Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A tool against tailgaters?

Speeding tailgaters are the scourge of my commute these days. They're either tailgating me or diving into that empty spot in front of me so they can tailgate someone else. I think people have lost their freakin' minds!!!

Law enforcement has typically somewhat retreated from issuing citations for tailgating, aka "following too closely". Reason being, that unless it's blatant, an officer's statement of the following distance is much too subjective. No matter how experienced the officer, and no matter how accurate their assessment, there's no hard figures to show in court. Most cases get dismissed. Until now, that is. It's about time. According to the Oregon Department of Transportation, tailgating has become the leading factor in crashes in the state. One sure sign you're following too closely is bashing into the vehicle ahead of you! Keeping in mind that only blatant tailgaters get convicted, Oregon had roughly 4,000 convictions for following too closely. What that means is that tailgating happens far more than what gets convicted.

I was tooling along I-205 and saw one of my motor friends sitting under an overpass working traffic. At the time I spotted him, my friend had laid the Lidar across his lap and was just looking things over. Relieved to find that I hadn't apparently been in his sights, I pulled off to visit a minute. Sort of a "stopping to let my nerve endings quit sparking" kind of thing. That stretch of I-205 is quite busy. A couple of miles earlier I had finally cleared a traffic jam. My friend was looking for drivers trying to make up for lost time.

On the Southbound side a pickup pulling a long travel trailer had managed to turn over and jack-knife the trailer in the process. Don't ask me how on earth the driver did that. Actually, I know. Let's just say there's folks driving rigs that should not be allowed to. For a couple of hours the Southbound side had been closed since the wreckage covered all three lanes. I was heading North but rubberneckers had reduced our side of the freeway to stop and go for miles. I was ready to stop and have a pleasant visit by now.

My friend demonstrated his new toy for me. It hasn't been too long since cops got Lidar. In case you've been off on a sabbatical somewhere, Lidar is sort of a combination of laser and radar. What happens is that the gun shoots a beam of light at a reflective surface. Motor vehicles just happen to have several to chose from. The light bounces back to the gun and gives a reading on how fast the vehicle is traveling. Detectors will pick up the laser but it doesn't do the driver much good. The pulse is so fast that by the time the detector sounds the cop already has the speed reading. The good news is that a single vehicle can be pinpointed. In the full radar mode, there could sometimes be some uncertainty as to exactly which vehicle the reading is from. In heavy traffic the cop will get a reading and then match the evidence of their vision for a citation. Most cops are conscientious and won't issue a ticket unless they're sure. Nonetheless, sometimes the wrong driver gets stopped.

Now the laser has been slightly modified to measure relative distance between two vehicles as well as the speed. From this the unit can provide information on the following distance. Hard numbers are produced using preset parameters. Should stand up in court much more consistently.

Thanks to a Sergeant in the Clackamas County Sheriff's office, ( gee, one of our instructors is a motor and a Sergeant with this agency; coincidence? ) the manufacturer agreed to a trial in Oregon. The technology has been used in Hong Kong, Australia, and parts of Europe for years. Now it's gotten some exposure in the United States. Oregon was first. The new device has been in use since last year. Arizona, New Mexico, and Tennessee are also in trials of the tool, so be forewarned.

Police target the first car's bumper and then the second car's. The device measures the traveling speed and distance between the two cars. So far, Portland, Gresham, Clackamas, Salem, Grants Pass, and Lane County have the new Lidar guns. That covers a lot of heavily populated area. It will be interesting to see the results of the trial. With concentration given to targeting taligaters the number of citations should go up. You know how the traffic officers will be with their new toys! If things go according to plan, the rate of conviction should go up, as well.

I'd like to think that the incidence of tailgating will go down. After all, people are intelligent, right? Even if they can't come to grips with just how unsafe tailgating is, they'll quit doing it to avoid a ticket, won't they? Excuse my temporary absence, but I just fell off my chair in a laughing fit. I think I may have bruised my tailbone, as a matter of fact. My prediction is that tailgating will be an ever increasing problem. No law will ever be formulated that will stop people from acting like idiots.

I will continue to closely watch my mirrors and stay on high alert. There's still going to be plenty of drivers trying to read a bumper sticker I don't have. They're still going to dive in front of me like there's a big neon sign that says "Vacancy". Once in a while, though, I'll crack a slight smile knowing that at least more people will pay for their stupidity.

Miles and smiles,

P.S. The picture above is not the actual Lidar gun being used in the trials. It's a representative model in common use among agencies around here.


dan_durham said...

Interesting read.

I can't even count the number of times I've been 100% certain that if I applied my brakes (either truck or bike) that the moron behind me wouldn't even have the chance to finish a "nose dive" of their suspension before crashing into me. This applies to drivers of business vehicles too!

The other day in my Tacoma I had a Loomis armored truck so close to me that Evil Kineval could have jumped off my tailgate onto his hood. I don't have to be a genius to figure that truck's mass would have pancacked me.

I wholeheartedly agree with you on the idiocy of today's motorist. People will just continue to get ticketed on the dumbest things. I hope law enforcement in WA steps it up.

Take for example where I work - Seatac Airport. Recently officials put up a whole slew of signs saying "no stopping or standing" on the side of the road approaching the parking garage. Additional signage directs people to the cell phone waiting lot. (there were signs before, but now they put signs EVERYWHERE) Port of Seattle police are occasionally enforcing this, but I still see lines of dummies pulled over...of course riding the bike into work is a real test of concentration becuase you never know when one of these cages will pull back onto the road. I've been nearly run out of my lane simply becuase everyone's eyes are glued to the overhead signs directing traffic and they suddenly realize they need to change lanes.

At least the port has their own 911 center for me when the day comes...


irondad said...

Just about the time you make something idiot proof, someone makes a better idiot!

Is Seatac the airport just North of Fife or somewhere in there? I used to stay at a Red Lion which was changed to a Doubletree. It seemed like the East edge of the airport was right across the street.

dan_durham said...

Yes the airport is actually quite a bit more north than Fife (Fife is just out of Tacoma).
Seatac is slightly southwest of Lake Washington.

I know exactly where those hotels are - your right - they are just on the east side of the airport (on Hwy 99).
I am arriving from the north end so I approach using a different route which exposes me to those "new age" idiots :)