State Troopers Don Hard Hats, Jeans to Nab Construction-Zone Speeders

Wed October 15, 2003 - Southeast Edition
Kerry Lynn Kirby

Peering into a small device atop a tripod, Darryl Hall Sr., donned in jeans, a T-shirt and work boots, appears to be just another crew member surveying one of the many construction zones surrounding Birmingham, AL.

But the drivers of cars and trucks whizzing by him on busy Interstate 20, ignoring the posted 55-mph speed limit and warnings of double fines, are in for a surprise.

Hall, a corporal with the Alabama Department of Public Safety, is posing as a construction worker as part of Operation Hard Hat, a new state effort to stop dangerous speeding in construction zones.

The device atop the tripod is one of the eight new laser speed detection devices purchased for the operation through a $30,000 grant from the Alabama Department of Transportation.

And, using a police radio, Hall is calling in descriptions of speeders caught by the device to the troopers, stationed up the road in marked patrol cars, who will cite violators.

The Sept. 26 detail in the Leeds construction zone in Jefferson County lasted nearly an hour and a half and yielded more than two dozen tickets — 25 for speeding, four for no insurance and two for following too closely, according to Hall.

A similar detail on I-20 the following day resulted in approximately 45 more speeding tickets, he said.

The laser device can be used effectively in heavy traffic and tight spaces, which makes it perfect for speed enforcement in construction zones, Hall said.

“I put that laser on the vehicle I’m clocking so there’s no mistake in ID,” he said. “We’re making cases that we normally wouldn’t be able to make using the laser.”

The high-tech device can be either hand-held or mounted on a tripod, said Hall, who went through a two-day training course at the police academy in Selma, AL, to be one of 30 officers in the state certified to operate the mechanism.

The operation debuted in the Birmingham area, where a significant amount of road construction is in progress and where, from January to August there was six traffic fatalities in work zones, said Sgt. Will Rogers, public information officer for the state police in Birmingham.

However, Operation Hard Hat should soon be expanded to other parts of Alabama, said Rogers, who expects it will result in fewer traffic fatalities. Speed tends to be a factor in the seriousness of the construction-zone accidents.

Hall said since the laser speed detection devices were issued in late summer, he’s been trying to run at least one Operation Hard Hat detail a week, lasting one to two hours and using four to seven troopers.

The locations vary in an effort to keep motorists guessing about whether or not the construction zone is being monitored, Hall said, in hopes that drivers will slow down just in case.

The aim of Operation Hard Hat is to deter speeding and other reckless driving in construction zones so they are safer to drive and work in, he said.

The Alabama Road Builders Association doesn’t mind troopers posing as road workers in Operation Hard Hat if it boosts safety for the real workers, said Billy Norrell, executive director of the Montgomery, AL-based organization.

Speeding in construction sites is a real hazard for the workers, said Norrell, noting that the organization worked for legislation to double fines in construction zones.

“We have many deaths every year — double-digit deaths,” he said. “We’re all for anything to keep the roads safer for our employees … and for Joe Public out there.”