By: Jerome Wassel
Speeding tickets. Nobody likes them, but it’s more than likely that you’ll get at least one in your life. The question is whether or not you’ll know how to fight the ticket when it happens, and that’s what this article will hopefully lay out for you– what VASCAR is, how it works, and how to beat it.
Speed enforcement in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is tightly regulated by Title 75. Only State Troopers are allowed to use radar guns in the Commonwealth, while local police departments may only use VASCAR or laser systems to obtain speed. Our focus is on the VASCAR, or Visual Average Speed Computer and Recorder. That’s a fairly complex-looking name for a surprisingly simple system. VASCAR uses the white lines (sometimes dashed lines) you see painted horizontally across the road surface to measure your speed.
Most people know this part at least, as both Caleb Klemick and Ryan Kendrick stated. “It’s used for speed traps; they’re the strips you see on the road,” answered Caleb. Ryan’s answer was much the same,“VASCAR is what they use for speed enforcement– they use the painted lines, and the time it takes for you to pass between them, to get your speed.”
And that’s exactly how it works– an officer, seeing you car nearing the first in the set of lines, will prepare to turn the system on. Seeing your bumper move atop the line, he engages the system, and disengages it as you front bumper passes the last line in the set. Now, the distances between these lines are pre-measured, and this distance is set into the computer before the officer begins the speed trap. This allows the computer to run the computation for average speed, given in the equation:
Where x stands for distance, and t stands for time. Now, you might be thinking that this sounds a lot like a stopwatch, and that’s because it is. You also may be thinking that a stopwatch can be inaccurate due to human reaction time, or mechanical error. Let’s see this in action, at least mathematically.
When an officer is operating a speed trap, it’s rare that you’ll be the only vehicle moving through it, or that you’ll be the only thing on his mind– after all, staring at a roadway for hours at a time isn’t the most mentally engaging activity. Let’s consider a situation where, seeing you speed into a section of lined road, the officer starts the timing system. However, he was a bit late on the trigger, and starts it a second late. Let v stand for velocity, or speed with any direction.
v=483/6=80.5 m/s=180 M/H
So what was our actual speed, having taken seven seconds to travel this distance?
v=483/7=69 m/s=154 M/H
A noticeable difference of eleven and a half meters per second, which, converted to miles per hour, is a difference of nearly twenty-six. The four-hundred and eighty three meters in this scenario is derived from the minimum distance required to enforce speed with a speedometer in the Commonwealth, three-tenths of a mile. Now, let’s keep in mind that you’ll rarely be going sixty-nine meters per second, as that translates to about one-hundred and fifty-four miles an hour. So we’ll increase the time it takes you to travel this distance to hopefully provide a more realistic evaluation, with the error of a second equation coming first, and the correct time second.
v=483/27=18 m/s=40 M/H
You’ll notice that as time increases, our margin of error goes down. The opposite is true as well– as distance increases, the error due to time will decrease. So, rather than the difference between the two times being twenty-five miles per hour, it will generally be between two and six M/H. This might not seem like much, until you learn that in zones where the speed limit is less than fifty-five M/H, you cannot be charged with speeding unless you are going in excess of nine M/H. That is to say, if the speed limit is twenty-five M/H, you can safely go thirty-four M/H without risk.
It’s fairly simple to avoid even getting a speeding ticket in the first place– don’t speed. Of course, sometimes one is going more than nine M/H over the posted limit, for some reason or another. If this is the case, the best thing to do is to either brake down to a legal or speed, or if that’s not appropriate in your given situation, brake going into an area lined with VASCAR strips. Deceleration, even while within the speed trap itself, will provide a lower average speed, thus reducing the risk of being detained and charged with a ticket. Your best bet is to provide one or two high-impulse breaks– that is, one or two brief, hard breaks, as these will provide a deceleration of roughly five M/H over a second or so.
So what happens if you still get a ticket when armed with this new knowledge? Jared Capozza wasn’t certain, having not known the intricacies of the VASCAR system. “I’m not sure how to fight a ticket specifically from VASCAR, but I know you can generally get points removed from your license for any ticket.”
Certainly true, but why settle at point removal if you were charged with speeding, while not actually speeding? The first thing to keep in mind during the actual traffic court trial is that it is a criminal trial, and that means that the prosecution– in this case, usually an assistant district attorney or another lawyer otherwise retained by the court– must provide evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that you were speeding. The second thing to note is that traffic courts will rarely have a jury, and the judge will act in their stead. I won’t go in-depth about the motions of the trial, as you can easily look that up, but I will say the time for you to use the following information is during your cross-examination of the officer.
As previously stated, human error is the easiest to attack. The officer is human, and his reactions will be slowed by other things– other vehicles, radio chatter, his morning coffee. It’s after introducing this doubt to his reaction time that you’ll want to ask how long you were timed for, and if the officer is aware of how VASCAR derives his speed– specifically, if he’s aware that slight timing errors can result in erroneous speed. Your goal is to make him admit that his usage of the system wasn’t perfect. This is more effective if you can get him to start doubting his own timing, but it’s unlikely you’ll be able to elicit that kind of testimony from an experienced officer. It’s likely, though, that any reasonable human being would have doubt regarding the accuracy of the speed timing, and that’s all you need.
Hopefully this article has helped you understand the most commonly used enforcement system in the Commonwealth, and if you still have questions, there’s plenty of resources online to help you out. I do want to make a few brief notes, though. First, that this advice is given to help students and members of the Seton La Salle community to fight erroneous tickets, especially given the reputation of McNeilly Road– it is in no way to meant to condone or help with breaking the speed limit– at least, the unposted, actual limit. Secondly, if you read the previously referenced Title 75, none of the above advice is applicable in an active school or work zone, and I’d have to question why you wouldn’t be slowing down in both of these areas to the posted limit for not only your safety, but the safety of children and road workers. Finally, always remember your own limits. Despite what you may think, you haven’t mastered driving after a month, and so taking a bend at 35 M/H is something that will not end well for yourself, and the others you share the road with.