If you are driving in one of nineteen states that employs airplane radar, it is in your best interest to drive under the speed limit even if you don't see any police cars around. (Getty Images)

    by: Craig Howie | AOL Autos

    Imagine this: It's a gorgeous spring day in Miami and you're thoroughly tempted to lower the top of your rental car and push the power pedal a little too hard in a bid to break free from the traffic crush on the Palmetto. But, though there may not seem to be a heavy police presence on the freeways on this particular day, you can be pretty sure that someone up in the sky is keeping a close eye on speeding vacationers and the massive traffic tailbacks they're trying to avoid.

    Welcome to Florida, and aviation law enforcement from the state's Highway Patrol. It's one of the few states in the U.S. that employs aircraft to monitor speeders reckless drivers and, sometimes, soon-to-be felons fleeing a police pursuit (Nevada and Minnesota are among a dozen others). And if you never quite realized what those strange white lines on freeways mean, well, now you will.

    States that Enforce Speeding Laws From the Air Include:

    New Jersey
    North Dakota

    Flight Captain Matt Walker, the Florida Highway Patrol's chief pilot, says his job primarily involves monitoring motorists' speed between these painted white lines, which are placed a quarter-mile apart in frequent intervals.

    Surprisingly, aviation enforcement doesn't involve radar: it's a straightforward stopwatch time over distance equation that allows a pilot to work out whether a driver has broken the speed limit. Captain Walker, having clocked a motorist driving too fast, then radios the speeding car's information to a waiting state trooper, or ground unit, who stops the car and issues a citation.

    That is, if the driver stops. Sometimes, Walker says, they don't, a felony offense. But this is where aviation enforcement really comes into its own. In certain cases, rather than pursuing a fleeing motorist, which can be dangerous for all involved, an order will be given for the troopers to stand down but the pilot will still pursue the driver. Occasionally, the driver will head home, or even go shopping, completely unaware that his movements have been tracked from the air. Planes, after all, operate much more quietly than the helicopters often employed in other states in such pursuits. When the driver is quickly apprehended on the ground, usually they're shocked to hear they'd been tracked from high above.

    "The troopers will back off and we'll follow the vehicle," Walker said. "When the person doesn't see the troopers' lights, he'll pull off and stop or he'll drive to his house. And as he's going into his house, the troopers are coming around the corner.

    "It takes the fleeing portion out of the pursuit. Sometimes he'll still drive recklessly but the majority of the time he'll operate within speed limits if he thinks nobody is chasing him."

    Walker says that a fleet of seven Cessna fixed-wing aircraft operates in the skies above Florida. The combined fleet delivers some 45,000 citations on average each year, and speed will be a factor in about 38,000 of these citations. The rest of the citations are made up of secondary factors, if the driver is drunk or not wearing a seatbelt, for example, or is driving on a suspended license. He says about 150 arrests are made each year where a pilot has spotted a clearly impaired driver, and aircraft enforcement results in the recovery of about 50 stolen vehicles annually.

    "The primary use of aircraft is for traffic enforcement," Walker said. "The pilot has a stopwatch and observes traffic going down the roadway. He activates the stopwatch on the first line and calculates the average speed over the quarter mile.

    "We'll say, 'the vehicle is a red pickup truck in the inside lane, number 5 behind you, off to your left now, now he's number 1. The trooper looks out his window and will pull in behind that vehicle. We confirm the time and speed and the pilot will return to the lines and do it over again."

    The most challenging days for Walker and his team of pilots are busy holidays with heavy traffic and when the weather takes a turn for the worse. He says in those situations, or when a storm is looming, the fleet will be grounded. "We do not fly in inclement weather," he says.

    Walker, who was born and raised in Florida, says that any prospective pilot must have logged at least one year as a regular state trooper and 500 hours of flight time and gained a commercial or instrument rating. He says many pilots were former civilian fliers who paid for their lessons out of their own pocket, although they can gain the qualification when they're going through the police training academy. Walker was a trooper for five years before he took to the skies, and now spends about five hours a day in the air. He also has to testify in court should a motorist decide to challenge a citation.

    David Haenel, a defense lawyer at fightyourticket.com, has gotten to know many of the FHP pilots well in his long career fighting speeding tickets in Florida courts. He says he has won many cases challenging the basic equipment used to issue a citation -- including radio and the three stopwatches that pilots may use to clock a vehicle -- and discrepancies in the timing of an issued ticket.

