How Are Speed Limits Enforced by Aircraft?

When traveling, you might notice some signs on the highway that read “speed limit enforced by aircraft.” Those signs may conjure up images of the cops scrambling a team of jet fighters to take a driver with a lead foot off the road. In reality, it’s a little less exciting. Take Pennsylvania, for example. Certain lengths of highway that are known to be trouble spots for speeding are targeted by the State Police Aerial Reconnaissance Enforcement. Those targeted stretches of road are marked with start and finish lines at a set distance from each other. Two officers — a pilot and a spotter — cruise over these stretches in a small fixed-wing aircraft or helicopter. When a vehicle crosses the start line, the spotter uses a specially designed stopwatch to clock the car’s speed through the enforcement zone. If the vehicle is speeding, the officers in the plane radio officers on the ground, who then pull vehicles over and issue tickets. Scanning for speeders from the above isn’t as common as it once was, thanks to improved technology. Several states have severely reduced or essentially abandoned their operations, but depending on which state you’re passing through, there’s still a chance someone may be clocking your speed from above.