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Social-media justice: Engaged citizen’s Twitter bot outs bad drivers caught on local streets

Clear the lane: Community Board 2 member Brian Howald created a Twitter bot that reveals drivers’ infractions.
Brooklyn Paper
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It’s outing dangerous drivers one Tweet at a time.

A Brooklyn Heights cyclist and civic guru created a Twitter bot that spits out motorists’ traffic violations so concerned users can identify reckless individuals who cruise their local streets.

Brian Howald, a member of Community Board 2’s Transportation Committee, made the @HowsMyDrivingNY account so people can easily search the city’s “Open Parking and Camera Violations” database — which dates back to 2000 and documents illegal behavior such as running red lights, speeding in school zones, and not paying parking meters — after news broke that the motorist who fatally smashed into two kids crossing a Park Slope street last month did so inside a vehicle that had already racked up several infractions.

“In the aftermath of the crash in Park Slope, several people on Twitter combed through the city’s open-data portal for violations associated with the car, and found it had been cited 12 times,” said Howald, who in December outed Bay Ridge state Sen. Marty Golden for allegedly impersonating a police officer as he tried to pull the cyclist over in a bike lane. “It started a conversation about how often people driving dangerously near schools, or parking illegally. I wanted to make it easier for people to have access to this data.”

The account, which has garnered nearly 1,000 followers since its March 23 debut, asks Twitter users to provide a license-plate number the bot then uses to retrieve data including the amount of violations dealt to the vehicle associated with the plate.

Curious locals’ Tweets must follow a simple format that includes tagging the bot and entering a vehicle’s plate number and state in order to generate a response, according to Howald, who said the technology does the heavy lifting for people who quickly scribble down or snap a photo of a rogue car’s plates.

“It allows people to access information from their phones at the moment it’s most relevant,” he said.

The bot’s responses break down a vehicle’s infractions by type, making the important distinction between less dangerous violations such as failing to feed a meter and more serious offenses including pumping the gas in a school zone, its creator said.

“The fact that someone shows up in the database doesn’t make them a bad driver — someone who doesn’t pay the meter is different from someone who speeds next to a school,” he said.

Howald, also a software engineer, hopes that his handle helps get unsafe drivers off the road by exposing repeat offenders’ behavior before it leads to deadly crashes, he said.

“This account helps make people aware of just how often people are doing it, and getting away with it, before their actions results in somebody being injured or killed,” Howald said.

And the bot creator said he has one response to motorists who criticize him for putting them on blast — stop breaking the rules.

“If people don’t want to be held accountable for doing dangerous things, they shouldn’t be doing dangerous things,” he said.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Updated 5:46 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Sid from Boerum hill says:
Speed camera tickets by law are only issued in school zones on days when school is in session. The camera must be immediately adjacent to the school and are set at 11 miles over the limit...
April 12, 2018, 7:08 am
blogger Bill from from Boerum Hill says:
Just asking...does NYPD ever review
@HowsmydrivingNY? If not, why not.
April 12, 2018, 8:51 am
NN from Boerum Hill says:
When is the NYPD going to start doing their job and crack down on illegal and dangerous driving?
April 12, 2018, 10:46 am
Chris Murphy from Marine Park says:
Parent/Teacher/Motorist here. I kinda dig what this guy is doing. slick, funny, etc, there are some AWFUL, DANGEROUS drivers out here, but let's make sure there is vigilante justice for dangerous cyclists as well.
April 12, 2018, 12:02 pm
Luis from Crown Heights says:
Dangerous cyclists! What is that? A magical unicorn scapegoat abstract fictional character? Cool, bro!
April 12, 2018, 1:21 pm
Rufus Leaking from BH says:
Wait! He doesn't even own his own bike????

Ha ha ha ha!

Wait til mommy finds out he's riding in the street!
April 12, 2018, 1:47 pm
Ken from Greenpoint says:
When is the NYPD going to start doing their job and crack down on illegal and dangerous bikers ??
April 12, 2018, 2:29 pm
Sean F from Bensonhurst says:
His system doesn't work. It doesn't identify bad drivers, or even drivers at all. It identifies vehicles. Those systems don't ID the actual driver, so you can never be certain that the owner was behind the wheel for any given infraction.
April 12, 2018, 4:34 pm
Joe from Bay Ridge says:
Thanks to Ken and Chris Murphy for pointing out the bad cyclists.