    He says that a pilot must prove that their stopwatches -- which must be of a certain brand -- have been calibrated in the last six months. He says a description of the car, its time and its speed must be written on the ticket, and that the citation's reliability must be proven beyond reasonable doubt. Which means that if there is a discrepancy between the time a pilot says he contacted the trooper and the time the trooper wrote on the ticket, even by a minute, Haenel has grounds to get the citation dismissed.

    "First and foremost typically a client will tell me, 'I didn't see the plane in the air'," Haenel said. "But I want to know the locations of where the lines are, if the ticket is written in the appropriate venue [or county] if the troopers come from different stations, if the ticket is valid on its face."

    "Every inconsistency goes in the benefit of the driver. The time on the citation is usually the most critical. If the pilot says 3.59, but the ticket's at 3.58, or 4.01, sometimes I don't even take these to trial."

    Tread warily the next time you're tempted to put your foot down in Florida. You never know who might be watching. Or from where.

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    1 - 20 of 672 Comments
    laihui1314 Mar 29, 2011 3:33 AM
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    LarryBerglof Jan 03, 2011 3:46 AM
    The power pedal? Is that the one next to the stop pedal?
    Report This
    EIGHTYor Jan 02, 2011 10:00 PM
    This is old news // Virginia havechecked by air for the last 20 years
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    BillLesD Jan 02, 2011 8:15 PM
    This is big time big brotherism. I don't support speeding but I really object to the cop in the sky thing unless they are looking for a bank robber or guys who juyst broke out of jail. Got a "speeding" ticket once myself for going 40 MPH!!!!!!!! Had not seen a local road was posted for 20 MPH because a school was there ( school was in session, no kids in site at the time I was stopped). Cop actually jumped INTO THE STREET in FRONT of me to wave me down with his speed gun, which goes to show how "fast" I was supposedly going ( scarcasm!!!! ). Can you say "speed trap"??? I fought the ticket with a lawyer, ticket was pled down, but I was still was fined $250. Gigantic rip-off and calculated to make ordinary citizens hate the police. This is not about safety, its about shaking down the citizens for their cash. Bogus .
    Report This
    Blueyeszz Jan 02, 2011 7:45 PM
    Jaguignon is so OBVIOUSLY a COP trying to justify his job. Hey, here's an idea...all those Cold Cases I see on TV....murders and rapes that haven't been solved for decades....why not go after REAL criminals like that instead of being pr*cks by trying to make criminals out of ordinary citizens. THERE's a crazy idea! I'm sure the family in Connecticut, where the mother was alive and at a bank telling the teller that her family was being held hostage, yet the cops DIDn'T rush to the bank and took over 1/2 hour to get to the home, HAD to wait that long, because these pigs were too busy trying to catch someone going 5MPH over the speed limit. NICE WORK useless pieces of cr*p!
    Report This
    Freelance65 Jan 02, 2011 7:24 PM
    Is this kind of "enforecment," legal? Is not the guy on the ground using "hearsay" as evidence? What happens if the defendant goes to court? Do both the pilot and the trooper have to appear? I would think so, or it should be summarily dismissed.
    Report This
    Bigbirds13 Jan 02, 2011 6:50 PM
    Nothing new here. Its not really about Safety anymore,it's about REVENUE. Where i'm from put in traffic cams to get people running red lights. Big revenue source. Also huge increase in rear end collisions as people try to stop for cams. Best defence would be drivers education reforms.Make people aware of what can happen when speeding...the old Ohio Safety films redone in color and shown to all teens before getting a license. Of course being a commercial vehicle operator...Truc driver...we have a who;e slew of old and new regulations for them to get revenue on. As to truck accidents involving cars most caused by car involved. Stay away from big trucks,dont cut them off, pass then slow down, try to beat coming on ramps...etc just stay away.
    Report This
    Jjkk5656 Jan 02, 2011 6:36 PM
