What Is Speed Enforced By Aircraft?

Speeding cars cause more accidents than any other factor. Drivers who exceed the speed limit increase the chances of getting into an accident by up to 3x.

This is because speeding causes people to be distracted and makes them less attentive than if they were driving at slower speeds. 

What Is Speed Enforced By Aircraft?

Speeding also increases the chance of getting caught by law enforcement as well as decreases the safety of other vehicles on the road.

States can set their own speed limit but there are general guidelines that apply in all states. Collector roadways are safer than local roadways because there are fewer people traveling along with them.

There are also fewer access points, so drivers can travel faster without having to slow down. 

Neighborhood streets are safer than collector roadways because there are many access points, slowing down traffic naturally, however, there still needs to be restrictions in place to control the reckless few. 

CHP uses aircraft for traffic control and they started this method of catching speeding drivers back in 1960. By 2012, half of them were used for traffic control and the other half were used for aerial observation.

Helicopters patrol the roads in many states. Police officers are usually hidden in helicopters, but sometimes they are hidden in planes. Radar-enforced speed limits are mostly used on highways. 

How Does It Work?

Aircraft-enforced speed limits aren’t always enforced by a helicopter or airplane. Sometimes they’re enforced by a drone. Obviously, drones and helicopters can’t pull speeding drivers over.

Officers inside the helicopter will record your license plate and send you a ticket. You may return home in a few days to find a ticket waiting for you in the mail.

Police generally don’t announce when planes are going to be on patrol. The plane, ordered in 2005 by then-OPP commissioner Julian Fantino, cost over $1.5 million, including staffing and startup costs. 

Before that, police used planes to patrol roads, but the program was halted, partially due to cost concerns. However, there are still many starters today that utilize air control for speeding drivers. 

Typically there are enforcement officers in the place and on the ground and they stay in communication. The pilot of the aircraft sees the thick white line near the SPEED ENFORCED SIGN. 

If the pilot sees a vehicle behaving dangerously or it moves between the markers faster than normal, the pilot contacts the officer on the freeway and describes the vehicle. The officer investigates the vehicle and if necessary issues a speeding fine. 

Drivers caught by this system have tried the following defenses:

  1. Defendant has the right to face your accuser and only ground officers are in court.
  2. Since the officer depends upon the pilot’s description, evidence is hearsay and is not admissible.
  3. Timing past a marker is similar under California Vehicle Code Section 40802(a), and thus illegal.

While it is possible a judge might let someone off of a speeding ticket for any reason, the defenses listed above are not valid. The driver is given a ticket because of the officer’s observation and not hearsay. Officer makes the verification himself, and therefore the ticket is valid. 

Costs/Plane Types

Costs/Plane Types

With the cost of flying being high, many states have decided to cut back on air patrols but some still remain. The signs are posted to remind drivers that police are watching them which should act as a deterrent.

There are two types of planes used by police to catch speeding drivers. Smaller planes and sometimes even helicopters are used to patrol highways. Each state has a different number and combination. These are set out at different frequencies.

A decade ago, the CHPs planes would fly around for much of the day. The pilots and flight officers would use miles markers on the highway, bringing the plane’s speed to those of vehicles in violation, or a bit slower, then noting the time it took to get from one point and another. 

The flight officer then would radio the description of the violator and its speed to an Officer in a patrol car. Both officers’ names would appear on the ticket and they’d both be in court.


Helicopters do not use radar or lasers to detect speeding vehicles Instead, helicopters patrol using their eyes. Officers fly low over cars and match their speeds by looking at the vehicles’ movement. Police officers use stopwatches to time speeding motorists.

Is It Really Happening?

As a result of new technology, the CHP’s aircraft have become more than just traffic enforcers. Their planes assist in criminal investigations as well. They help in searches for people who are lost or hiding from law enforcement.

Lidar is a laser system that uses light waves to detect objects on the road. Radar systems use radio waves to detect objects. Both types of detection devices work by bouncing a beam off of the object and then measuring how long the reflected beam takes to return.

A laser emits a very narrow beam of light, while radar transmits a broad beam of energy. 

Because lasers emit a single wavelength of light, they can be used to identify specific objects or materials. Using this type of technology, police officers can quickly scan the highway and detect any moving vehicles or people. 

This helps them determine if there are any drivers who are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs as well as spot anyone that has been reported missing. 

How Do The Cameras Work?

Air-43 has been working as a commercial vehicle patrol officer since November. It also assists police departments with stolen vehicle calls. It has an advanced camera that allows officers to see what vehicles are in the area from the air.

Thermal imaging detects heat signatures, and it zooms in on them.

Air units use cameras to help them spot criminals and drug dealers. Cameras allow police to see everything that happens on the ground. Officers can also see if someone is running away or hiding by watching footprints.

This type of technology is amazing and helps police to catch criminals.


So, next time you come across a sign on your travels that says ‘Speed enforced by aircraft’ be assured that lurking high above you are officers ensuring that the highways are a safe way to travel. 

Jacob Stern
Latest posts by Jacob Stern (see all)