How police catch you with radar

With your sharp, long-vision eyesight and well-honed driving talents, you may think you can spot a Vancouver police speed trap before it spots you.

You may believe that there is safety in numbers, and that tucking yourself in behind a “rabbit” vehicle in front will make you less visible.

And you may even think that you can beat the speed-reading laser beam by jumping off the throttle and throwing out the anchor before being picked off by the cops.

Well, I’m here to tell you that there’s not much chance for any of these wishes coming true if you happen upon a Vancouver Police Department speed trap while dashing along in excess of the posted limits. Indeed, the chances are very good that you will instead be sending an unplanned monetary gift to the treasury in recognition of your leaden throttle foot.

I know because I recently stood on the Georgia St. Viaduct on a chilly but clear, sunny day with a group of four officers and watched them go to work on the eastbound traffic leaving the downtown core.

They had no lack of unwitting donors, as the speed surveillance team picked off car after car. The speeders generally accelerated away from the traffic lights at Beatty and Georgia toward the freeway-like Viaduct, exceeding the 50 km/h limit as they rounded the left bend at GM Place, and bang! The powerful red eye of the laser speed gun grabbed a speed-reading from the other (east) end of Viaduct – an impressive distance of about half a km.

Moments later an officer in a bright yellow jacket was stepping out to wave over the offenders. During that frosty, one-hour stretch on the Viaduct, the gang of four amassed about 20 citations.

The police are willing to provide a cushion of about 20 km/h above the speed limit, and will start pulling over cars as the laser readouts exceed 70 km/h in a 50 km/h zone – the speed posted on the great majority of Vancouver streets.

The traffic officers have many experiential anecdotes – “I clocked a Porsche at 150 km/h on Granville!” and lame speeding excuses – “I had to get to a washroom!” And they had words of advice, including those that debunk a couple of popular myths.

Myth #1: That someone who is quick on the brakes, upon seeing an upcoming speed trap, will be able to avoid a speeding fine. Wrong. By the time they see the police location, the laser reading is already well established. That’s how far the beam reaches and returns with a pinpoint accurate speed measurement.

“We’ve already seen them and recorded their speed by the time they see us,” said Vancouver Constable Wayne Sherris, standing beside his Harley Police Special on the Viaduct. “All they are doing by hitting the brakes is potentially causing an accident.”

Myth #2: That there is safety in numbers. By ‘hiding’ behind a fellow speeder (or “rabbit”), the trailing offender believes they might be spared the searching eye of the laser beam. Wrong again. The speed-sensing laser gun is very adept at targeting individual vehicles no matter where there are in relation to others. And the excuse that surrounding cars were going just as fast, or faster, won’t wash either. You’ve been speeding, you’ve been caught, end of story.

I tried the LTI 20/20 Ultralight Handheld LRB laser gun, (this is not a radar gun) and found it easy to target vehicles and grab speed-readings from them at a considerable distance after a few tries. Having been on this side of the technology, there was no question that speeders are detected well before they even see the cops.

Regular Vancouver drivers eventually start learning the locations of speed traps, and commit them to memory – especially if they have been caught speeding there, and earned themselves a fine. Twice Vancouver’s finest has dinged me– once at Granville and West 31st, and once on Beach Ave. near English Bay.

Both are regular choice locations for the speed cops. Other favourite locations include South West Marine drive east of UBC; the south end of the Granville St. Bridge; the Stanley Park Viaduct; Knight St. between Marine Drive and West 57th St.; Boundary Rd. near Hastings St.; and Granville and West 54th, to name some.

“We generally respond to areas that have issues,” said Constable Sherris, referring to spots where speeding cars are often involved in accidents. “Our primary focus is to ensure traffic flows safely, and to cut down on road tragedies. Speed is a huge factor in accidents, and it can change someone’s life in a split second.”

Words of wisdom to bear in mind the next time that pale blue speeding ticket is delivered through your driver’s side window.

Photograph by: Ted Davis, Canwest News Service