It’s a fact: Traffic enforcement efforts will never be able to entirely eliminate speeding on our roads and highways. But new technology, especially the use of video with automated speed detection, is helping stem drivers’ need for speed. Although this technology isn’t widely used, the departments that are using it have proved its effectiveness. And it’s not just about the violators they nab. Equally important is the deterrence resulting from wider and more effective violation detection.
Speed in particular is deadly. Consider the real and brutal consequences of speeding and you’ll see the value of speed enforcement. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):
• Speed is a factor in nearly one-third of all fatal crashes;
• On average, 1,000 Americans are killed every month in speed-related crashes; and
• Speed-related crashes cost society more than $40 billion a year.
For years, traffic enforcement officers have used radar and lidar speed detection systems to catch speeding offenders, but with mixed results. Although officers had documented proof of speeding with these devices, it wasn’t always a sure bet the evidence would be admissible in court. Where evidence was admitted, proving that it revealed speeding infractions definitively hasn’t always been easy or successful.
Enter Video Evidence
Depending on what a police department’s budget will allow, there are varying types of technology employing video that catch speeders red-handed or that work alongside of existing speed enforcement systems as backup proof of exceeding speed limits.
The lidar speed enforcement systems incorporating digital video usually offer multiple enforcement modes, data logging and tracking history, zoom camera for targeting car license plate and detecting some physical details of a driver (i.e., hair color), plus day or night-time operational settings.
Until just a few years ago, judges have been selective about admitting evidence of speeding into their courtrooms. In-car video evidence has been admissible, but lidar and radar evidence haven’t always been treated the same way. Now, like a new sheriff bursting into a wild western town to enforce laws, video has come along to effectuate the law.
Easier to Prosecute
Laser Technology, Inc., (LTI) of Centennial, Colo., has innovated considerably in these technologies. Its LTI 20/20 TruCAM speed enforcement tool integrates a laser system with a digital video camera and can record a complete chain of video evidence, including a high-resolution image that identifies vehicle make and model, license plate number, and some basic details of what the driver looks like. The TruCAM also can feed statistical data into some geographic information systems (GIS).
According to Officer Gilbert Contreras of the Rochester (N.Y.) PD, which has purchased one TruCAM unit, the device has made a huge impact on speed enforcement efforts. By using the TruCAM unit on problematic roads, they’ve seen a decrease in motor vehicle accidents and number of violators has decreased.
Contreras routinely poses as a surveyor on the shoulder of one of his city’s major traffic arterials, and with a TruCAM mounted on a tripod and utilizing a secure radio frequency with six or seven officers down the roadway, he targets and records cars unsuspectingly whizzing by him.
“Using the TruCAM, we pick out the violators, call it out, and officers will pull them over and issue citations,” Contreras said. “When we go out there, we usually write between 30 and 40 tickets.”
Drivers intent on fighting their citations get a rude awakening when walking into court and discovering, to their shock, that their offense is all on video for a judge to see. Consequently, judges promptly make offenders pay up. “There’s been 100 percent conviction,” Contreras said.
Officers still must attend court and testify about tagging vehicles for speeding and stopping drivers for questioning. “The only thing is,” Contreras adds, “when I’m there [in court] with 15 or 20 speed trials, and the third case is the same thing, and people come up and the officer has their picture, they just plead guilty.”
In addition to aiding prosecutions, the TrueCam system can be used to survey speeds in a given area. The video can also be used in officer and community education.
Kustom Signals, Inc. of Lenexa, Kan., offers its own family of digital video speed enforcement products: PLVideo, a digital video laser system; LASERwitness, which combines lidar technology for target specific identification and digital video for complete tracking history; and LaserCam, which includes speed detection with digital still camera. They’re beneficial for targeting specific speeding offenses in heavy traffic, with 0.1 foot accuracy. All of these products interface with the company’s in-car video and radar products.
