Hays County using unmanned vehicles to catch speeders

An unmanned vehicle stationed near two Hays County schools is meant to help slow down other cars.

HAYS COUNTY, Texas -- Two white vans will be parked near Hays County schools this year, marked with signage that the equipment inside is monitoring the speed of other motorists.

"It monitors the speed of passing vehicles. If they're speeding, it takes a photo of the license plate," said Hays County Precinct 4 Constable Ron Hood about one van that was parked near Dripping Springs Elementary School on Tuesday.

Hood oversees the program in Dripping Springs. The van flags cars that are going at least 6 miles per hour over the speed limit. During non-school zone times, any cars going 11 miles per hour or over will be ticketed.

"I believe this [van] is a little bit more lenient. Officers in a school zone are pretty strict," Hood said. "In a highway like this, they may be a little more lenient on the speed. This vehicle is a little bit more restrictive when it's not in a school zone, but less restrictive when it's in the school zone operations."

Radars track cars going in both directions, and cameras are set up near the dash and trunk of the car.  

"Traffic congestion is growing. We want to get ahead of the curve, and I applaud our Commissioners Court for looking at this and saying we're not going to be reactive, we're going to be proactive," Hood said. 

However there are concerns, specifically when it comes to enforcement. Cars, not drivers, will be targeted. If caught, the car's owner will face a $150 fine, but no points on their license. Hood also stressed that the tickets are a civil offense, and no warrants will be issued for a person's arrest if it's not paid.

However, the car's owner will not be allowed to renew their vehicle registration with the county until the fine is paid. 

"They want to know how do you identify the driver of the vehicle. We're not going there, that's not the issue. The issue is the registered owner of that vehicle has responsibility for that vehicle," Hood said, adding that people can challenge who issued the ticket. He also said he believes most people have accepted cameras and radar being used to catch speeders.

Still, Hood said the majority of feedback he's received has been positive.

"The parents have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic about it. They're all saying, 'Great, thank you very much,'" Hood said.  

In a trial run in Wimberley during summer school, the program caught 71 vehicles speeding.

"It's just another tool we're using in Hays County to keep our citizens safe," said Hood. 

American Traffic Solutions provided both vans to the county at no cost. In the first year, Hays County will receive 25 percent of the money from those fines. After the first year, Hays County will receive 60 percent with the rest going to ATS.

"Hopefully people will be compliant, and they'll slow down," Hood said. 

Right now, the county is in the middle of a grace period, where drivers will be issued warnings until Sept. 8. The van in Dripping Springs will only be used during school hours, and will rotate between the elementary school and middle school, but there's no firm schedule yet.

As of Sept. 1, the county has an agreement with ATS for two years, but Hood said either side can opt out at any time if it's not yielding desired results. The program has vans set up in other locations throughout the country. 


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