How state patrol is able to track down speeding drivers from 1,000 feet in the air

How state patrol is able to track down speeding drivers from 1,000 feet in the air

This month marks the start of the Wisconsin State Patrol’s aerial surveillance of state highways. Pilots will be watching the roads from their perch 1,000 feet in the air.

State Patrol said earlier this week that it will have eyes in the sky Thursday along the Madison Beltline.

The State Patrol has been using aircraft to monitor drivers for more than 50 years. In the beginning, troopers in the sky used stop watches and sheets of paper to calculate vehicle speeds. Now, there is radar, lasers, and an automated system called VASCAR.

The white stripes near the shoulder, perpendicular to the road, act as markers for pilots to stop and start their times.

“Basically they have marked out known distances on the roadway, and it’s just a time over distance formula of using a VASCAR system,” said Wisconsin State Patrol Sgt. Bret Manke. “Once a vehicle enters and leaves the road, the time over that distance equates to miles per hour.”

Pilots also watch for tailgating and reckless driving.

State patrol officials say some people are caught off-guard when they are told they have been caught speeding by a plane. They say it’s nearly impossible to tell patrol planes apart from civilian air traffic.

But officers aren’t looking to catch drivers off-guard. They put up signs, typically bright pink in color, alerting drivers as they head into aerial surveillance zones.

“The biggest thing is to slow down, limit your distractions and pay attention to what’s going on around you,” said Manke. “We’re not hiding what we’re doing. We’ll put out these signs of where we’re doing this and when and we’ll still have a lot of drivers that are completely unaware of what’s going on around them.”

The state Department of Transportation posts to its Facebook and Twitter pages which roads it is monitoring by air each day.