Checkpoint Alert System FAQ

Common questions and answers about the NYMSTF’s Motorcycle Checkpoint Alert System and how to use it.

Is it legal to employ and use the Checkpoint Alert System?

Yes, this is perfectly legal.  There are no laws in New York prohibiting warnings of any kind to other motorists of speed traps, checkpoints, etc., nor are they any laws prohibiting receiving such warnings.  There is nothing illegal about the Checkpoint Alert System itself, nor is it illegal to use.  To be charged with Obstructing Governmental Administration (§ 195.05 New York penal code, class A misdemeanor), a person must be guilty of an “independently unlawful act” or must be actively interfering with the traffic stop itself or with its operational or communications infrastructure.  Do NOT let Big Brother scare you!

Why should I worry about being stopped at a checkpoint?  I’m doing nothing wrong!

Your innocence will not protect you from accusations of wrongdoing, and you can never recover the time or the expense of appearing in court to defend yourself.  The administrative court system employed by NYC makes it extraordinarily challenging for most ordinary citizens to successfully defend themselves, and presents obstacles even to skilled attorneys.  Do you really want to take chances?

I witnessed a checkpoint pulling over both cars and motorcycles.  Should I report it?

We have no quarrel with law enforcement checkpoints fairly and equitably addressing issues such as speeding, licensing, inspection, safety equipment, distraction, sobriety, etc. with all motorists.  As long as traffic is being chosen fairly for stops, our opinion is to let it be.  Our quarrel is with checkpoints which target motorcycles specifically, as well as checkpoints or even special patrol details that appear intended to address all motorists but which are clearly targeting motorcyclists.  In cases like these they even might pull over cars with obvious violations but still pull over every motorcycle regardless of suspicion, in which case the answer would be “yes.”  If you know for sure there is a motorcycle detail in operation, even if it is just one patrol car on a shoulder somewhere waiting to accuse someone of sharing a lane, go ahead and report it.  If you are pulled over for any reason at all, ask the officer if they are targeting motorcycles today or this week.  If they say “yes”, report it!  Note the precinct marking on their vehicle and mention it in your report.  If it’s an unmarked vehicle, please ask.  In our experience, police officers have always been relatively candid about what they are up to.

Why use our Checkpoint Alert System versus Waze?

Waze is a fine app if you have a suitable GPS -enabled smartphone for the app, don’t mind the potential privacy issues and aren’t bothered that the company will do absolutely nothing to protect your interests if law enforcement requests information about you.  If you like what Waze has to offer, then you should use both Waze and the Checkpoint Alert System.

The Checkpoint Alert System is usable with even the cheapest cellphone in existence as long as your account has text messaging enabled, and the NYMSTF has no profit model to worry about, so we can respect your privacy and protect it zealously.

When you submit information about motorcycle -only checkpoints to the Checkpoint Alert System, it helps the NYMSTF build a database about the checkpoints and gives us crucial information for our fight against the city and those checkpoints.  If you only submit information about checkpoints to Waze, the NYMSTF is left in the dark.  There is no way for us to get information historical summaries from Waze.

A law-abiding motorcycle rider should only be interested in motorcycle -only checkpoints.  Most of the police -related submissions in Waze tend to have no information at all.  The police could be enforcing speed limits, responding to a reported crime or just having jelly donuts.  Most of the police markers entered into Waze as visible traps are in fact police just on routine patrol duty or on break.

Even if people did a better job of making informative submissions to Waze, there is no way for a Waze user to filter the police markers to just see locations of police interested in pulling over only motorcycles.  With the Checkpoint Alert System, when you receive an alert you immediately know exactly why you’re getting it.

Why use Twitter to broadcast the checkpoint alerts?

Twitter is easy for most people to use, and many people already use it and know how to use it.  Utilizing Twitter saves us money by not having to buy and install our own SMS messaging software, and it saves us money by not having to pay for each SMS message we send out.  Twitter also saves us the hassle of having to write web pages to handle the subscription process.  Twitter just makes perfect sense, and it’s free, too!

What are the pros and cons of subscribing to Twitter versus SMS Gateway texts?

  • Twitter pros:  Twitter allows you to control if and when you receive text messages to your cellphone.  Twitter itself is “free”.  Of course Twitter could eventually end up sending spam too but so far we have not seen that problem from Twitter.  And it is efficient for us – they are already set up for sending lots of messages quickly.  We send them just one message and they do the rest.
  • Twitter cons:  Like almost any other “free” Internet service your email address and whatever other personal information you give it could eventually be peddled to other companies.  Note that you don’t necessarily have to give Twitter your real name.  And the mechanism we use to post to Twitter doesn’t always work as well as we’d like.
  • SMS Gateway pros:  No reliance on Twitter means one less point of failure for the messages getting from us to you.  And the subscription process is easier.
  • SMS Gateway cons:  If we reach a point where we have lots of subscribers, it is possible we might get flagged by a telco as a spammer, at least temporarily.  We don’t think this would be a big or insurmountable problem but it could happen.  It also takes our software more time to send more messages.

