Cruising the sky for speeders

Chopper helps police keep speeds down

Tobias Romaniuk
Published on June 27, 2012

An RCMP helicopter arcs across the treetops, lining up with the Trans-Canada Highway and following the black ribbon of asphalt.

Const. Stephan Remillard sits beside the pilot looking for speeding vehicles.

Together with a team of officers in vehicles spread out in both directions along the highway, the helicopter can quickly spot speeders on a stretch of road far longer than anything an officer on the ground could hope to see.

At the Foxtrap weigh scales before the helicopter takes off on patrol, Remillard explains what he will be doing in his role as the eye in the sky.

“I’m using a stopwatch, and we have preset markers at 500 metres. We clock the vehicles through those quadrants and basically it’s simple physics.”

Using a few calculations, Remillard figures out a vehicle’s speed and, if it’s speeding, radios a description of the vehicle to a police cruiser waiting on the highway.

The helicopter is just one more tool in traffic enforcement, said Cpl. Tony Young.

Officers also use handheld radar units and radar units mounted in their cars.

“All these little tools that we have are basically used to enforce (speed limits) and try to get people to slow down on our highways,” he said.

The posted speed limit is a top speed, but weather conditions may make that speed unsafe. It all comes down to the experience and comfort level of the driver, said Young.

“A safe speed is really very subjective to the weather conditions, the road conditions and to the driver’s own experience,” he said.

In the winter, with slippery roads, a safe driving speed might be 70 kilometres, said Young, but that depends on the driver.

No matter the conditions, 160 kilometres an hour is not a safe speed on the Trans-Canada Highway, said Young, adding that such speeds are not rare.

“The speeds are very high and we see it at all times of the day, from five o’clock in the morning to late at night. And when I say high I mean 150, 160,” he said.

If a moose were to step onto the road there would be little time to react at that speed, and the stopping distance would be greatly increased, he said.