New speed device in operation in Apollo
By Chuck Biedka
VALLEY NEWS DISPATCH
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Officer Ralph Varrato looked at the rapidly approaching truck Tuesday morning and replied, "It's doing 49 miles an hour, give or take two miles an hour."
Varrato, who works for Bethel, Gilpin and several other police departments, was keenly interested in seeing a demonstration of a non-radar speed system bought by Apollo police.
The truck driver likely didn't know she crossed through two invisible infrared beams.
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But in the police car parked in a treeline 150-yards away, Apollo Chief Paul Breznican instantly knew her measured speed. A digital-light green screen showed him that the truck was moving at 48 miles an hour in the 35 mph zone along Route 66 near the Apollo border.
Breznican turned on the flashing lights and soon pulled her over.
In addition to citing the driver, Breznican was demonstrating an electronic non-radar device known more and more to area police simply as ENRADD.
State police are allowed to use radar to enforce speeding. But local police, prohibited by law from using radar, must use other systems that basically use a stopwatch and white lines prepainted on the road.
Across the state, ENRADD is changing things.
At the heart of the system are infrared beams and a clock.
When a vehicle break the first of two beams, it triggers a clock. The clock stops when the second infrared beam is broken.
"The wireless feature allows the police car to be up to a quarter mile away," said Jeb Bowers of YIS/Cowden Group Inc., which makes and sells the device.
"A police officer can set this up and wait near a stop light or stop sign and signal the driver when he or she stops," he said.
"What's worse than having someone driving 50 mph in a 35 mph zone and the officer having to drive 80 mph to catch him? We build these units to avoid pursuit" Bowers said.
Cutting out the pursuit increases safety, enforces the law, and it also saves gas, he said.
The company requires that each ENRADD be calibrated every 60 days to make sure it stays within one mph, Bowers said.
"I come around and do that," he said.
Vandergrift, Kiski, North Buffalo and Worthington are among local police departments that have purchased ENRADD units that sell for slightly less than $4,000 each.
"We used part of a grant from Congressman Murtha," Breznican said.
PennDOT earlier purchased 50 of the ENRADDs and has 10 available for loan to police in southwestern Pennsylvania to enforce the Smooth Operator anti-speeding and safe driving campaign.
PennDOT safety press officer David Pritt said loan sites include Pittsburgh, Monroeville and Delmont.
Pritt said he recently saw ENRADD's accuracy proven to within one mph of a calibrated speedometer used to test it.
Pritt said an engineer from Philadelphia disputed the accuracy of the system that passed a five-hour test.
"This isn't LIDAR or radar," said ENRADD owner and vice president Jim Cowden in a phone call from the YIS/Cowden Group Inc. offices in Williamsport.
Light Detection and Ranging, or LIDAR, measures elapsed time with laser pulses and radar. Traffic radar measures radio waves rather than light.
Last April, Pittsburgh police using LIDAR issued about 650 tickets but later found out the city was allowed to test the system but not authorized to give tickets based LIDAR.
ENRADD has about 300 wireless units in place and about 200 of the predecessor unit that used an electrical cord to link the screen to the other parts of the system.
Cowden said he listened to police officers from across the state. "I spent a year lobbying for local police use of radar. When that didn't work, I talked to our engineer. I asked him, 'Can we get rid of the cord?' And he said yes," Cowden said.
The company started talking about the need in 1999 and 2000 and it took about two years to find a solution and to win approval from PennDOT.
The system now uses cellphone-like waves instead of the cord.
The units are built in York, Pa.
This year, the company has sold 26 units. Another 67 units are on back-order, Cowden said.
"After we meet Pennsylvania needs, then we'll look out of state," he said.
Chuck Biedka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-226-4711.
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