Traffic Safety and Enforcement Fundamentals

Police officer standing on city sidewalk

Ron LaPedis

While many local departments might consider traffic safety and enforcement to be the bread and butter of the state police or highway patrol, it is an important topic for every jurisdiction.

Traffic encompasses a broad range of topics. While speeding might come to mind, it also encompasses traffic calming; street and lane closures; special event and temporary parking layouts; construction zones; parking zone and meter enforcement; funeral processions; checkpoints; and first day of school confusion. It doesn’t matter if the traffic is due to a scheduled event; a VIP visit; a small, medium or large disaster; weather; an accident; or simply enforcing speed limits – the basics are the same.

Like a sidearm or patrol rifle, possessing the tools of the trade is useless without proper training and practice. And, there are a lot of tools of the trade, including the flashing lights on top of a cruiser. The two most important tenants of traffic are: (1) Keep yourself safe; and, (2) Do no harm.

The 2019 FBI LEOKA report states that 11 pedestrian officers were struck by vehicles that year and six of these incidents occurred during traffic enforcement or while assisting a motorist. You may know exactly what you want the traffic to do, but do the drivers?


Not including firearms, what piece of LE gear uses technology invented almost a century ago, yet still is in daily use to help keep your community safe? Give up? It’s your RADAR gun – and LIDAR isn’t that much younger.

RADAR (Radio Detection and Ranging) was developed prior to World War II and LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) was developed in the 1960s. If RADAR and LIDAR systems use decades-old technology, what possibly could be new?

Choosing the right technology for your traffic program depends on your agency’s mission and staffing. From least to most manpower intensive, these missions are: Determining if you have a problem or developing a baseline; automated detection and traffic calming; and finally, citing offenders. With literally hundreds of options available, should your agency choose RADAR, LIDAR, or something else – and what specifications should you be looking at?

First Steps

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that speed detection operators must be certified, and part of that is that the operator must be able to estimate a vehicle’s speed before using the RADAR or LIDAR unit to reinforce and document his estimate.

Manned systems cost a lot in hardware, staff time and training, while automated speed detection devices are available for as low as a few thousand dollars and don’t need training. But, which ones are right for your agency?

For writing citations, the main difference and the advantage of LIDAR is that the beam divergence (how fast the beam spreads with distance) is much lower than RADAR. The divergence at 1,000 feet from the average RADAR unit is 250 feet (76 meters) versus three feet (one meter) for LIDAR. This means that you can target a specific vehicle with LIDAR, while RADAR could be capturing multiple vehicles in every lane, including those preceding or tailing your target.

 Unmanned RADAR Systems

Before you can address a problem, you need to determine if you have a problem. Citizens who constantly call to complain about speeders in their neighborhood might be overly sensitive, or it could mean you have an accident waiting to happen. Your choice is to do nothing or send one or more officers to stake out the area and report back, but doing so takes them away from other duties, spreading your resources even thinner.

Automated systems are perfect for this mission. And, because you are not targeting a specific vehicle, but want to watch vehicles over a broad area, a RADAR-based system is the best choice due to its high divergence which allows it to “see” all the cars on the road.

Installing and configuring a RADAR system – either by positioning it on a trailer or by strapping a box to a streetlight or utility pole – can be done in seconds. How do you decide on using a covert or overt speed detection device? Again, it depends on the mission.

If baselining is the objective, use a covert system. If all you have are signs with speed displays, disable the display and flashing lights for a few days so that you don’t slow down drivers while you are baselining.

Ensure the size of any speed display or message sign is appropriate to the speed of the roadway on which it is being used. Does the sign need to be readable from 450, 600 or 1,000 feet? Higher speed means that you need a longer reading distance and, therefore, a larger display. A good reference is the United States Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

Maybe you want a sign which displays the driver’s current speed. Or, you might want to add text like “Slow Down” or have a “First Day of School” alternate with silhouettes of children.

Whatever system you choose, ensure that it offers calibration which includes “aiming” the beams, setting up multilane detection, or single- or multi-direction data capture. Your officers will thank you if the device can be calibrated remotely from their patrol car using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth® on a laptop rather than forcing them to balance on a ladder next to it.

Manned RADAR Systems

You can purchase convertible handheld/vehicle-mounted units which support stationary use, stationary/moving use, or both. For handheld use, look for units which can be powered and charged by the vehicle or operated from internal regular or rechargeable batteries.

Some units can be handheld in the morning and dash mounted in the afternoon, while others allow you to mount RADAR antennas on multiple vehicles and swap the base unit between cars as needed. This flexibility allows agencies to save money by dynamically repurposing units for the mission at hand. If it is important to your agency, units are available with anti-detector technology so that you can measure speeds without alerting the detectors.

If the unit is vehicle-mounted, ask if the vendor offers a rear-facing unit which can project a “safety zone” behind a cruiser or motorcycle to warn officers that a vehicle is coming up fast and might be in a place to hit him – warning your officer to get out of the way. You also might want additional features which are not obvious when you start shopping, so keep an open mind.


Because LIDAR systems have a very small spread, they need to be aimed with a viewfinder. Speed estimation takes less than half a second which, together with the narrow, targeted beam, results in offending vehicles having little warning even when using a LIDAR detection device. Some LIDAR units can measure the distance between vehicles to allow for following too close citations to be issued.

