There are a number of different ways that police officers use to detect speeding drivers along highways, roads, and streets. Most of us are familiar with radar guns, or speed guns, as a way of tracking how fast drivers are going, but it is certainly not the only way that police can detect speed. Other ways include the pacing method, aircraft speed detection, lasers, or a Visual Average Speed Computer and Recorder (VASCAR). If you have gotten a speeding ticket in Pennsylvania, it can be very helpful to know how your speed was being tracked when you go to court to contest your ticket.
Radar is the most common way that state troopers in Pennsylvania and across the country track drivers’ speeds. Radar stands for “radio detection and ranging” and uses radio waves that bounce off your car to determine how fast you were going. Radar can be used in handheld units, commonly known as radar guns, which police officers aim at cars to track speed. Radar equipment can also be mounted inside police cruisers or unmarked cars.
If the radar equipment is lined up precisely with the car in question, it can yield very accurate results. However, radar cannot detect around curves or over hills, meaning that it has a very limited area in which it can get accurate results. Furthermore, because radar uses waves that bounce off of objects, it can be very easy to get a false reading from radar because it bounces off of multiple targets. The waves can also be distorted by weather patterns like rain, wind, or snow.
Another common issue with radar is the gun or equipment itself. Police officers do not have to be certified to operate radar, but they are often not trained to use it properly. Also, radar equipment requires a certain amount of maintenance, which often is not prioritized by police departments because of budgetary issues. A poorly calibrated gun or a gun that needs maintenance can also give inaccurate readings. This can be good news for drivers, who can prove that the reading was inaccurate and that it cannot be definitively proven that they were speeding.
The Pacing Method
This method involves the police officer maintaining a specific distance behind a driver while matching their speed. The officer can then consult their own speedometer to determine how fast the driver ahead of them is going and see if they were following the speed limit.
There are issues with using this method as a way to track speed. The officer must be extremely careful to maintain the same distance behind the car ahead, and this method by nature is subject to a lot of errors and discrepancies, especially if the police officer is far behind the driver. Also, police officers can intentionally speed up a bit when following you to skew their speedometer readings. And if road conditions were variable, such as ice layers or bumps and potholes, it can skew speeds even further. Your Pennsylvania speeding ticket lawyer will help prove through careful cross examination that the officer used inaccurate speedometer readings to write your speeding ticket.
Aircraft Speed Detection
In some states, including Pennsylvania, police can use aircraft units designed to track speeders, usually in coordination with police units on the ground. You may also know of these units as SPARE (State Police Aerial Reconnaissance Enforcement). These aircraft either calculate your speed based on how long it takes from you to travel between two points or using a similar “pacing” method, but involving the aircraft rather than a police cruiser.
This method has similar pitfalls to the pacing method, especially because of how far away the aircraft is from the actual car. Distortion of visibility or difficulty following the car could lead to inaccurate measures of speed. Also, aircraft that is timing your trip between two spots could perform miscalculations about your speed.
Lasers are a new form of speed detection. They work similarly to radar in that they use a beam of light bouncing off a moving car to determine the driver’s speed. They are supposedly more accurate than radar because the beam of light is very narrow, but they still come with issues that could lead to inaccurate readings.
In order to get a precise reading, the laser beam must be held on the same spot of the car the entire time that the reading is taking place. This requires very careful attention and steady hands on the part of the officer. It is also hard to tell when the reading is complete, and stopping it too soon could distort the speed reading provided by the lasers, meaning you could end up with a speeding ticket you don’t deserve.
Visual Average Speed Computer and Recorder (VASCAR)
Despite its fancy name, this system boils down to one where a police officer uses a stopwatch to time a driver’s distance between two fixed point. When the officer sees the person past the first point, they start the stopwatch and stop it when the driver hits the second point. Speed can be calculated this way by dividing the distance traveled by the time it took.
It is easy to see where issues can arise with this method. The officer must start and stop the watch at the precise moments that the driver passes the points or the numbers could come out wrong. The equipment must be precisely calibrated and maintained, and the officer must be able to clearly see the vehicle at all times. If any of these factors are not present, the officer could get an incorrect reading and you could get an undeserved speeding ticket.
Once your lawyer can determine what method the officer used when writing your ticket, it is easy to point out potential errors in the speed calculations and to find evidence backing it up, such as maintenance records for detection equipment or proof that the police officer’s speedometers were inaccurate. An experienced Pennsylvania speeding ticket attorney will use this information to get your penalties reduced or even get your ticket dismissed altogether.