In Madison, a Low-Tech Idea to Use Buses as a Traffic Enforcement Tool

State Street in Madison, Wisconsin

State Street in Madison, Wisconsin Shutterstock


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Should law enforcement piggy-back on moving transit vehicles to get a bird’s-eye view of adjacent driver behavior?

The idea of deploying public vehicle fleets with technology like cameras and license-plate scanners is not a new one. From public works vehicles in Washington, D.C., deployed with automatic license plate readers to school buses in Mercer Island, Washington, equipped with stop-arm enforcement cameras, local governments are extending the reach of their enforcement capabilities, raising questions about surveillance, data retention and privacy in the process.

But here’s a relatively low-tech idea officials in Madison, Wisconsin, are considering: Allowing plainclothes deputies from the Dane County Sheriff’s Department to ride in-service Metro Transit buses to give them a bird’s-eye view of adjacent drivers passing through high-crash zones who may engaged in unauthorized behavior that qualifies as distracted driving.

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the deputy onboard would communicate with nearby uniformed sheriff’s department colleagues or other officers from local police departments, who would then pull the offending driver over.

“We’re not necessarily looking to issue citations to everyone we make contact with,” Dane County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. R.J. Lurquin told the State Journal. “We want people to be aware of the law and just worry about driving and texting later.”

Funding from the sheriff’s department for the program, dependent on federal grants, has not come through yet, so it’s not moving forward yet. In the meantime, some concerns have been raised whether the Capital Transit agency wants the public to associate its vehicles as a mobile extension of traffic enforcement on local roadways.

While Wisconsin state law prohibits texting while driving, it does not have a hand-held phone-use ban for all drivers, as is currently the law in 14 states—California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia—and the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

(Map via NCSL)

Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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