It's my first time in the back of a police cruiser. Luckily this was my idea. Two days after the Vermont State Police and Department of Public Safety unveiled their controversial crackdown on speeders statewide, we decided to tag along with a trooper to get the inside scoop on aggressive driving. And it didn't take long to catch our first speeder.
"I'm guessing they're doing about 70 and they're doing 74," Vt. State Police Trooper Paul Badger said.
Badger is trained to estimate a vehicle's speed visually, and then verify that guess with a laser or radar gun. So how fast is too fast? The 60-day speed crackdown calls for zero tolerance over the posted limit, but Badger says he and his colleagues on the road have a more reasonable approach.
"If you're doing 3 or 5 (mph) over you may just be distracted for a second not paying attention," he said.
But he says if you're like the guy he stopped while we were with him-- going 16 mph over the limit-- that's intentional and dangerous.
"He saw me pull out of the U-turn. He knows he was speeding. I clocked him at 81 miles per hour," Badger noted as he pulled over the driver.
Forty-two people have already died on Vermont's roadways this year-- double the number of deaths compared to this time last year. Police say distracted driving, failing to buckle up and speed all factored into those tragedies. Badger says tickets are the most effective way to change people's driving habits.
"Be careful pulling out. They don't give us a lot of room sometimes, OK. Have a safe trip to Montreal," Badger told the driver.
What many people don't realize is that failing to move over for these emergency vehicles is so dangerous that it comes with a $243 fine and five points on your license. Traffic stops often occur on roadway shoulders, leaving little buffer between troopers and the rest of traffic. Badger says if it's too tight he'll approach the passenger side, but he prefers to get closer to the driver.
"I like to be up front talking to the operator. Get my nose in the window to smell alcohol or whatever may be going on," he explained.
But what he tries not to do is hide. He says he prefers to be in plain sight where drivers can see him. Before the ride-along was over I got one last lesson in laser technology.
"Shoot with a trigger. It's like a gun and you literally point it at your target," he said.
But it's not as easy as it looks. The gun registered 3 mph when I tried it.
"Yeah, you missed that," Badger said.
Once I got out of the cruiser, my performance improved.
"Yeah, shoot that ridgeline. So it was 66," Badger said.
The laser locked in on the vehicle giving us its speed and distance from the gun. Badger says the more detail he can provide on the ticket; the better it will hold up in court.
And because I had the opportunity to ask-- let's dispel a few myths: police say they don't get a cut of the tickets and they don't have to meet ticket quotas. Troopers say the focus of this initiative is really on keeping drivers safe, not tying up traffic court with petty violations.
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