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Virginia Ends Aerial Speed Enforcement Program

Nine years ago, Virginia changed its laws to allow the Virginia State Police to practice aerial enforcement of speeding. Signs were placed across the commonwealth stating “Speed limit enforced by aircraft.” Many drivers did not take these signs seriously; however, at its peak, aerial enforcement as a part of “Operation Air, Land and Speed” was an effective method of detecting reckless drivers and preventing Virginia injuries as a result of a Virginia car collision on Virginia roadways.

According to Deborah Cox, spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police, Cessnas, or small, single engine aircrafts that are dependable and relatively easy to fly are equipped with devices that “calculate speed based on distance traveled and the time it took to travel that distance. A pilot, along with a trooper or sergeant or both, flew over interstates with course sites – three solid white lines at which State Police pushed a button when a vehicle crossed it. The troopers in the air would radio down to a trooper on the ground who would subsequently pull the car over and issue a citation.”

At its peak, Virginia State Police issued around 2,145 tickets per year as a result of the aerial enforcement program. However, since then, the numbers have been declining. As it costs about $90/hour to keep the Cessnas staffed and maintained, Virginia has decided to suspend the aerial enforcement program as a result of millions of dollars in budget cuts which have also forced the closure of the Manassas, Virginia airport and the sale of one of its planes.

Delegate Jim Shuler of Blacksburg, VA who sponsored the bill back in 2000 doesn’t expect aerial patrols to be reinstated until at least 2011. Shuler believes that air patrol is a necessary and effective method of cracking down on aggressive driving in Virginia as well as dangerously fast driving. Both of these circumstances can lead to Virginia personal injuries or instances of Virginia wrongful deaths.

Virginia traffic fatalities in 2009 were lower than they have been since 1966. According to VA State Police tracking methods, this was at large a result of fewer people driving on Virginia roads. If the number of drivers on Virginia roads rebounds with the economy, the death toll on VA roads may once again rise. As the Virginia State Budget recovers, the need for aerial enforcement will be continually up for review.

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