Why is the message length limited to 140 characters?

Twitter revolves substantially around SMS messaging for cell phones.  The length of a single SMS message is 160 characters and was set somewhat arbitrarily by a German telecom researcher in 1985, who decided that length should be sufficient to convey most basic thoughts and questions in English.  Twitter reserves 20 characters out of the 160 to convey name information, leaving 140 characters remaining for users’ text messages.

Can I send alerts without subscribing to them?

Yes you can!  In a perfect world you should also subscribe to the alerts, so that you don’t risk sending out redundant warnings that someone else may have already covered.  But we are pretty sure our subscribers would rather risk a duplicate or two, than risk missing out on an important alert.  We encourage EVERYONE to send us alerts about motorcycle -targeted checkpoints, no matter what kind of vehicle they are piloting.  Pedal-bikes to trucks – it’s all good!  Please remember to pull over someplace safe to send the text message!

Is it OK to send alerts at any time of day or night?

Send alerts about checkpoints any time you can!  If you see a checkpoint, report it as soon as safely possible.  Do not wait.  Twitter subscribers who do not wish to be disturbed by off-hours alerts have the option of disabling mobile updates during the time span of their choice.

How do I set Twitter not to send alerts to my phone at night or during work hours?

Go to the Twitter web site and log in.  Click Settings from the top menu, then click Mobile from the sub-menu.  On that page you will see an option, “Turn off updates during these hours“.  Place a check-mark in the adjacent box, select the beginning hour and the ending hour for updates to not be sent to your mobile phone, and click the Save button.  Currently you can only select one range of hours which applies every day.  You can always turn notifications off and on any time via the Twitter web site or by texting “OFF” or “ON” to 40404 from your phone.

Can I send a Tweet directly to @NYMSTF instead?

We would prefer you did not because only Twitter subscribers would receive the alert.  Using our text messaging system ensures that the checkpoint information goes directly into our database, which then gets filtered for spam and published by our automation system to RSS, to Twitter and to our text subscribers, and to any additional facilities we may choose to use in the future.

Do you have any suggestions on how I should format my text messages?

Most importantly, the first word MUST be checkpoint, and it must be properly spelled.  Use upper or lower or even mixed case, it doesn’t matter.  It can even be plural.  The rest of the message should be short but clear, spelled well enough to get the point across, and be factually accurate.  Something like “Checkpoints at triboro br toll wb and harlem rivr sb 132 st entrance” should be fine.  Make sure your abbreviations are fairly understandable and remember the 140 character limit for texts and tweets.

Should I be concerned about the confidentiality of my phone number or identity?

This question involves both our service and Twitter.  For Twitter, please refer to Twitter’s Terms of Service and pay special attention to their link called “Law Enforcement Guidelines”.  As for what happens on our web site, when you send us checkpoint information, an email is generated which includes your phone number.  That email is stored temporarily in several places (including Google) during transport to our RSS and Twitter feeds.  The phone number is discarded before the alert makes it to Twitter or anyplace else, so your reports do remain anonymous.  We will never disclose that information and we will do our best to make sure it remains subpoena-proof.  We have at least two attorneys ready to pitch in to defend your privacy as well as our own.  We value everyone’s privacy dearly.

How much will sending and receiving SMS text messages cost me?

This depends entirely upon the contract you have with your mobile phone carrier, so it is hard to say.  Each carrier is different and each carrier has many plans.  Generally, if you do not have a plan that includes monthly pre-purchased or unlimited text messages, it could be as much as twenty-five cents per text message sent or received.  Check your rate plan to be sure.  People who think they will consistently send or receive more than about twenty text messages per month often find it beneficial to choose a plan that includes a certain number of text messages.  Again, check with your provider to see what they offer.

May I send MMS messages?

MMS (Multimedia Message Service) messages may include pictures, videos and more.  No, please do not send MMS messages.  We are not equipped to support MMS at this time.  We do like the idea of people with smart phones being able to send pictures of checkpoints along with embedded geographical data and maybe publishing a cool map, but we can’t promise a time frame for this functionality.

Do I need to worry about receiving spam or unwanted commercial messages?

We’d like to say “no way!” but all we can do is promise to do our best to control it.  We have several mechanisms in place to deal with spam and other annoying messages before it reaches our subscribers, and we’re at least as adaptable as the spammers.  We promise to do our best to control spam and if it becomes even a slight problem we will shut this service down until the problem is fixed.

I thought I was subscribed, so why am I not receiving the alerts?

See our RSS feed to ascertain if there were any checkpoints reported.  Maybe things have been quiet and there were no alerts to be had.  Or you did “successfully” subscribe but did not use the correct SMS gateway domain.  You can always call us at 1-347-410-MSTF to let us know there may be a problem and we’ll get right on it!

My message didn’t go through, or was delayed.  What did I do wrong?

