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State district attorneys may benefit from plate scanners

Second of two parts

Oklahoma has finalized a deal with a Massachusetts company to use license-plate scanners to catch uninsured drivers, and the firm expects to issue 20,000 citations a month starting as early as next year.

The cameras will scan license plates of vehicles, comparing them against a database of insured vehicles. Owners of uninsured vehicles will get citations in the mail, regardless of who the driver was at the time the scanner caught them.

Citations will come from the company, not district attorneys. If vehicle owners don't pay the citations, the information gets forwarded to district attorneys for potential prosecution.

Those paying and getting insurance also avoid other penalties that would come from a traditional citation, like a license suspension, said Trent Baggett, executive coordinator of the District Attorneys Council.

"All we want is for people to get their insurance," he said.

Vehicle owners who receive inaccurate citations can avoid payment by showing that they were insured at the time they were scanned.

Baggett said the five-member council will determine how the funding from citations from the scanners will be dispersed among district attorneys.

While the number of cameras will be relatively low, they will be moved around the state. Officials are focusing more on high-traffic areas where more vehicle plates can be scanned.

"It's not envisioned to be a circumstance where there's going to be a camera every five miles down the road on every single road in Oklahoma," Baggett said. "We anticipate having them moved around the state and they would be in some fairly high-traffic areas. It doesn't do a whole lot of good to have one of these set up in a place where there's not a lot of traffic."

Kevin Buchanan, president of the council and the district attorney for Washington and Nowata counties in northeastern Oklahoma, said the program will benefit the state as a whole as scanners rotate to different areas.

"Each of our districts is going to be able to have coverage through this program as it goes on," he said.

The enforcement program sends $20 from each citation directly to the District Attorneys Council for administrative purposes. Of the $20, $5 goes toward processing costs for payments, $10 toward operating and maintaining the program's insurance verification database, and $5 to a state pension fund. The $84 left over after the vendor's cut will also go to the council, but how that will be allocated hasn't been decided.

District attorneys will be watching to see if revenue from the program covers the funding losses they've faced. Baggett said as of now, the potential revenue from the citations is unknown.

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