A police officer running radar is an image that prompts most drivers to slam on their brakes. But a recent Supreme Court ruling says Vermont police do not need radar or laser devices to pull over suspected speeders.
"The court says that officers have enough training and experience to be able to figure out when somebody is likely speeding by just watching them," said Cheryl Hanna of the Vermont Law School.
It's called visual speed estimation. The high court unanimously decided it provides enough probable cause for a traffic stop. The decision is based on two Vermont cases where troopers stopped separate drivers for excessive speed based on observation alone. Neither was in a position to use radar. The troopers testified that their training and experience allowed them to reliably guess a vehicle's speed within a 5 mph variance. It's a skill they're required to master at the academy.
"So they do have proficiency that they're able to do that and that is part of their training and their certification process," Vt. State Police Lt. John Flannigan said.
State police say it's rare troopers rely solely on guesswork and drivers can still be ticketed. Justices say those speed violations will hold up in court if police can clearly articulate the facts. But legal experts are skeptical.
"I think it's going to be very hard to get convictions for speeding when there's no radar. So what this doesn't do is it doesn't alleviate the police from having to prove the speeding," Hanna said.
Turns out in the Supreme Court case both drivers were drunk and later convicted of DUI rather than speeding. Legal experts say the court's decision opens the door to an expanded definition of probable cause, giving police another tool to crack down on drunk driving.
"The Supreme Court has given them more leeway to pull somebody over when they see them driving very quickly, particularly in some low mileage zones, and that once they pull them over they can investigate for other things, including whether or not the person is under the influence," Hanna explained.
State police deny it will affect daily operations.
"So it will be business as usual for us," Flannigan said.