You probably spelled checkpoint incorrectly or failed to make it the first word of the text message.  Other less likely possibilities include Twitter being over capacity, Google screwing with their service, a web server crash, or an Internet service interruption.  You can always call us at 1-347-410-MSTF to let us know there may be a problem and we’ll get right on it!

I sent a test text/SMS message and it didn’t go through at all.  What happened to it?

Test messages would be delivered to all subscribers and not just you.  That would be annoying and perhaps even costly to our subscribers so we filter for and discard test messages.  If you need help with subscribing to one of our feeds, please call us instead!  We will be delighted to help.  Do not send test messages.

I’m nervous about the text message subscription process.  Will everyone see my info?

Subscription texts are processed by our software in a way that the message never leaves our server.  They do not get sent to Twitter, nor are they emailed or texted to anyone on any list.  The subscriptions are seen by the list administrator, only.  If you tried to subscribe to the Checkpoint Alert System and something went wrong, you may receive a text from the administrator offering to help you correct the issue.

I saw a checkpoint in New Jersey.  Can I report it here?

If you see motorcycle -targeted checkpoints in areas of New Jersey, Connecticut or Pennsylvania which are fairly close to New York, please do report them here.  Our main fight is with New York but our goal is also to protect the interests of New York’s motorcyclists in general.  The Checkpoint Alert System is meant to cover the NY tri-state area and we are not going to be picky about the reach of our borders.  We also encourage participation from Long Island and up-state NY travelers.

What should I do if I am stopped in a checkpoint?

Be polite and cooperative, speak intelligently and do not argue.  Shut off your engine promptly and turn on safety flashers if your bike is equipped with them.  Keep your hands in plain sight and behave predictably.  Don’t volunteer information unsolicited, no matter how harmless you think it is.  Do as the officers ask as long as they don’t insist on anything that may compromise your safety.  You may remove protective eyewear or sunglasses when you are approached – allowing the officer to see your eyes clearly will help put him or her more at ease.  Do not remove your helmet unless asked, and do not comply unless you have been allowed to step off the motorcycle and into a safe area.  Do not get off the motorcycle unless asked to do so.  If you are asked to push or “walk” the motorcycle, don’t do so unless you are 100% comfortable doing so.  Do not retrieve your paperwork until asked.  If you have a current PBA card or similar don’t forget to present it.  Do not allow a search of your saddlebags or storage compartments without a warrant, no matter how sure you are that you have no valid reason to avoid a search.  If you are asked if the saddlebags are easily removable, reply NO!  That is a trick to circumvent illegal search & seizure laws!  If the officer demands the keys from the ignition, you should probably object to the request for safety reasons unless you were immediately directed to an area safely behind barricades or a patrol car.  Do ask why you were stopped.  If you can record the stop – video and/or audio – do so to the best of your ability as long as it does not interfere with the police or cause a hazardous condition.  Make good mental notes about every possible detail in and around the scene including patrol vehicle and badge numbers.  If you receive a summons, pull over someplace safe afterward and take careful notes about the entire episode.  It may help your defense later.

Do you have any advice about how to avoid checkpoints in general?

Subscribe to our alerts, of course!  But there are a few other things you can do.  Many checkpoints are placed at toll crossings, usually in the right cash lanes.  Get an E-Z Pass toll transponder and utilize the left-most toll lanes.  We think that the E-Z Pass is hugely beneficial for motorcyclists’ safety anyway.  Otherwise, be vigilant.  Usually a checkpoint will have a police van nearby and cones will be out.  Navigate to the lanes furthest from the police equipment.  Duck closely behind larger vehicles for cover.  We will never advise running from police but we don’t see any reason to make it easy for them either.

How does this alert thing work?

If we told you we’d have to kill you.  OK, maybe not, but if we told everyone all the technical details it might compromise our ability to control spam and prevent other abuses of the system.  For now we would prefer to keep a lid on it.  We use popular Microsoft Windows server -based back-office and Internet -based services for basic messaging and we have spent many hours and sleepless nights writing and testing custom automation systems to process the alerts.  The technology is not for sale.  However…

I run a motorcyclists’ rights organization in another state.  May I utilize your system?

We see no reason to force fellow motorcyclists’ rights leaders to re-invent the proverbial wheel, and three decades of this webmaster’s IT experience reminds us how wasteful it can be to try.  We will be happy to share our technology with other motorcycle and scooter advocates around the country.  Call 1-347-410-MSTF and ask for the webmaster to discuss the details.

Checkpoint Alert System Status Reports

5/1/2017, more to-the-point formatting of RSS feed, fixed a few issues
4/20/2017, automated subscription removals and updates, query feature
4/12/2017, changes to handle Google Voice’s new email formatting.
3/1/2016, moved away from Google servers for outgoing emails.
10/4/2013, resolved an issue with apostrophes in texts causing report failures.
10/3/2013, made sure all recent subscription texts handled correctly.
Outstanding issues:
Twitter updates are being done manually due to SSL issues on the CAS server.  Subscribe to text updates for fastest, most reliable service for now.