beyond the lulz, I think the value here is the same as what we see in many security fields. Where the holes are obvious and easily exploitable, it can be considered one’s civic duty to cause them to be closed through annoying but relatively harmless means.

    If such holes are habitually left open some clever and malevolent person will eventually exploit it a way that is not harmless.

  26. If these kids really wanted to change things, instead of doing stupid pranks, they would dupe all the local politicians plates as a form of civil protest and collectively bill them out of existence. A denial of justice attack, as it were.

  27. Impressive: we snuck through the snow at night and stole the license plate right off the parked photo-radar van. Installed it on our own vehicle and sped by a half-dozen times.

    I can just imagine the cops at the computer. “Look at this idiot, sped by 6 times… okay license plate number… hooligans!”

  28. @#22 : If the North Carolina law requires you to prove that you were not driving the car in order to get out of the ticket, then it is operating from a presumption of guilt. However, in Coffin v. United States ( ) the Supreme Court asserted the presumption of innocence. Additionally, I’m pretty sure that I’ve heard of at least one jurisdiction striking just such a ticket because it only proved the car was responsible, not the person.

  29. #27 – the “holes” did not exist before. The system went from a fairly robust one where an arresting live officer would identify and issue the ticket to an automated system for the sake of greater revenue generation. There is greater safety promotion by simply posting an traffic officer in plain view of traffic than by sneaking photos.

    The automated system should issue warnings at best.

  30. I live near such a camera and the damn flash it uses has caused me to close my blinds all evening since the flash is pinging constantly until I go to bed. It’s a damn nuisance when I sit at my desk, which has a nice view of the downtown skyline that is mere blocks downhill from me. And if it takes something like this to get that POS camera to be torn down, so be it.

  31. Lame-ass jerk losers. Sad, really.

    This kind of random vandalism/attack isn’t clever, or monkeywrenching, or some kind of statement against automated enforcements. It’s just pathetic losers who are crapping on someone for no better reason than because they can.

    They’re no better than the losers who do thousands of dollars of damage knocking over gravestones, or who walk along a line of parked cars smashing windshields. This costs the victim money, time and hassle. It’s no prank.

    If someone were to identify them and was so bold as to press charges or turn the tables with some “prank” of his own, would they laugh it off, or would they come down on him like a ton of bricks? I’d bet the latter, because most people likely to do this sort of thing are the sort of bully who see nothing wrong with maintaining a double standard: it’s OK (even funny and clever) if *they* do it, but *not* if it’s done *to* them.


  32. you know that Bell telephones used to employ teenage boys as operators? guess when the first prank calls started, and why operators became female.

  33. This is a form of identity theft plain and simple. It makes a sort of warped sense to game the system if one stands to benefit in some way. The only way I could see anyone benefit is as a way to exact vengeance to the target of the identity theft.

    I predict state statutory processes will implement laws to prevent this through fines and other sanctions as I am sure there will be many cases taking up limited court resources as victims fight the tickets.

    There may even be another form of gaming emerge where motorists charged with moving violations claim they are victims of license plate number pimping.

  34. Gwax @ 27 — yeah, apparently the NC state law specifies that the owner is responsible ( You can swear an affidavit that you were not driving, and provide the identity of the person who was — but if that person does not pay, responsibility falls back on you, the owner.

    It does seem to presume guilt, doesn’t it? You can appeal, but you have to pay the citation before appealing, and get reimbursed if your appeal succeeds.

    It would really gall if your car got stolen and the thief sped or ran a light, and you got the citation and had to pay before you could appeal.

    We had one guy appeal the legality of these cameras, but all that accomplished was to force the cities to turn over the money to the public school systems rather than keeping it as profit.

  35. The only thing that would make this prank well and truly awesome is if they could arrange it so that the tickets go to the homes of cops. A quick stroll through the parking lot of the local po-po dept. could net you quite a few plate numbers rather quickly. Just sayin’…

  36. @45 Mojave, beat me to it! I was just thinking that to actually “game the system” the pranksters really needed to fake the plates of police vehicles, state/city officials (official cars even) and other things that create a civil disturbance instead for the city — rather than random/picked folks.

    It certainly makes more of a political statement.

  37. hah, as a former richard montgomery student, i can tell you exactly what stretch of road they’re talking about. it’s a smooth, curvy, hilly stretch with a 40mph speed limit that’s easy and fun to break. it also runs between a prison and a suburban intersection boasting a 7-11, a wendy’s, and a duncan donuts, so there have always been tons of cops on it. wootton pkwy basically begs teenagers to speed. i’ve definitely run those red lights before, not having enough time to slow down safely.

  38. @coldspell Well said.
    @grimc Perhaps if people did this to those politicians on a regular basis, they would get a clue. Even if they can get out of it by using their position, who wants to deal with it all the time?

  39. There’s a fine line between monkey-wrenching and framing someone. No matter what measures you consider reasonable proof there’s some jerk out there who can manufacture those measures.

    Framing someone is an extraordinarily serious crime and these people should be … treated to something serious I guesss.

  40. Too bad this is easily fixed by Giving Americans the Right to a Trial.

    Too bad there isn’t any paper that teens could print out that would guarantee a jury trial.

    Bless these teens for figuring out that American was good like it was BEFORE the cameras.

