ISP uses ‘stealth vehicles’ — like planes — for safety patrols
By Erin Guerra Post-Tribune correspondent June 18, 2012 12:44PM
Updated: June 18, 2012 8:46PM
VALPARAISO — From an innocuous little Cesna Skyhawk, it was simple to spot the black pickup passing multiple cars while speeding on U.S. 30 on Monday morning, east of Valparaiso.
The pilot, Sgt. Lee Wright, let the truck go this time without sending a radio message to a squad car waiting ahead. Still, this example seen on a fly-along clearly showed why Indiana State Police believe airplanes can be an effective tool for curbing speeding — even determining a suspect vehicle’s average speed, plus watching for unsafe lane changes and following too closely — all of which are believed to be causes of an increasing number of fatal crashes in rural areas.
Airplanes, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Ford Mustangs and Indiana Department of Transportation-style pickups are among the “stealth vehicles” being launched for the State Police’s new crash reduction enforcement program.
State Police Lt. Jerry Williams said the agency’s research has shown an increase in traffic crashes and fatalities in rural areas, at the same time those figures are decreasing on urban streets. However, it has been difficult to determine the common factors.
“Those types of crashes are very random, at best,” Williams said, noting the collisions have been attributed to fatigue, driving off the edge of the road and failing to yield, among other causes. “Speed will not be our only factor we’re looking into,” he said.
So far, the only common denominator appears to be that when there are more traffic stops and more aggressive enforcement, there is a positive effect on driving behavior and a reduction in crashes, Williams said.
Currently the Lowell post, which is responsible for Northwest Indiana, has two planes that can be used for the increased patrols, plus two Mustangs and four motorcycles per shift, but it is expected that more State Police vehicles may be brought to the region for the enforcement blitz.
On Thursday, State Police ran a six-hour prelude to the program, during which 10 troopers stopped 150 vehicles on Interstates 80 and 65, said Sgt. Ann Wojas, public information officer for the Lowell post.
Future enforcement efforts will move to less-traveled rural highways known for frequent collisions.