Tailgating in Lakeland could land you $164 ticket with new laser gun technology

LPD has been using devices since last fall

LAKELAND, Fla. - Police officers in Lakeland now have some new technology to try and catch impatient, aggressive drivers.

Most people call it tailgating -- driving too close to the car in front of you. The Lakeland Police Department recently acquired a set of laser guns that calculate the distance between two cars.

"What we're trying to do is change people's driving behavior and reduce the number of crashes in the City of Lakeland," said Lakeland Police Officer David Waterman, who helped bring the technology to the department.

Last year in the city, more than 48 percent of car accidents were rear-end crashes. That's more than 20-percent more than the national average.

At no cost to the city or taxpayers, the department was able to acquire three of the devices to try and deter impatient driving.

"We make a visual estimate of how close they are, and then we use the laser to determine an exact speed," Waterman said.

For the fist month, they only gave warnings -- about 300 of them.

Then they moved on to tickets. The last three months of the year they wrote nearly 150 of them.

That's compared to the 40 tickets written in the first nine months of the year without the new technology.

Lakeland PD recommends giving at least two to three seconds of room to the car in front of you, which seem difficult to figure out while driving, but Officer Waterman says it's actually easy when you use a simple trick.

"You pay attention to a landmark in the road as they pass it, a lane line, a pot hole, or a shadow in the road," he said. "When their vehicle passes that mark, you start counting."

If your car passes that same landmark before you count to two, then you're driving too close.

The reaction to the new devices has been mixed, in part because the technology has not been tested in Florida courts.

So far, it's only been proven in court in four states: Colorado, California, Oregon, and Arizona. But Florida could be next.

The department may get its first challenge next month from someone who doesn't want to pay the $164 ticket. One of the violators has a tentative court date scheduled for early March.

"People don't like getting tickets and I understand that.  It's better to get a ticket before you get in a crash, then get in a crash and get a ticket and kind of have that compounded," he said.

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