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County hopes to outsmart speeders

Published May 23, 1993|Updated Oct. 9, 2005

Donna Patterson, a resident of Henderson Street in Spring Hill for seven years, is tired of motorists speeding past the home she shares with her husband, Robert.

The 76-year-old woman says it doesn't bother her that Henderson is used by people who want to bypass the congested intersection of Spring Hill and Mariner drives.

What does bother Mrs. Patterson are the two youths in blue Geos who speed down her street, faster than the 30 mph limit, tailgating, radios blaring. Also, the person in the black Pontiac Firebird who drives too fast.

The "young hot rods," as she calls them.

"I remember one night, I heard these screaming voices," she said. "I look out here and a car comes down with a good-sized young man lying on top of the roof of the car, hollering like hell."

Residents in several other Hernando County neighborhoods have voiced similar complaints to the Sheriff's Office. They demand traffic enforcement. Safe roads. Safe sidewalks.

Sheriff Thomas Mylander says his agency doesn't have sufficient staff for effective countywide traffic enforcement.

But last week, the County Commission approved Mylander's request to buy a $13,000 machine that he says will help slow motorists on quiet residential streets.

The money comes from a special law enforcement trust fund account that includes property forfeitures in criminal cases. The device is expected to arrive sometime in July or August.

The Speed Monitoring Awareness Radar Trailer system isn't exactly Robocop for the traffic beat. It's basically a high-tech cross between a U-Haul trailer and the goody-goody classroom monitor who blabs when students misbehave.

A radar gun clocks oncoming traffic, then the speed is shown in foot-high digits below a sign that tells the posted speed limit. Conscientious motorists are supposed to hit the brakes when they see their speed displayed for all to see.

And if the portable machine alone doesn't work, Mylander said he would add patrol deputies to the equation.

"If we can get people to slow down on their own, fine," the sheriff said. "But we're certainly going to back it up with patrol deputies. Somewhere along the line, people have to take responsibility for their actions. People out here doing the speeding must control themselves if we're going to live with each other. The more they don't, the more we have to enforce it."

The county is buying the SMART system from Kustom Signals Inc., a Kansas company that specializes in police radar guns and patrol car video systems. It has sold SMART for about a year, said John Kusek, the company's senior vice president.

About 200 machines are in use in the United States, most of them in California, where the conceptwas developed five years ago.

A few have been sold in Virginia, South Carolina and Florida, Kusek said. Hernando will be the first county on the North Suncoast to have the machine.

"It's a unique traffic device," Kusek said. "Most residents actually welcome it. It's quiet, fairly unobtrusive. Some people leave notes stuck to it, saying, "Bring this to my neighborhood.' It's a non-threatening police presence."

The basic system sells for about $10,000. County commissioners on Tuesday approved Mylander's purchase of an enhanced model that includes a computer that records speeds and tracks them by time of day. Mylander said he would use that information to decide where stepped-up patrols might be helpful.

In 1991, two researchers at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released a study of the SMART system's effects in the upscale California community of Santa Barbara. SMART seemed most effective, the study says, when coupled with enforcement, rather than simply left to warn motorists who eventually ignore it.

Michael Foxen, a Santa Barbara Police traffic officer, said his department often uses the radar trailer in school zones. It has been used in the city of approximately 87,000 people for about four years, Foxen said.

"It's been really effective, even when we put it out by itself," he said. "It really gets their attention, reminds them to slow down. Occasionally, we'll put an officer down the street to back it up."

Mylander said Henderson Street is a likely candidate for the machine, but it would be used throughout the county.

Mrs. Patterson looks forward to its arrival.

"I don't know the machine, but I'm anxious to see it work," she said.

Loretta Elrod, another Henderson Street resident, agreed.

"I really think it's a good idea," she said. "I think it's worth a try."

Speed Monitoring Awareness Radar Trailer (SMART) system

A portable, solar-powered speed display unit, SMART is towed to a site where speeding has been a recurring problem. It takes less than 10 minutes to set up. Locked inside the 16-gauge steel trailer is a radar gun that clocks the speeds of oncoming cars. Below a speed-limit sign mounted on the machine is a foot-high display, visible from 100 yards away, that tells motorists how fast they are going.

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