Friday, February 18, 2005


So reads a couple of signs I see every day on my lovely drive up I-95 to work. How, pray tell, does this work? Does the airplane make an emergency landing on the freeway to issue speeders their tickets? Does the pilot radio down to a patrol car on the ground? If so, why can't the patrol car simply measure the speed of passers-by and issue tickets accordingly? How does one distinguish between the eight big black SUVs on the road from a few thousand feet in the air? Has anyone ever been issued a ticket by an airplane? Anyone know anyone who has?

Just curious.

UPDATE: Jeff (of Learning to Fly (or is it cope?)) uses that nifty internet thing to find that I am not the only soul to wonder about this. So has one "Beloved Beginner" who discovered this.

The short answer is "yes, speed limits are enforced by aircraft."

The longer, more complicated answer includes the following:
While there may be more to it than just the ominous signage, don't go thinking you're about to get nabbed by a cop in a Cessna. The odds are against that ever happening.

Aside from the fact that you never go more than five miles over the speed limit anyway (wink, wink), aerial enforcement is incredibly pricey. The State Police reckons the cost at keeping a fixed-wing aircraft on patrol to be about $70 an hour for fuel and maintenance. If you figure that most aerial enforcement patrols last about four hours, the state has already spent hundreds of extra dollars before collecting even a dime in fines.

Not only is it expensive, but Virginia does not have a fleet of Cessnas at its disposal. The Aviation Unit has only one plane available at each of its four stations in Manassas, Abingdon, Lynchburg, and Richmond.

"It's more expensive, of course," Saunders says, "and it's more labor intensive. But it's just one tool among many that's available to us."

Saunders admits that the real punch comes from the highway signs. "Hopefully the signs will act as a deterrence. If a motorist happens to read the sign, glance up and see an aircraft in the vicinity, even if it's not ours, it tends to cause closer attention to their driving. That's a good thing. There are a lot of ways to get the public's attention. Sometimes a gentle reminder is just as effective," he says.

It should be noted that several studies-- including a 1984 NTSB report to Congress-- have shown that aggressively enforcing speed limits does not appreciably reduce highway speeding or accidents. The real reason for nabbing drivers who break the speed limit (besides pumping dollars into law enforcement, which can be a real motive for some departments) is to create a police presence on the road.

Fact is, just seeing an officer at the side of the highway with lights flashing does more to encourage safe driving than any number of speeding tickets. Perhaps an inexpensive mannequin in a squad car perched at the side of the road though derided by many in law enforcement may actually do more good than the Eye in the Sky.

My question as to whether anyone has personally experienced or knows anyone who has personally experienced receiving a speeding ticket that involved police aircraft is still open.

"Not only is it expensive, but Virginia does not have a fleet of Cessnas at its disposal. The Aviation Unit has only one plane available at each of its four stations in Manassas, Abingdon, Lynchburg, and Richmond."

Most airports will have a plane or two that they rent out to pilots. There might be some departments do not own their own Cessna's, but they can definitely rent them and I suppose that renting rather than owning makes operating cost a lot more budget friendly, since there is no maintainence, insurance, or housing cost to worry about.
I was ALMOST caught in a speedtrap involving aircraft. While driving South on I-15 in California, there were signs for "Speed Enforced By Aircraft", I noticed a small plane in the sky going somewhat slow. I was driving about 79 mph with the speed limit being 70 mph. A few minutes later, a police officer in a vehicle pulled out from behind some bushes and began to follow me. I didn't hit the brakes because that would indicate that I was guilty of speeding. I let myself gradually coast to about 74 mph, and stayed about that speed for another mile or so. The cop kept following, and would even switch to whichever lane that I switched to. Finally, he exited the interstate after following me for a total of about 1 1/2 miles. He was probably waiting to see if I would either hit my brakes quickly, or continue my speeding. So basically, yes, they do work together in giving out speeding tickets.
Aircraft speed enforcement is reliable and detectors/jammers offer no protection and if done correctly, it is safer than stationary methods (ie, sitting on roadside with laser or rader) because a high-speed chase is not involved.

The pilot distinguishes between cars by maintaining visual contact with the offending vehicle and istructs the ground officer to the offender by specifying the lane number and how many cars ahead or behind.

The ground units normally get a head start by merging onto the roadway about a mile after the 1/4 or 1/2 mile course so they are waiting for the offending vehicle.

Florida has 10 field troops and each troop has a flight sgt assigned to a cessna. Almost daily they conduct aircraft speed enforcement missions. The Florida ground patrols are wait off the highway on a surface street and enter the highway timing it so they can easily catch the offending vehicle.
My dad got a ticket in Florida from an aircraft speed trap. There are at least 10 police cars waiting and as soon as the speeding vehicle passes, even if going the speed limit at the time, they will pull you over and they will state that 2 miles back you were going 15 over, or whatever it may be, and that you were caught by aircraft
Yes FHP has "SPEED LIMIT ENFORCED BY AIRCRAFT" MM 200 NB lane I-75 (Sarasota Cnty) was doing 110 but they got me in the "bars" (white lines) doing 93. No Radar dector can catch Aircraft Patrol or VASCAR. The ticket was $300.00 + 4 points. Most of the time they have marked units to do the stop but sometimes they will employ their fleet of unmarked mercury marauders.
Nice post about the Speeding Tickets
. Thanks for sharing this great post!
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