By Jordan W. Charness

I hadn’t heard from Peter for a while. I knew that he had been really busy and working very hard but that did not usually stop him from getting into trouble. Generally speaking, Peter has no reticence about dropping in unannounced or picking up the phone and giving me a call to ask my advice. This time, he actually sent me a letter. It wasn’t even an e-mail. It was an old fashioned typed letter on plain white paper. Here’s what happened to Peter this time:

He wrote that he had received a speeding ticket at 1:30 in the afternoon. He was driving on a large Boulevard that he was in the habit of using on his way to work. Last Friday, he had taken the morning off and was driving in to work after lunch. He knew that there was often a speed trap on that road during rush hour but certainly didn’t expect that there would be police officers stationed there at that time of the afternoon.

He recalled that there was another car that passed him on his left. He had paid particular attention to this car because it was one that he was thinking of buying. Perhaps he was not paying enough attention to his speed. The next thing that he knew he was being pulled over by a police officer who was standing in the middle of the road on the median.

The police were very busy that afternoon and were already ticketing someone else as well. Not only that, the car that he had been admiring was also pulled over for speeding. By now, Peter had learned to be polite to the police when pulled over. Screaming and yelling or acting in a threatening matter will only make matters worse. He knew that if he had a valid defence, the proper time to make it would be before a judge in court.

He was asked for his personal documents, driver’s license, proof of insurance, and registration papers and a few minutes later was given a ticket for going 73 kilometres an hour in a 50 km/h zone. Peter politely asked what he was clocked at and what the vehicle in front of him on the left lane was clocked at as well. Naturally he was told that the number on the ticket, 73 kilometers per hour, was the speed that he had been travelling. The other car was clocked at 77 kilometers per hour.

Trying to remember what happened in previous court cases, Peter asked the police officer if he was certified to use the radar gun. He was told that the speed detecting device was not radar but was laser and that of course the officer was licensed and certified to use it. Peter then asked if he could see the certification and calibration of the laser gun. He was met with a stern “no” to both questions. He then asked why and got the reply “because I have the right to refuse to show you”. Peter then left on his unhappy way.

As a result of this episode, Peter had some questions to ask me in his letter. 1) Why can’t we see the calibration of the radar gun or the officer’s certification to use the radar gun? 2) If we can’t see them, aren’t the calibration and certifications basically useless?

The answer to this double-barreled question is that the police are not required to show you the calibration or their certification. They do not have to prove to the offender that the machine is working or that they are properly qualified to use it. A police officer will, however, be required to prove to a judge at trial that both of these things were in order. The machine must be properly calibrated and operated by someone who is certified to use it in order for the proof of the vehicle’s speed to be accepted at trial. Once again “trial” is the operative word.

Peter’s second question was: What is the time interval between shooting the laser at one vehicle and then another vehicle? Don’t they have to reset the gun?

The fact of the matter is that these new machines do not have to be reset or recalibrated between shots. They basically work on the point and shoot method. The results show up on the screen almost instantaneously. Once that speed is recorded by the laser operator and often verified by someone else on the team, the machine can be used to check the speed of the next car. The whole process can be done in a matter of seconds.

The question that Peter forgot to ask was why was he not allowed to see the results of the laser shot? The answer is that by the time Peter’s car was pulled over, the results of that shot had already been erased from the machine which then had been used to clock someone else’s speed. These machines are very accurate at a fairly long distance away from the car they are tracking. The time interval from being clocked to being pulled over could be several minutes. These minutes are put to good use by taking the machine and using it to catch other offenders.

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