App promises good motorists revenge on dangerous drivers

A pair of Israeli entrepreneurs want to marshal the power of smartphones to shame – or prosecute – those who think they ‘own the road’

Traffic at the entrance to Jerusalem in 2012. (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)
Traffic at the entrance to Jerusalem in 2012. (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)

Ever wish you could get back at the lousy drivers who cut you off on the highway, or the cars that endanger pedestrians and drivers alike by going through red lights or tailgating? Like to put the inconsiderate, perfectly healthy jerks who park in handicapped-only spaces in their place? A new app by an Israeli start-up called Nirsham will let you do just that — giving you the ability to publicize offenders’ traffic crimes, if not necessarily giving you the police powers you would need to really make them pay.

The app, which has been available for Android devices and iPhones since the middle of July, was created by two brothers, Shlomo and Elazar Goldman, both of whom have had successful careers in the business world — CEO Shlomo was for years an executive with mining operator giant Rio Tinto.

“The website and the app were developed to put an end to inappropriate driving and to serve as a deterrent to drivers,” said Shlomo Goldman. “We all hear from time to time that the police are going to be installing more cameras on the roads in Israel. Our app will be like having hundreds of thousands of cameras across Israel, and the huge advantage is in the fact that every one of us, either a pedestrian or a driver, can have an impact on the way things are on the roads.”

The idea, Elazar Goldman told the Times of Israel, is for pedestrians or drivers to capture on film or video, traffic offenses in real time -– uploading a photo or video to Nirsham’s web site, where drivers will be featured on a “wall of shame,” and eventually reported to traffic police.

In essence, he said, there were really two apps –- one for pedestrians and one for drivers. In pedestrian mode, the user needs to hold down the shutter button, which will produce a continuous series of photographs until the incident is over. The user chooses one of four offense categories (traffic violation, road bullying, accident, road hazard) and the images are uploaded onto Nirsham’s servers, where they are analyzed for authenticity (to prevent the possibility of an individual uploading a doctored image to “get back” at someone they don’t like, said Goldman). The images are then displayed on the Nirsham site, where other members of the community can analyze them and decide whether or not a traffic offense was committed.

Most of the reports, however, are likely to come from drivers who are motoring along streets and highways and have observed –- or been victims of –- a dangerous act by other drivers. And the app, said Goldman, ensures that drivers will be able to record those offenses safely. “In driver mode, you hang your device on the windshield using a special holder, available in many auto supply stores. The app is taking photos automatically every twenty seconds, each time erasing the previous photo. If an event worth recording occurs, you just touch the device’s screen anywhere and instead of erasing the current image, the app keeps the recording of images since its last erase and attaches another ten seconds of video. So, you have a full 30 seconds of video, which should be enough to allow observers to judge the incident.” It’s perfectly safe –- requiring no more of a distraction than would be required to punch a button on the car’s radio, Goldman added.

Some of those who might watch the offense footage could include fleet managers, whom Goldman hopes will use the app to keep tabs on their drivers (a full quarter of the cars on Israel’s roads belong to fleets). Parents of new drivers, who are nervous about their children taking to Israel’s dangerous roads and would like to have someone “responsible” watching them, could constitute a major market segment as well, Goldman said.

And of course, there are the police. “We are working on building our connections with the police, and hope to have an arrangement with them to use our images and footage soon,” Goldman said. Pulling that off however, may not be so easy. According to Galit Ben-Baruch, the official spokesperson of the traffic police, “legally there is only one way for a citizen to file a complaint against someone else, and that is to walk into a police station and file a complaint. We heard about this app, but as of now there are no procedures in place to forward the photos and footage to police, or for them to be used as evidence in a case.” In fact, using the images in court could be very problematic, since neither the app, nor the complainant, have any legal standing, and the veracity of the “evidence” could be difficult to establish, Ben-Baruch said.

Nirsham screenshot (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Nirsham screenshot (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Nirsham is quite aware of the hurdles in getting the app “certified” by police, Goldman said. “The app is not attempting to ‘stand-in’ for police, but to make it easier for citizens to file complaints.” The way things work now, said Goldman, “citizens can file a complaint about anyone for any reason, and police are obligated to conduct an initial investigation into legitimate allegations. Whether the case is closed immediately or is developed, of course, is another question, but the initial investigation needs to be conducted. The Nirsham app can help police decide whether a case is worth pursuing. In many of the photos on our site, you can see very clearly that a traffic violation has been committed, and you can see the license plate of the vehicle. A citizen who would have filed a complaint on that offense now has much stronger evidence that there is a case to pursue,” Goldman said. “With the images, there is a much better chance of catching –- and stopping –- a dangerous driver.”

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