OKI Wanna Know: Is Speed Checked By Aircraft?

May 19, 2021

Our feature OKI Wanna Know is a chance for you to ask a question that may not be easily answered. 

There's one question we've received three times now in different forms, and it's especially important heading into the summer driving season. WVXU's Bill Rinehart has more.

There are signs on different highways in Southwest Ohio warning "Speed Checked by Aircraft." Our listeners want to know: Is it? Is it really?

Two of the three people asking the question specifically pointed to a sign on Columbia Parkway west of Delta. The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office has a helicopter, but says they don't do speed checks by air. Cincinnati Police say they've never had an air division.

That leaves the Ohio State Highway Patrol. And they do have a bear in the air. Several, in fact. Jessica McIntyre is the patrol's public information officer for Southwest Ohio.

An unidentified Ohio State Highway Patrol pilot makes notations in the cockpit.
Credit Provided / Ohio State Highway Patrol

"We do have of course an Ohio State Highway Patrol pilot," McIntyre says. "They will call off information to us about a vehicle, whether it be for speed, following too close, failure to maintain their lane of travel, et cetera. They will radio down to us and we pull that vehicle over and go from there." 

There are marks painted on the highway, roughly 1,320 feet apart. McIntyre says the patrol's pilot has a stopwatch, and can calculate a vehicle's speed by how fast they travel that quarter mile. She says the pilot has to document what they've seen with the trooper during a traffic stop.

"Like, if they pass two cars, or they weren't maintaining their lane, they were following too closely at first; but I got them at 83 miles per hour in a 65 zone," she explains. "I'll be standing there and they can hear me as I'm talking with the pilot and they're like 'Oh. Yup. That was me.' They're not going to say it but they're like, 'You got me.' "

One of the Patrol's fixed wing aircraft flies over a highway interchange.
Credit Provided / Ohio State Highway Patrol

McIntyre says the pilots can go just as long as it's not raining or snowing. She says it's often a spur of the moment enforcement. A state patrol post will get heads-up that a plane is coming.

"Normally they come out of Columbus. Whomever is working at that time, one to two to three officers, and sometimes we collaborate with other agencies, and they come out. It's free tickets, and they come to play."

McIntyre says it's important work and she enjoys the assignment.

"To let people know that they just can't use our highways as racetracks. If you're going at a fast rate of speed, you have less time for reaction, which causes accidents. And we don't like for that to happen."

McIntyre says it's very easy for drivers to develop a kind of tunnel vision, and not notice the signs warning of aircraft on patrol. "You just never know when we're around. So, make sure that you're watching your speed. A lot of people are like 'Oh wow, I didn't even know that you guys are in the air, too.' Uh-huh! Yes, we are. You gotta be careful. You never know."

The Patrol maintains a fleet of both fixed wing planes and helicopters. McIntyre says they're used for more than just catching speeders.

"Say, if somebody has run off from us and gone into the woods, they have infrared where they can see people going into the ditch line. We've been able to catch quite a few criminals that way."

The Patrol released aerial video of a search for a suspect, just after midnight May 4. The Twitter video is shot in infrared and shows heat signatures -- people -- as bright white among gray and black objects.    

State patrol aircraft are also used for locating marijuana operations and for aerial photography. But traffic enforcement is still high up on the list. 

Around Cincinnati, there are air speed zones on I-74, I-275 and I-71. Now about that Columbia Parkway sign, just west of Delta...

A spokesperson for the city says the signs were installed at the request of the state patrol. Kelly Carr says the patrol asked for the sign and the markings painted at the correct intervals. Trooper McIntyre says as it turns out, the patrol doesn't normally conduct air enforcement along that stretch of road, because there's no safe place to stop a vehicle.

If you have a question and no one else can help, ask OKI I Wanna Know by filling out the form below.