Can we also include bad pedestrians, too?
April 12, 2018, 4:44 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
I to agree that there should be Twitter bots out there to see all the bad cyclists and pedestrians, though it's probably the ones who claim about bad motorists.
April 12, 2018, 5:48 pm
Stephen R. from Clinton Hill says:
Isn't the snitch in this case the city?
April 12, 2018, 5:53 pm
EH from Bay Ridge says:
I just admire the mental gymnastics it takes to conflate bad drivers with “bad pedestrians” and “bad cyclists.” I’m not saying people should abdicate responsibility for their actions, cyclists should be cautious and vigilant as should pedestrians. But cars kill people, way more people than drivers and inattentive pedestrians. Drivers should not feel entitled to the road, driving is a privilege and bad drivers should not be on the road.
April 12, 2018, 7:15 pm
NN from Boerum Hill says:
Well said. Reckless drivers killed 229 people in NYC last year. We need speed cameras on every major street and we need the police to start enforcing the law.
April 12, 2018, 7:37 pm
Sid from Boerum Hill says:
Each traffic death is a tragedy but your numbers are not correct and reckless drivers didn't kill 229 people.
in 2017 214 people died and for the first time since records were keep the number of pedestrians killed was less than half. Since 2013 pedestrian deaths dropped almost 50%(45%) because mainly of both enforcement and lower speed limit.

see https://www.reuters.com/article/us-new-york-traffic/new-york-city-traffic-deaths-fall-to-record-low-under-safety-program-idUSKBN1EX2D6
Inattentive pedestrians will also be a continuing problem. Bad drivers need to be gotten off the road.
April 12, 2018, 9:23 pm
Sid from Boerum Hill says:
2017, 23 bicyclists, 33 motorcyclists and 57 people in vehicles who were involved in collisions were killed, and 101 pedestrians. which equals 214 from a NY times article.
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/08/nyregion/nyc-pedestrian-deaths.html
April 12, 2018, 9:34 pm
Astonished! from RealWorld says:
You cannot compare raw numbers like that since there are 100s times more cars on the road than bikes.
April 13, 2018, 6 am
EH from Bay Ridge says:
So to follow your logic, deaths and injuries caused by cars are just not as significant because of the volume of cars on the road. So the rate of injury and death per car is not an issue because when you account for all cars on the road that ratio is actually quite low.

I don’t know, I have a problem with this notion of an acceptable death threshold.
April 13, 2018, 6:52 am
Oed from East village says:
Once violations are paid, they disappear from the system.

The driver who ran me off the road last year has since then racked up at least 30 violations, but since he’s currently all paid up, there’s no trace of his dismal driving record. Except, now on Twitter, there will at least be a partial record, thanks to this bot.

Good work.
April 13, 2018, 8:05 am
Sid from Boerum Hill says:
Just so there is no misunderstanding I don't find that much difference between 229 and 214 but many if not most were not caused by careless or reckless driving. But I am glad of the reduction which I hope will continue. I thought that driver less cars would in 30 years bring it down to zero but that won't happen either.
April 13, 2018, 12:40 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
I hate to break this to you bike zealots and anti-car fanatics, but statistics don't say everything. For the most part, they only give the effects, but never the causes. Once the causes are mentioned, it starts changing everything, and there have been some accidents where pedestrians and cyclists really did flout the laws and placed themselves into harm's way. Also, just because cyclists kill or injure less, that doesn't give them to flout laws. Seriously, using this claim just to claim which is more dangerous can also show a bias just like when the anti-Israel fanatics do this just to claim that the IDF is much more of a terrorist organization than Hamas will ever be just because they claim that they kill more while omitting the causes of such events. In other words, statistics don't tell us the whole story of what really happened and I know that places such as Streetsblog and Transportation Alternatives will never tell us the whole story or try to twist it around if it wasn't in their favor even if it was found at that the cyclist or pedestrian that got hit really was at fault due to flouting the traffic laws just to claim that every motorist is bad. On a side note, I'm still waiting for where Paul Steely White actually does call out pedestrians and cyclists that flout the laws, which nobody has still given me proof for, so my claim that he has anti-motor vehicle bias will continue to uphold until then.
April 14, 2018, 5:41 pm
old time brooklyn from slope says:
given the population 214 fatalities is nothing.
April 15, 2018, 11:22 am
Tyler from pps says:
And there were only 290 homicides last year, Old Time. So, I guess that's "nothing" too. When does that number become "something"? Double, triple? Do we need to get to a full 1% per year... I guess we should worry when it's 85,000 murders per year.
April 15, 2018, 1:39 pm
Sid from Boerum hill says:
Its only nothing if it's not you or your loved ones. If it's so it's a really big thing. Each life is precious if we can avoid an unnecessary death imo we should.
April 15, 2018, 2:13 pm

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