Laser energy zaps speeders

The Wytheville Enterprise
Monday, March 5, 2007

Speeders beware. The Wythe County Sheriff's Office may be watching you.

A new high-tech speed measuring device allows deputies to better target drivers in congested areas and school zones. The $3,000 unit and training was provided through a grant from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

"We're one of the first sheriff's offices in Southwest Virginia to have a unit," noted patrol supervisor Lt. Chad Trivitt, a certified instructor for the lidar module. "The state police have been using the devices for awhile."

According to him, "lidar" is used when referring to speed-measuring devices that employ laser and pulse-timing technology for down-the-road speed measurements. It is currently designed for stationary operations only.

"Lasers measure distance and speed when a light pulse is generated by the laser," Trivitt stated. "Upon transmission, a timer is started. When the pulse returns, the timer is stopped. The timer calculates how long the pulse has been gone."

The small black box-like device is held much like binoculars. A deputy looks through one end of the unit, locates a vehicle and activates the laser. The distance and speed are digitally calculated on the front of the unit.

"Even when using regular radar," Trivitt said, "we have to do a visual speed estimation before we target in on a vehicle. Part of an officer's training is to learn visual speed estimation."

The speed measuring device, the lieutenant pointed out, works well in congested areas such as the six-lanes of interstate through the county and the parallel service roads. Schools zones are other targeted areas, according to him.

"We do a lot of summonses for speeding and reckless driving," Trivitt commented. "Last week we caught three speeders doing over 100 miles an hour."

Reckless driving occurs when a vehicle travels 20 miles per hour over the speed limit on primary and secondary roads. Anything over 80 miles per hour on the interstate also constitutes reckless driving.

"The fine for speeding is $5 for every mile a person goes over the speed limit," Trivitt said. "The judge sets the penalty for reckless driving, which is a class one misdemeanor."

Currently, there are six officers in the Sheriff's Office trained to use lidar. At least 25 percent of the patrol division will receive instruction for the speed measuring device.

"All the officers have to be trained in radar," Trivitt noted. "It requires 16 additional hours of training to use the new device."

He and Deputy Brian Lawson attended training sessions in Florida to be become certified instructors. They are among five other law enforcement officers in the state with this status.

Trivitt said the high volume of traffic on the two interstate systems ? 60,000 a day ? in Wythe County was a determining factor for the DMV grant. Last year, the Sheriff's Office received $28,000 in DMV grants to operate.

"Running radar is not our major function," Trivitt commented. "We're here to serve and protect our citizens. We do get complaints from many of the citizens about speeders in their areas such as on Lots Gap Road, Speedwell and along Route 100 where the new bridge is being built. We make a special point to check out their complaints."