Everyone has experienced the horror of being pulled over by a police officer and ticketed, and most of us know how they clocked us, but have you ever been pulled over by a cop that you know couldn’t have caught you speeding?  For many of us, this type of incident raises a fair amount of questions as to how exactly we were stopped when we barely passed the officer that pulled us over.  Have you been paying attention to the signs on the highway around you?  Every so often, you’ll pass a large orange sign that informs drivers that speed is enforced by aircraft, and believe it or not, it actually is.

That’s right, there are actually planes in the sky whose whole job is to fly around and see if people are speeding, but it’s a highly contestable way of tracking drivers’ speeds, and has been the cause for many a thrown out ticket in the court system.  So how does it work, and how can a plane even get the right visibility to see how fast we’re going?  The process is actually pretty simple, but it involves coordination between an aerial unit and a ground unit to pull off.

First, the pilot of the plane and the ground unit officer will decide which stretch of road they wish to monitor.  Usually, these locations are pre-selected as high incidence areas for speeding and accidents.  At this point, they will also coordinate where exactly the ground unit officer will be placed, strategically awaiting the radio signal from the pilot with information regarding a speeder.  After all of these decisions are made, the pilot heads to the plane and ascends to cover his route, for an entire work day, while the other officer parks, and waits for a call from the plane.

That’s right, the state that is utilizing these methods is paying two officers to do what one officer has managed to do, pretty well, previously.  Taxpayers in these states argue that this is inefficient use of their tax dollars, and some states have actually listened.  Virginia, who uses the aircraft enforcement along stretches of 95, pulled back their aerial unit several years back due to budget issues.  What was once a passionate pursuit for Virginia State Police has fallen by the wayside in favor of tightening the belt on frivolous spending.

In some states, the aerial pursuit of speeding drivers has measured out, as the officers are also monitoring other nefarious activity from the skies as well, but in others, it simply isn’t working out.  Not only are the taxpayers miffed at the use of their tax dollars to find another way to pull them over, but the tracking system is actually pretty fallible, and when contested, both officers have to appear in court.   The system used is similar to that of ground methods, like VASCAR, where are specific distance is selected using timing marks, and however long it takes the vehicle to travel that distance determines their speed.

This type of system is considered unreliable, because of user error, and the distance.  Many lawyers, or even layman, would argue that there is no feasible way that the plane is able to keep your particular vehicle in its sights at all times while they’re tracking the speed.  This is one argument that works for drivers contesting aircraft delivered tickets, but the best is misidentification.  The actual pulling over process involves the unit in the sky radioing your vehicle’s description to the unit on the ground.  Do you think they can get a reading on your plate from that high up?  So what is stopping the officer on the ground from pulling over the wrong silver Honda Civic?

It’s no wonder that aircraft enforced speeding is the first line item to hit the skids when the budget gets tighter.  It seems as though it is a waste of money, time, and an extra officer.  When you add in to the mix the idea that these tickets can be so easily fought and thrown out of court, the whole system ends up being a waste of resources.  Hopefully, the states that utilize this system will see the error in their ways.  For now, however, the signs are legitimate and you should probably keep an eye on the sky in these parts of town.