The G3 Vision is the newest in-car video system from Kustom Signals, which interfaces with Kustom’s Raptor RP-1 directional radar. It records fastest target, strongest target and patrol speed, along with directional and antenna information. This provides supportive evidence for traffic violations, but the greater value can be found in supporting cases of probable cause for subsequent charges.
Digital Ally of Overland Park, Kan., provides a different video enforcement solution with its DVM-500Plus In-Car Law Enforcement Camera and DVM-750 In-Car Video System. The systems each allow connection of up to four cameras and two recording cameras, plus four separate audio channels—simultaneously. The DVM-750 continuously records and displays the vehicle’s coordinates showing exact location. Evidence is secure and watermarked, and all access and use is logged.
The in-car video systems interface with radar and lidar devices by giving vehicle speed readings on the screens of the in-car video systems.
“These speed readings have been recorded along with the video,” says Ken McCoy, Digital Ally’s Vice-President of Sales and Marketing, “and that can be played back in a court case to show the speed of both the vehicle and of the patrol car.” However, McCoy adds, traffic enforcement officers aren’t using the video from his company’s in-car video systems as clear-cut evidence that a car suspected of speeding was the actual car. This is because there may be several cars in a scene caught on the in-car video system.
“The video itself doesn’t know which car the radar, as an example, is targeting,” McCoy says. “That’s where the officer’s testimony comes in. It still comes down to the officer’s testimony. [The video from in-car video systems] is supportive evidence. But if it’s one car in the video scene, certainly this would be irrefutable evidence.”
Digital Ally plans to introduce a lidar speed enforcement system incorporating video very similar to the one LTI offers before the end of 2011.
McCoy stresses that as effective as speed enforcement technology has been so far, proving that a driver is guilty of speeding “really comes back to the officer’s testimony.”
In most cases, an officer is actually stopping speeders along a street or highway and issuing a summons. “Very few cases go to court,” McCoy says. “But when they do, it comes down to the officer’s ability to identify the vehicle that he says is speeding and tracking that vehicle to make sure that the lidar or radar tracked the vehicle accurately.”
A Phased-In Approach
The NHTSA believes the use of technology for speed enforcement will only expand. But it may not be a rapid expansion.
“Marrying video with lidar is beginning to be phased into traditional methods of enforcement activities,” says Michael Geraci, Director of NHTSA’s Office of Safety Programs. But cost is still a prohibiting factor. “One of the primary considerations is how this technology will impact traffic safety in the community.”
Law enforcement decision-makers often learn from other agencies what technology is working and determine its return on potential investments. “The video evidence certainly supports and reinforces what [the officers have] seen,” says Geraci. “In most cases, it validates what they’ve observed.”
Still, officer testimony isn’t going away. “There is no substitute for a professional law enforcement officer’s abilities, observations and discretion in these cases [of automated speed enforcement]. The technology compliments law enforcement’s observations, experience and ability to articulate in a courtroom what they’ve seen and what actions they took. It’s the foundation for a successful judicial proceeding.”
Police agencies that use only radar speed enforcement systems might consider the Responder 4000 from Decatur Electronics of Phoenix. This system integrates both traffic radar and police in-car video systems in one unit. The Responder 4000 processes radar signals internally. Data can be added to video evidence in the car, and specific events can be marked with unique officer identification for review later. Files are securely transferred via the 40- or 80-GB solid-state detachable hard-drive docked with the back-office consumption station.
In addition, with shrinking patrol vehicle sizes, the Responder 4000 integrates traffic patrol functions in one display unit, including the optional rear-view mirror display for true heads-up viewing. This capability makes an officer’s mobile office more safe and efficient.
Following Too Closely
It’s not just speed that kills. By driving too closely to another vehicle, especially while speeding, a driver’s ability to react to changing road conditions is severely limited. Which is why, for instance, LTI offers an optional detection mode for the TruCAM known as “DBC”: distance between cars, which measures speed, traveling time and distance between two vehicles.