An electronic viewfinder allows for a lot of information to be displayed along with the image. Units are available with customizable aiming reticles, speed, distance, and other operational information which can help make the officer’s enforcement job easier. Some units can capture an image of the vehicle including the license plate and upload it into an LPR (License Plate Reader) system.

Do you need a speed detection unit which can capture and store images? It depends. United States courts have ruled that photographic proof is not required because the officer can testify to the use of a pinpoint laser. However, certain EU countries require video or photos.

If you do purchase a unit with a camera, ensure that there is an approved end-to-end chain of custody system which will prevent or detect image alteration. Most of these will implement some kind of image signing and encryption so that the image only can be accessed by appropriate personnel and cannot be modified.


Two of the strengths of modern RADAR and LIDAR systems are the functions built into the units for data collection and tagging and the PC-based software used for transferring, collating and reporting on the collected data.

Many automated signs can keep a database of incidents which can be downloaded through a secure Wi-Fi connection via a laptop. Companion PC software teases out the traffic patterns, letting you show minimum/maximum speeds and the number of speeders. Timestamping allows officers to know exactly when there is a problem and what the problem is so that command staff can make intelligent use of limited resources.

If drivers are actually behaving themselves, you can use the reports to prove that to the review panel. If drivers are slightly over the limit, you may want to move to automated traffic calming. If drivers are reckless, you may want to jump directly to citations. The baseline measurements will allow you to objectively assess whatever solution you decide to implement.


There are hundreds of choices which allow you to run a baseline, perform unmanned detection and warning of speeders and finally to issue citations to bring them under control. Which product or products to buy depends on your missions, training and purchasing budgets.

Advanced software and LPR support can act as a force multiplier, lowering manpower requirements which can help justify your traffic programs. Don’t just ask what software is available, but insist on an ease of use demonstration, perhaps with dummy data.

Vendors should be able to provide you with success stories when their product was used to lower the average speed, reduce collisions and fatalities, and make officers more effective enforcers. Also ask vendors for the names of several agencies where they succeeded (or failed) to make a sale. Every agency is different with different skill sets and different needs, and asking why a specific solution did or didn’t work for another agency should be a large part of your own acquisition process.

Ron LaPedis is an NRA certified Chief Range Safety Officer; NRA, USCCA and California DOJ certified instructor; a uniformed first responder; and frequently writes and speaks on law enforcement, business continuity, cybersecurity, physical security, and public/private partnerships.

Embracing Automated Speed Enforcement for Safer Roads Everywhere

Automated Speed Enforcement (ASE) has emerged as a valuable asset in promoting traffic safety and reducing accidents caused by speeding. But, it remains limited in scope as legalities differ by state. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have passed laws permitting speed cameras, while nine states have passed laws which prohibit their use. The landscape is continuously changing as legislation is proposed and challenged. But, there is one speed camera which is legal on any road, anywhere and it is making inroads in protecting American streets.

ASE operates by capturing images or by recording data of vehicles surpassing the speed limit. This allows for continuous monitoring and enforcement of traffic regulations without the need for direct human intervention. Ultimately, the goal of ASE is to deter speeding violations and save lives.

Permissible Usage: A Complex Landscape

The implementation of ASE varies across different jurisdictions and road types, with various laws and regulations dictating its usage. While some regions have embraced ASE as a tool for enhancing road safety, particularly in school or work zones, others have imposed restrictions or even banned its deployment altogether. The decision to adopt ASE depends on local traffic safety goals, with policymakers evaluating its impact and effectiveness.

The Benefits of Automated Speed Enforcement

By capturing violators’ images or data and issuing fines, ASE acts as a powerful deterrent, encouraging drivers to comply with speed limits and decreasing the likelihood of collisions.

Unlike manual enforcement methods which are resource-intensive and limited in scope, ASE offers round-the-clock monitoring of traffic conditions. This allows law enforcement agencies to allocate their resources strategically, focusing on areas where speeding is prevalent and ensuring safer roadways for all.

The presence of speed cameras encourages drivers to exercise caution and responsibility, leading to a culture of safer driving within our communities. With a recent House Bill passed in Florida which allows ticketing for speeding in school zones, the Winter Garden Police Department took charge and acquired two speed trailers with cameras.

Addressing Legal Limitations

Despite the many benefits of speed camera usage, legal limitations prevent their use as a universal safety solution. One company, Traffic Logix, located in Spring Valley, NY, has created a solution which can be deployed in any city on any street. The Guardian Enforcer warning-only camera offers many of the benefits of ASE, simply without the enforcement aspect which invokes legal issues.

The warning cameras capture images of speeding vehicles and gives jurisdictions the ability to mail speed violators automated warnings. However, drivers do not incur any fines, but are simply warned with the images of their infraction and the fee they would have incurred if a police officer was present. These warning cameras have proven a powerful tool to encourage safer driving. The Captain of the Mendota Heights (MN) Police Department has commented that the vehicle owner often isn’t the one driving the car and has received numerous callbacks from parents thanking the police department for the information.

The company also offers traditional ASE cameras, but these can only be deployed in jurisdictions or street types where permitted by law. Providing every city – regardless of location – the choice of a camera which can work on their roads helps to bolster accident prevention measures and foster a culture of responsible driving. Further information on the Guardian Enforcer speed camera can be found at