Highway traffic cops had an eye in the sky Thursday

Gary Kean gkean@thewesternstar.com
Published on July 11, 2014

Move over ghost car, the RCMP has more than one way of locating unsuspecting speeders and reckless drivers on the province’s highways.

For nearly three hours Thursday morning, RCMP Traffic Services West availed of the presence of the force’s helicopter to monitor highway traffic from the air.

A similar exercise took place in eastern Newfoundland earlier this week.

There were marked and unmarked police cars in the area, but they were hidden just out of sight on forest access roads along the highway.

Once a target was identified by the spotter in the chopper, the information would be relayed to the members on the ground. A police car would then swoop out onto the highway and track down the offending car or truck and deal with any traffic law enforcement that might be required.

The section covered Thursday was between Pinchgut Lake and Blue Ponds park. Motorists paying attention to signage would have noticed signs that indicate the area they were driving through is subject to being monitored by an aircraft.

The most alert of drivers also would notice the yellow T-shaped markings painted on the side of the highway in this area. These are what the spotter in the helicopter uses to determine the speed of a vehicle.

“It’s just simple physics,” said RCMP Const. Sam Munden. “Speed is a derivative of a time/distance calculation.”

Simply enough, the time it takes for a car to travel between two yellow markers will indicate the rate of speed the car was moving during that interval.

Most people may have seen the markings before and just never knew what their purpose was.

“They’ve been there for years,” said Munden. “Most people just don’t know they are there or why they are there.”

Munden said the section of highway monitored Thursday gets lots of traffic, especially when vehicles coming from or headed towards the Marine Atlantic ferry in Port aux Basques pass through. With many straight stretches and passing lanes, it can get its share of vehicles exceeding the posted speed limit.

“What we’ve found historically is that, once you get a nice sunny day and an open piece of highway with a lot of straight stretches, that’s when folks like to open it up a little bit on the speed,” said Munden. “This particular location has those conditions and has been identified suitable for aircraft operations.”

The topography of the surrounding landscape makes doing aircraft surveillance safer too, noted Munden.

Const. Sam Munden of the RCMP directs a vehicle off the Trans-Canada Highway during Thursday’s aircraft monitoring operation.

©Star photo by Gary Kean