"The industry wants a state law addressing the cameras so they can say, 'Hey, the legislature is OK with us,'" says Portwood. "But my fear is that they'll force movement of a bill that does nothing and doesn't have the checks and balances of the one I've crafted."

The state representative also has a provision in his bill requiring that no fine from red-light cameras exceed $100 — including court costs — and that all the money collected goes to the local school district.

"All I'm saying is that if it's really about public safety, then money should be no object," reasons Portwood. "It shouldn't matter if we spend it on the schools or whatever. But in theory, if the cameras worked as well as advertised, they'd already be coming down because there would be no revenue."

Fight back: PhotoBlocker makes your plates invisible — or so says Joe Scott.
Fight back: PhotoBlocker makes your plates invisible — or so says Joe Scott.

Joe Scott speaks with the silver tongue of a criminal defense attorney — and for good reason. His Pennsylvania-based company makes and distributes PhotoBlocker, an aerosol spray that is said to make your license plate "invisible" to red-light cameras.

"We're not encouraging anyone to run red lights or speed," stresses Scott. "All we're saying is that the system is rigged. It's not a level playing field. These cameras are notorious for making mistakes and police departments have been found to shorten the length of yellow lights to set traps. Under those circumstances, you have a right to protect yourself from unjust traffic tickets."

PhotoBlocker leaves a glossy sheen on the license plate that reflects the flash from a camera, resulting in an overexposed image. "The law says that your license plate has to be visible, but nowhere does it say it has to be photogenic," argues Scott. "If they can't read the numbers on your license plate, they don't know who you are and they can't send you a ticket."

Seven years after first crafting Photo­Blocker out of a secret recipe of shellac, varnish and sundry chemicals, Scott boasts he's sold nearly 600,000 cans of the ticket repellent. Dozens of Internet vendors sell the product for prices ranging from $19.99 to $29.99. Yet for all its popularity online, few — if any — local retailers stock it.

"We do not condone it," states a matter-of-fact cashier at Advance Auto Parts in south St. Louis. Ditto the response from a clerk at a local O'Reilly Auto Parts. "We don't stock it, but I wish we did," says an employee at the AutoZone in Maplewood. "I've been looking to get some for my car. Let me know where you find it."

In 2005 the Illinois General Assembly passed a law prohibiting the use of PhotoBlocker and any related products that "obstruct the visibility or electronic image recording of the license plate." But the product remains perfectly legal in Missouri.

"We don't have anything on our books prohibiting it," confirms David Griffith, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Revenue. "But does it work? It sounds too good to be true," he adds.

PhotoBlocker, according to Scott, has a failure rate of less than 1 percent. "If it doesn't work, why would the great state of Illinois ban PhotoBlocker?" he asks. "Illinois banning our product was the best thing in the world for us. Sales shot through the roof!"

Television stations from Denver to Australia have put PhotoBlocker to the test. Most media reports conclude that the product works to some degree. We tested it out last month on the RFT Street Team machine, a garish red Mini Cooper. In doing so, it is possible we may have made a right turn on red without coming to a complete stop at the corner of Delmar and Skinker boulevards.

Given that our paper's logo is plastered all over the vehicle, you'd think city officials would be able to pinpoint the perp, even if they couldn't view the plates. So far, we've yet to receive a ticket. Maybe it's in the mail. We'll keep you posted.

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