  41. @#44: And once our city found out they’d have to give the revenue to them greedy, conniving schools, they announced they were shutting them down instead. Almost makes it seem like the local law enforcement knew all along that they were only good for generating revenue and not actually contributing to public safety.

  42. What a terrible article. There is only one source. And it’s a parent who seems like he or she might have an issue with the speed cameras anyway.

    I’m not saying that it isn’t happening, just that the reporter should have got it confirmed from another source.

  43. What is going on with our children these days? All that effort to recreate the plates when they could have just taken a picture and printed it out?

  44. Send them to prison and let them make licence plates while they’re doing time! That’s what I call poetic justice.

  45. @47 “easy and fun to break” – best toy ad ever!

    @49 “treated to something serious” – sundaes?

  46. in my town, the speed cameras are not freestanding things, but are housed in vehicles that drive around and park inconspicuosly, then snap photos of license plates.

    i knew a guy who claimed to have reproduced the license plate from the photo radar van and sped back and forth in front of it for a couple of hours one afternoon.

  47. For those who are torn between messing with speeding cameras and hurting your neighbor, try making a plate that doesn’t exist! The best way to ensure this would be to include profanity, so I recommend trying “SUCK IT” :P

  48. @23, @34 and @44: the NC law you’re discussing sounds like it only relieves owners who “can show that someone else was in the ‘care, custody or control’ of the vehicle when the violation occurred.” But that can’t help victims of the Montgomery “prank”, because they never lost custody of their cars–the violation was committed by someone in a different car, using a fake license plate.

  49. Any story that relies entirely upon one anonymous “parent”, is not really a story, it’s gossip and it’s usually comically off.

    “students are even obtaining vehicles from their friends” – are these kids part of a fast-and-furious style hotrodding gang that they have a veritable lending library of vehicles in any make and model?

    and @5: anyone who is willing to drive around an urban area with fake plates has chutzpa and is probaly on their way to rob a bank.

  50. In Falls church, VA there was a Red Light Camera on RTE 7 near 66. I blew through it a few times driving my wife’s car, and if I remember correctly, all she got was a polite letter informing her that her car ran a red light. She was allowed to swear that it was not her that was driving by checking a box and signing her name, and she didn’t have to pay the fine.

    You should never have to incriminate anyone else in order to plead not guilty in this country.

    It is kind of a dick move to deliberately use someone else’s plate number (not to mention, why is this not a felony?) when committing a crime? It’s only a traffic crime, but still…

  51. @Anonymous #48, as another former RMHS student, I know exactly the road you’re talking about. And I’m torn on whether it’s a) clever for showing how stupid the system is or b) stupid and mean for just being about revenge.

    If it’s some of the IB kids, the odds are actually in favor of the intentions being a). What’s even more likely is that they’d come up with a clever theoretical idea like this, they and other kids would talk about it enough for it to become local urban legend, and local parents would then overreact and call the cops.

    Sort of like the story about how someone wrapped the giant phallic rocket statue (RMHS mascot) in clear tarps, so it became a safe-sex installation. Except that that one actually happened.

  52. Ah, *that’s* why the cop at a suburban copbarn rolled after me and harrassed me about why I took a picture (of the interesting architecture of the police station – with unmarker cruisers in frame).

  53. I had my plates stolen (in the UK) and drove around with A4 sheets of paper front and rear for a week (which was okayed by the police)
    Later I saw my car had been blacklisted at my local petrol station – presumably the thieving chavs had driven off without paying for a tankful.
    Never had any speeding tickets come through though (in the UK you’re guilty until – well, you’re just guilty, that’s all)

  54. On the one hand you have this statute that makes is a crime to drive a car over a certain speed in a certain area. The statute is perfectly acceptable and probably a Good Thing.
    On the the other hand you have a law enforcement technique (speed camera) that makes is easier/cost effective for the police to catch people violating the statute. The technique is flawed and the implementation of it with the the statute is not well thought out.
    To fix the problems with the statute and keep the enforcement technique the statute will need to be rewritten, taking account of the technique and any flaws in the technique. Also, the technique itself must become accepted by the population it serves or it will be rejected.
    This is nothing new. The same thing had to be done when radar speed metering was introduced and again when helicopter metering was introduced. This is just another case of society embracing technology. We will adapt.

  55. I’m a student at Richard Montgomery and I read about this a couple weeks ago over on Gizmodo and it confused me then so I asked around and it turned out that either nobody has done this or they wouldn’t admit to it. I can’t say that by now they haven’t because it is a pretty ingenious plan.
    I can also say with reasonable certainty that it’s not the IB kids trying to show the system what’s for. I know most of them pretty well and they just don’t have it in them.
    As far as where they’re doing it I would assume that it’s the speed camera right outside of Wootton High School, but it could also be in the Woodley Gardens neighborhood where they have the mobile “Safe Speed” minivans that act as speeding cameras.

  56. I live in Maryland near this high school. I don’t know these kids motive, but I would guess they are more intent on causing trouble for the owner of the falsified license plate then cause trouble for the un-manned traffic fine system. The fact of the matter is, a camera cannot replace a police officer, and traffic law cannot properly be enforced by a machine. Hopefully what these kids have done will cause law makers to reconsider these cameras, however I’m sure they bring in too much un-manned revenue and will be a permanent fixture around Maryland.

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