My day inside a police radar trap

Midway through the summer travel season seemed like a good time to stare in the rear view mirror and review driver behaviour on our local highways.

Where better to check cottage and vacation traffic than Lanark County? And who better to guide us than Const. Stacey Niceliu?

On a recent sunny Sunday afternoon I joined Const. Niceliu, a Lanark native and 23-year OPP veteran, and several of his shift-mates on roadside enforcement duty.

If you haven’t run into these police service members lately (hopefully figuratively only), you’d be surprised at the advances in speed detection technology at their disposal.

While hand-held and cruiser dash-mounted radar units are still in use, new laser targeting systems bring to the job an outstanding accuracy and the ability to clock vehicles more than two kilometres away.

Const. Niceliu let me try his out. Even mounted on a solid tripod, it takes a much steadier and experienced hand than mine to line up the electronic crosshairs on the front grille of some far-off sedan, pull the trigger to hear the “target-is-locked” beep and see the speed displayed in the sight screen.

The rapid-fire beeps provides the means to tag a line of speeding vehicles instead of just one at a time. In fact, when this system is in use, as was the case on our summer afternoon, a full complement of cruisers and officers are required to keep up with citations.

As laser speed units are “invisible” to radar detectors (illegal themselves in Ontario, Quebec and several other provinces), even the well-equipped driver is oblivious to the pending penalty until he or she receives the “pull-over” wave. Don’t feel too sorry for the motorists tagged that afternoon; they were doing well over the posted limit.

While our crew was not hidden at the roadside, the haul from Niceliu’s laser net was plentiful, with no less than six Formula One wanna-be’s in the first 20 minutes.

Minivans, SUVs, subcompacts, luxury sedans, sports cars; all types of vehicles and drivers seemed affected by accelerator pedal problems.

The highest speed on this afternoon was 118 km/h — nearly 40 km/h over the 80 km/h limit. That cost drivers well over $400.

Before questioning why police put serious resources into enforcement, be aware that stats show we drivers still aren’t getting the message.

“Speed and failure to wear seat-belts were responsible for four out of six fatalities in my region last year,” said Niceliu, who works out of the OPP office in Perth. “That’s why we’re here.”

Traffic enforcement cross-hairs are also lining up on some other old headaches, such as illegal motorcycle and vehicle modifications. Motorcycles with excessively raised handlebars, cars with poor illumination (including fake high intensity discharge headlamps) and too-dark window tint are a few of problems making roads less safe.

Niceliu warns tint customers not to buy into the “police-approved” label with which some detail shops promote their products. There’s no such thing.

Nice weather brings out the motorcycle crowd, more than a few of whom don’t know the rules. For example, there was the father Niceliu caught up with recently who had a young child on the back.

The father was apparently shocked to learn that motorcycle passengers under 16 are forbidden by the Highway Traffic Act on public roads if they can’t reach the foot pegs. In the case of height-challenged toddlers, they are at risk of severe injury during any sudden turns or twists of the bike due to possible contact between their feet and the moving spokes of the rear wheel.

Lack of common sense can apply to certain boat owners as well. There have been at least three occasions in the county where watercraft came flying off trailers on the highway because their owners forgot to lash down the sterns.

A newer phenomenon affecting younger drivers seems to be what Niceliu and his colleagues have termed “gamer-mode vision.” After countless interviews with drivers involved in collisions who stated emphatically that they just didn’t see the oncoming, lane-crossing, highway-entering car, truck, hay wagon etc., emergency responders are suggesting excessive video gaming by some drivers have reduced their ability to recognize longer-range oncoming traffic risks and that they aren’t reacting until they are almost on top of them.

And no, you aren’t the only one who has noticed that drivers are still yakking on their cellphones. Police are noticing it too, and they’re bringing some old technology to bear on the problem. The use of laser speed detection units gives the other officers attending a roadside blitz some free time, hands and eyes to use binoculars to check approaching traffic for seat-belt and cellphone use, so buckle up and use a hands-free device.

The courtroom controversy may still be continuing on the new “stunt driving” laws (exceeding the posted limit by 50 km/h or more) but some drivers still are not paying attention. They don’t seem to realize they will be faced with are substantial fine as well increased insurance rates.

Niceliu doesn’t want to meet you at the roadside this summer so take his advice. It may sound like an old message, but buckle up, plan ahead for delays, take your time, secure your passengers and cargo, be aware of what’s happening down the road and off to the side, don’t speed, and don’t drink and drive.

Photograph by: Wayne Cuddington, Ottawa Citizen