Speed detection systems get smart

It might be argued that speed limits are almost pointless because it is part of everyone’s genetic makeup, it seems, to speed. Similarly, drivers can’t act as though they are travelling each day on a German autobahn where there is no general speed limit, just an advisory one (estimated at 81 MPH). Then there are the sobering statistics: an often quoted one, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, states that speeding is a factor in almost one-third of highway crash deaths. What’s more, a Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development study found 79 percent of vehicles on interstates were exceeding speeding limits. The study clocked many vehicles traveling as fast as 93 mph.

How about citations? The website TrafficTickets.com cites 41 million citations are issued by law enforcement for speeding each year.

All of this data points to the fact that law enforcement still has its work cut out regarding speed enforcement. The game changer is timely technology that rules the roadways in an effort to prompt speeders to let up on the accelerator.

Radar or lidar? Each has merit

Canvass 100 or more law enforcement agencies across the country and you’re likely to find some use only radar, others deploying just lidar, and still others using both speed enforcement technologies. Deciding which technology to use depends on your jurisdiction’s amount of traffic, types of highways and roads, and the extent of speeding infractions.

Radar measures the speed of moving cars by detecting a change in frequency of the returned radar signal caused by the so-called “Doppler effect,” whereby the frequency of the returned signal is increased in proportion to the car’s speed of approach. Radar can be most effective in traffic areas that are not too dense. The radar’s radio waves shoot out in a cone-shaped pattern that covers a very wide swath at ranges of up to 1,000 feet. The biggest drawback of radar can be that it will pick up excessive speeds of several cars, not allowing the officer to pinpoint a specific speed offender.

Lidar, which emerged in the late 1980s, uses pulsed laser light instead of radar waves. A lidar unit’s laser beam is very narrow and determines a vehicle’s distance and time (for the laser beam to reflect off the vehicle and bounce back to the lidar system) to calculate the vehicle’s speed. The chief advantage of lidar is that the user can rapidly obtain a speed reading for a particular vehicle, assuming the user has a direct sightline for that vehicle.

Lidar ideal for targeting high-speed zones

With speeding, old habits die hard or—as with some drivers who speed no matter what the risk—never at all. That’s one of the reasons Joe Manges, a traffic officer with the Grayslake, Il., Police Department, relies on technology to catch speeders and tries to change their urge to exceed speed limits. Grayslake is like many cities across the nation where stretches of highways cannot keep up with exploding traffic. The city has 25,000 residents, is primarily a residential area, and has several road arteries cutting through town that are only one lane in each direction. The result? Lots of gridlock. “A lot of people are moving in, and the county is slowly building up the roads (many residential streets), and that’s the reason for the gridlock,” Manges says. Accidents, mostly fender-benders, abound as drivers see gaps in traffic flow then race to catch up with the next pack of cars, but have too little reaction time and slam into other cars.

“We’ve increased our speed enforcement on the main road by simply being there,” Manges said. “We target certain areas at specific times of the day based on complaints and where speeding accidents happen most often.” Helping Manges and his fellow officers nab speeders is an LTI (Laser Technology Inc.) UltraLyte 20-20 laser device, with pinpoint accuracy in multilane traffic, and a laser beam that is approximately three feet wide at a distance of 1,000 feet away. Using the lidar laser, Manges notes “We can stand a thousand feet back (from an oncoming speeding car) and capture somebody’s speed. By the time they are up to one of our patrol units, we’re ready to stop them and talk about their violation. It’s very accurate,” and validates an offender’s speed, Manges adds.

Add-on options for the UltraLyte 20-20 laser prove valuable, too. For example, one of these options allows for collection and reporting of speed statistics so that traffic control units of police agencies can build up a speed trending database over time. Another capability for the UltraLyte 20-20 is LTI’s “Distance Between Cars (DBC),” which enables law enforcement to quantitatively decipher the distance and time between vehicles. The DBC feature aids officers in reducing aggressive driving behavior, while also providing an objective distance/time measurement to share with an offender. Officers previously had to visually estimate driving speeds, whereas the DBC technology offers solid proof.

Radar units catch multiple speeds at once

As populations grow, roadways become more traffic-clogged, which, of course, triggers more speeding. Luckily, speed enforcement technology can keep this speeding tamped down even if it can’t eradicate speeding entirely. That’s the case in Lewisville, Texas, where Sgt. Paul Barron and ten fellow traffic officers battle speeders daily. “Our community is expanding, and people don’t want a two-hour commute,” Sgt. Barron offers, “so they think they can cut down on this time by driving faster.” But not so fast—these people will have to deal with Lewisville PD’s weapon of choice: a Stalker DSR 2X directional sensing radar that is actually two independent radar units operating on a single, five-window, multi-color display. How does it work? If you have several cars coming at you whether you are moving or stationary, the Stalker radar device shows the strongest and fastest signal measured, plus it will show the speeds of two vehicles simultaneously. “So, if you have a motorcycle coming at 30 mph and an 18-wheeler coming at 25 mph, the device will show both of these,” Sgt. Barron says. “It will display cars coming at you from the rear in the same way. So, you can see four vehicles at the same time.”

