App for avoiding traffic tickets speeds toward smartphones

PhantomAlert, due out this fall, relies on database generated by users

A smartphone application coming to the US this fall could help drivers use GPS to detect speed traps, cameras at red lights and more than 200,000 related alerts based on a database of locations compiled with updates from drivers.

PhantomAlert, based in Harrisburg, Pa., said today it plans to plans to ship its PhantomAlert software for Android devices in early October and for iPhone, BlackBerry and Nokia devices before Thanksgiving. The company is currently taking orders at its Web site and is charging US$100 for a lifetime fee for the software and GPS updates.

The company has been offering the application for use with popular GPS devices from Garmin, Tom-Tom and Magellan since May. About 100,000 users have already downloaded the application, CEO Joe Scott said in comments via e-mail.

The system works on reports from drivers and spotters who record their findings on the PhantomAlert.com Web site. Scott said two people have to verify a speed trap or other location for the warning to stay in a database, and users are asked to comment about whether existing reports are accurate.

Sometimes, the locations of speed traps are left in the database for weeks at a time because they are spots along highways where the speed limit suddenly drops from, say, 55 mph to 35 mph and those locations "lend themselves to police monitoring," Scott said. In one example confirmed by a reporter today in Framingham, Mass., an icon was placed on a map along Route 9 west of Boston where it was first posted in mid-August.

Icons on GPS maps are also used to post locations of school zones where speed limits are lower than nearby streets, but the system also records intersections where red light traffic cameras are installed to automatically record violators. In still more situations, speed traps and stops for Driving Under the Influence are located.

PhantomAlert's Web site and press releases say that the system is legal and will help drivers avoid costly tickets by driving safer with the visual and audio alerts offered in the application.

"Now, drivers will have an in-car reminder to obey traffic laws and stay alert," a statement from the company says. "As more and more cash-strapped cities are deploying photo radar to generate revenue, PhantomAlert is stepping forward with a service that will quite possibly level the playing field."

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