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New Jersey State Police tag tailgaters

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

Remember when cops hid their patrol cars on the highway, then radioed ahead to another officer to flag down a speeder or tailgater? Not anymore. For the next two weeks, state troopers armed with a handy new gizmo will be out on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway measuring the distance between cars and chasing down tailgaters, in a show of force they hope will reduce crashes.

“Our troopers will be happy to remind drivers of the dangers of tailgating in hopes that we can avoid cleaning up the accidents that result from it,” said NJSP Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes. Not only that: You think your car insurance is high now? Get one of these summonses and it’s FIVE POINTS.

In ideal conditions, Fuentes said, you should follow the “two-second rule” — staying a full car-length behind another vehicle for every 10 miles an hour you’re moving at. This gives you enough room and time to stop safely, if necessary.

You should stay even farther back if the road is wet, if it’s foggy out, or if your vehicle is loaded down.

As part of their “tailgating awareness” campaign, troopers are rolling out some of their unmarked sports cars, sedans and SUVs.

Still, the biggest difference-maker by far is a laser device known as the UltraLyte.

So, out of fairness to New Jersey’s overly aggressive and angry drivers, here’s a clue to what you’re up against:

All the trooper need do is point the UltraLyte laser at a lead vehicle and click when it reaches a certain spot, then follow with the vehicle right behind at the same spot. The device will pinpoint the speeds of both, then immediately calculate the distance between them, says Laser Technology Inc., which makes the UltraLyte.

“Accuracy validation” software help the readings hold up in court, LTI says, adding that the devices are so rugged that they’ve been referred to as tanks.

The UltraLyte employs pinpoint targeting, which is everything when a trooper is dealing with the Turnpike or Parkway’s various lanes.

The laser’s beam is roughly feet wide and stretches up to 1,000 feet (for those who love the metaphor: 3 football fields, with more than 30 yards tacked on). The device can “visually identify a speeding vehicle, pinpoint its exact location on the roadway, and then validate its precise speed,” LTI says.

LTI began working with the government in the late 1980s, designing lasers that measured distances between two planes in-flight for a de-icing exercise. Then came a contract with NASA “to build a custom laser that could measure both distances and speeds for space docking missions,” the company said.

From there, LTI developed the first “low-cost recreational rangefinder for golfing and hunting.”

So it wasn’t a giant leap to designing tools for law enforcement.

Avoiding tailgating altogether is good practice. Being particularly careful about it these next two weeks is simply common sense.

With two weeks of practice, the thinking goes, people can drop dangerous habits and develop safe ones.

Bottom line: It’s either that or five points. Take your pick.

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