Data captured over time helps pinpoint problem areas

As with the LTI technology, Kustom Signals, a Lenexa, Kansas-based provider of speed enforcement and in-car video systems, also offers a way to build speeding statistics. Lewisville has experienced speeding on many of its residential streets. Zoned for 25 mph, the streets often have motorists travelling as fast as 50 mph. To help traffic patrols clamp down on speeders, the StealthStat device from Kustom Signals is deployed, which collects, evaluates and charts traffic data. The device’s built-in Traffic Statistics Computer enables law enforcement agencies to conduct targeted enforcement in high-speed areas where and when needed. “If we have a speeding problem in a certain residential area, on certain streets, we can target speed enforcement because this technology gives us the times during which we have the largest amount of speeding problems,” Sgt. Barron explains.

More confidence, more citations

Officer Terry Williams of the Saginaw, Michigan, Township Police Department uses lidar to rein in speeders on his jurisdiction’s thoroughfares. His police department previously used radar. “It was difficult with traditional radar because you’d get a cluster of 12 cars coming at you and could not tell which of these were speeding,” Officer Williams reflects. “Sometimes, the radar would lock on the bigger of two vehicles. With a laser, if you have this same pack of cars coming at you in about 20 seconds, you can detect each car’s speed and get accurate readings on every one of them.”

The results from using lidar have been positive and rewarding. “We can be more proactive with speed enforcement because the technology is so accurate,” Officer Williams adds. “Officers are more confident with the ability to track speeding and catch offenders.”

Speeders get roadside lessons

Saginaw Township PD Det. Jim McKay notes that speed enforcement has ballooned due to the increasing commuter traffic on the four state highways that cut through the township. “I don’t see a decline in speeding,” he laments. So, the latest speed enforcement technology is the only way to keep speeding from spiraling out of control.

When speeders are issued citations, they also get a roadside lesson on their infraction as a way to help them control their speeding. Although Officer Williams acknowledges that more stops and citations are occurring with the use of lidar systems, “That goes to increased driver education on speeding by talking to these people and making more contacts with the public to let them know this technology is out there.” Roadside lessons reach more people than just one offender at a time, too. “If I stop a car, I’m on the roadside for seven minutes,” Officer Williams said. However, “There’s probably 400 people who have seen this stopped car” as they drive by…at a reduced rate of speed.

Court-approved

Once caught and cited, offenders seem to get the message that a citation will be hard to contest. When they realize their speeding offense has been documented with lidar, they are less likely to dispute the offense in court. Courts today readily accept officers’ evidence of speeding via lidar. “The laser’s tough to beat, and judges and defense attorneys recognize this,” Officer Williams said.

In-car video systems provide indisputable proof

Video is one of the best tools available to make an offense nearly impossible to dispute. In fact, the majority of cases are uncontested the moment the defendant learns of video evidence. One of the industry titans is Digital Ally Inc., whose DVM-750 in-car video system is compelling. The most significant feature of this model is the ability to connect up to four cameras and simultaneously record from two of them, plus four separate audio channels. The cameras offer high resolution to provide the best quality images, ensuring that every detail of a speeder and his car are recorded. Along with video and audio, the system can record event and vehicle data, including velocity of the speeder, which can be displayed alongside or on top of the footage of their infraction. Furthermore, the DVM-750 has integrated GPS with a “mark” feature to flag important locations or events in the recording. Also included is the VoiceVault Advanced Wireless Microphone featuring On-Board Solid State Memory that records audio evidence when going out of range or the signal is interrupted. VoiceVault offers a range of up to one mile by automatically adjusting the transit power as the range increases.

Next app: The mobile phone

With the impressive technology advances for speed enforcement so far, a natural question arises: When will speed enforcement applications be put on a mobile phone? LTI anticipated this question and unveiled their Speed Capture mobile app in August 2013. The app functions with the LTI TruSpeed SX dual-purpose speed and mapping laser and Bluetooth, and can be used via iPhone, iPad or Android device. With the app, a traffic officer can save or send an image of a speeding offense along with ancillary information such as car make, model and color; date/time of offense, name of the officer and more.

According to Vinny Alvino, LTI’s Traffic Safety Product Manager: “The two great aspects of this application are that the officer will be able to save a photo (of the speed offender), record this, and then show a breakdown of the infraction on the smart device to the offender right on roadside.”

Speeding is a natural instinct, and for many drivers it’s an unshakable habit. Therefore, any possible solution—from radar to lidar to mobile apps— will be relevant since law enforcement agencies vary as to their choice of technology.

The most important aspect of the technology revolution in speed enforcement is that the evidence yielded will be undeniable in a courtroom. That alone should help speeders think twice about contesting a speeding citation, and the decision to speed in the first place.

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