NMA Email Newsletter: Issue #54

Eye In The Sky: Speed Enforcement By Air, Part 2

In Part 1 (Newsletter #53) last week, we identified nineteen states that have aviation enforcement of highway speed limits, and described some issues to be raised when combating that type of speeding citation. Part 2 is a result of valuable input from readers, including an attorney and a licensed private pilot.

Several readers also notified us of additional states beyond those listed in Part 1 that they believe utilize aircraft to nab speeders, including Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Missouri and New Hampshire. Let us know if your state has a similar program, but wasn’t listed in Parts 1 or 2 of Eye in the Sky.

Here are important supplements to Part 1’s aviation-based ticket fighting advice:

1. If the case goes to trial, move at the outset to sequester witnesses. If the pilot and ground trooper are able to hear each other’s testimony, it will be hard to draw out important discrepancies on the stand that could get a ticket dismissed.

2. “Pacing” a vehicle on the ground by aircraft is very imprecise. The pilot should be questioned about any of the following:

a. How did the pilot account for the effects of wind? If the aircraft is facing a headwind, for example, the airspeed gauge is showing a faster speed than the actual forward velocity, or “ground speed”, of the aircraft.

b. Was the aircraft moving in exactly the same direction as the ground vehicle? If not, there are possibilities for tangent and parallax errors of all kinds. Can the pilot account for these?

c. If the pilot used GPS to help determine aircraft’s ground speed, what type was it? Handheld GPS units carried in aircraft do not meet FAA standards for accuracy, and GPS integrated with the aircraft’s systems are expensive to calibrate, and must be certified by FAA-certified mechanics. In this latter case, examine actual service and calibration records to determine if the accuracy of the GPS at the time of the speeding ticket can be proven.

d. Most pilots are reluctant to admit under oath that they performed any activity, such as pacing a ground vehicle, that would take much of their attention and could compromise the safe operation of their aircraft. Press the pilot on this issue if he/she was flying solo.

e. If a second person was in the aircraft to time the ground vehicle, calculate speed corrections, operate a camera, and/or communicate with the trooper on the ground, that person must also be available to testify in court.

“Speed limits enforced by aircraft” cases don’t occur often, since the use of aircraft to enforce speed limits is expensive and mostly about public perception. But be aware that such speeding cases present more complications for the prosecution, and just as many opportunities for the defense.

On a unrelated, but interesting note:
Check out the new design of our Speed Trap Exchange website which lists over 55,000 speed traps across the USA and Canada. Please help out the NMA and your fellow drivers by posting the speed traps in your area. Forward the site to your friends and get their input too!

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