    Seems strange when there's a profit motivation, there's more interest in "enforcement". I might add job justification too. Where's the common sense and ethics? If they want to do what they say they're doing (making the roads safer) they should go after true speeders and reckless drivers. For those who do their homework, they will see an increase in accidents, because people are being distracted from their situational awareness (what's actually on the road). For example, on Northern Parkway (west-bound) at Fenwick Avenue (site of a Scam Cam in Baltimore, Md), was an accident on 27November2010 and another at the same location about a month or two earlier. I have travelled this road since 1993 and had never seen an accident there before Scam Cams (sorry, I know the article is about "aircraft" surveillance, ******** all related anyway). I wonder how many more were at just this one location that I didn't see, and how many more there will be there?
    Report This
    RachelAnnWood Jan 02, 2011 6:22 PM
    What in the name of speeding is new about this? Been around for years. Not very cost effective though and not much of a deterent to speeders.
    Report This
    Jaguignon Jan 02, 2011 6:17 PM
    I've gotten to the point where I don't want to drive in the daytime! Certainly not during the rush hour. Those that speed and tailgate so close that they can tell what brand and octane gas you're using! It's gotten really to be a pain in the butt to stop quick at a ************ either floor it and risk a speeding ticket or get you're newer car smashed in because some idiot is yakking on his or her cell phone and not paying attention. I'm one of those that when the light turns green in the distance, I proceed cautiously! I haven't been ticketed for a moving violation in 26 years.
    Report This
    Pinus1 Jan 02, 2011 6:03 PM
    Who can "speed" anyway? The left lane on a duel highway was once refered to as " the fast lane." No more. There is always someone in the left lane who thinks they own the road and go a few miles under the legal speed limit. Many of these posts, that I have read, are from people who have never broken the speed limit. Wow! The cops should pay more attention to people who are drunk, cannot properly drive, are yaking on their phone, eating a burger and fries; with a drink in their other hand, screaming at their little children, trying to read a map or follow their GPS, and on and on. I have noticed that there are many who buy cars that are built for speed. They are 100K plus. Where is the fun in this when the speed limit is 55mph? Very few people have the ability and/or reflexes to drive over 50mph.
    Report This
    Ammocj Jan 02, 2011 5:58 PM
    The headline is BS. This isn't a new method.
    Report This
    CallItClean Jan 02, 2011 5:55 PM
    OLD SCHOOL, This cop says back *********** he was looking and pointing at my radar detector, That didn't help ya much today did it? As in HAHAHA He says I think I will even let you keep the toy. just write ya the ticket. madison Wi
    Report This
    AMECINCCO Jan 02, 2011 5:54 PM
    I will say it is innovative but also a !@#$% overkill. You tell me that they need a chopper/plane, radios, troopers on the ground and then troopers at your home to apprehend a speeder? Sounds more like those state troopers are bored with the level of crime so they implement complexity to a simple traffic violation. God forbid if you steal! They will call the National Guards. Nevertheless, I'm for the sky tracking, but not an army deployment to apprehend a speeder. Stick to roadside sensors and CCTV cameras. Its cheaper, and FOOL proof.
    Report This
    Jaguignon Jan 02, 2011 5:53 PM
    FatAss55- If you slow the hell down you won't attract the police and be bothered by them!
    Report This
    Jaguignon Jan 02, 2011 5:51 PM
    Those that go ripping through traffic, "dipping and diving" to get ahead, and finally just end up trying to merge back in becaue of a wreck or highway construction are a real pain in the butt! They threated speeders on Interstate 95 here in Jacksonville FL with a double fine if caught pulling a stunt like that; especially in a construction zone. "If you need to be there sooner, leave earlier"! Don't threaten the safety of my family with your stupid antics! Looking to die in a wreck? just don't include the innocent.
    Report This
    DaBreveMan Jan 02, 2011 5:38 PM
    Nothing new about catching speeders from the air. Most states have been doing this for better than thirty years that I can think of. More of Aol's wagging the dog trying to get a reaction to something that is old news and trying to make it look like recent news.
    Report This
    PkrDonnyB Jan 02, 2011 4:54 PM
    Anyone thinking this is new must've been asleep for 50 years. It wasn't even new 50 years ago.
    Report This
    JDima58295 Jan 02, 2011 4:47 PM
    Our tax dollars at work....
    Report This
    ajschrod Jan 02, 2011 4:32 PM
    Nobody should EVER be in a hurry, so why try to pass everyone? Not only are the limits generous enough, but most people are AT LEAST 5 mi. over, so why bother?
    Report This
    1 - 20 of 672 Comments
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