For Lt. Rod Peterson of the Logan, Utah, PD, the DBC is a welcome capability.
It’s no wonder. In Logan, Main St., a five-mile long stretch of road with 30–55 MPH speed limits, is ground zero for traffic accidents. In fact, says Lt. Peterson, Logan is one of the top cities in Utah for number of traffic accidents on a main street per vehicle-mile driven. Why?
“What we have found is the primary cause of these accidents is following too close and improper lookout,” says Peterson. “If someone’s not going to maintain a proper lookout, that means he or she is going to have to increase the distance that they’re following vehicles. But, of course, no one does that.”
Catching drivers on video who are following too closely makes the Logan PD’s job of speed enforcement much easier. The integrated laser/digital video system is able to give pinpoint accuracy of DBC offenses.
Utah law states a driving-too-closely offense means a driver has to follow another car in two seconds or less. Peterson has instructed his officers not to issue citations for any car following another in less than one second.
Educating Joe Public
Speed enforcement isn’t all just about catching speeders and issuing citations. Public education about the lethal consequences of speeding is critical. Peterson takes it to heart, working closely with his media outlets to spread the word about traffic safety.
“We want to show the public how this new device (the lidar/digital video system) can help combat the contributors to our accidents, and that we are asking for the public’s cooperation to please drive more carefully, pay attention and don’t follow the car in front of you closer than two seconds,” says Peterson.
Of course, old habits are hard to break, especially when they involve driving and the impulse to speed. “Some drivers have to learn the hard way,” says Peterson.
Whatever your enforcement challenge, technology is coming along to make your job easier. Talk with other departments and vendors and see what suits your needs. Bottom line: Nabbing speeders is tantamount to saving lives.
Crash Scene Tech—One way to speed up accident investigations
Once a crash has occurred, reconstructionists must meet two pressing objectives: gather the right kinds of evidence, accurately, and enable reopening of closed roadways—as fast as possible.
Meeting these objectives is never easy. Yet today’s technology for reconstructionists or traffic investigators has progressed enough to make scene mapping and diagramming easier and faster. This time-saving technology typically includes a total station, data collector, data collection software and a diagramming software package.
Corporal Dave Marthers (Ret.) of the South Carolina Highway Patrol, now a private reconstructionist, agrees that technology is making a big difference in the amount of time it now takes to map and clear a crash scene. For example, Marthers recalls mapping a crash scene once on busy Interstate 75 in Atlanta.
“We had a lot of evidence in the middle of the roadway, but we couldn’t get out there because there was so much traffic,” says Marthers. He mapped the evidence using a reflectorless total station (which can operate without a prism). Standing on a shoulder opposite the crash scene on I-75, Marthers had to time his total station shots to get evidence points in between moving cars. Sometimes the total station’s beam would hit a car and not the evidence.
What helped quicken the mapping process in this case was the MapScenes Evidence Recorder (EVR) data collection software that Marthers was using. Points and line work were being displayed on-screen as he shot, so there were no missed points.
“With this software, I could see an evidence point where it should not be,” he says. “Before using this software, you didn’t see where you had an error until you returned to the office and downloaded the evidence points. If the errors had shown up, you’d have to go back and reshoot the scene.”
The data collection software’s quick program setup and pop-up ‘smart menus’ provide easy access to information and settings, and automatic saving of all measurement data all contribute to saving precious time at scenes while assuring accurate, complete evidence documentation.
Total stations, the standard crash scene measurement tool of choice, also are built for this same kind of efficiency. Using total station technology has made it possible to collect more accurate data about crime and crash scenes. Many total stations have on-board data collectors using software such as MapScenes EVR. Handheld data collectors represent another option.
It’s vital for investigators to document complete evidence at crash scenes, especially if fatalities are involved. Likewise, the less time it takes to map a crash scene, the quicker roads can be opened with greater safety for motorists and investigators.